Answers to questions about RV Repair and Maintenance from RV expert Dave Solberg, author of the “RV Handbook” and the managing editor of the RV Repair Club. This column appears Monday through Saturday in the RV Travel and RV Daily Tips newsletters. (Sign up for an email reminder for each new issue if you do not already receive one.) Today Dave discusses protecting or replacing old decals on RVs.
I have a 1997 Allegro Star Class A motorhome. It’s old, but for a first-timer, it feels great.
What can be done to the graphics to fix them? These are starting to fade and shatter. Is there a trick to keep them looking good? I’m going to get some of the Meguiar’s for the unit. Thanks. —Ellie
For years, the decal manufacturers have not recommended using any type of product on the vinyl. They especially warn not to wax them as they need to breathe. I’ve worked with Sharpline and Valley Screen and they just recommend washing with a mild detergent and keeping them out of sunlight. Most decals only have a life of about seven years unless the unit is covered a majority of the time.
That is one of the reasons more manufacturers have gone to painted stripes and even full-body paint to keep the fiberglass from deteriorating, as well.
There are two types of vinyl graphics, calendared vinyl and cast vinyl, both of which have a main ingredient of PVC or plastic. Calendared vinyl is cheaper and typically lasts 4-5 years, while cast vinyl can last much longer. Unlike a painted surface, decals are porous and petroleum-based, so any type of cleaner or protection that is solvent-based is not recommended. Several waxes have been developed with high UV protection that can be used, such as Meguiar’s, and others that have synthetic polymers.
The graphic may be restorable
If the graphic has just started to fade or “cloud,” there is a chance that it can be restored. Clean the graphic with a light detergent such as Dawn dish soap (blue) and a soft cloth, rinse thoroughly and dry completely. Condition with 303 Protectant or Protect All All-Purpose Surface Care. Some parts stores carry a decal restoration product, but I have not found much success with them. However, I have not tried more than a couple.
In my experience, once the graphics have started to crack and curl on the edges there is not much you can do to restore them. One thing I have done for the edges is to use a sharp knife like an X-Acto and trim off the edge and re-edge it with thin pinstriping that I got from an auto parts store.
Another option is to remove the decal and either replace or repaint it. My parents had a 2003 Winnebago Brave and the main decal faded in less than four years. We bought a new decal from the parts department and I was able to take the old one off with a heat gun, plastic putty knife, and a ton of elbow grease! I used the heat gun on low as I did not want to burn or blister the clear gel coat of the fiberglass underneath. If the decal is really cracked, you might have to use a 3M hard rubber grinding attachment.
Here you can see a 2000 Winnebago Adventurer that came from California, and the decals are cracking and curling up on the sides. We did a video on the restoration of the sidewall fiberglass using Barkeepers Friend. It helped a little but did nothing for the graphics. The back is so bad the eagle decal looks 3D!
The owner got a quote for a full-body paint job on this from CDI, the company that paints Winnebago’s units, and it was more than $10,000. This winter we will sand down the decals and try to repaint them. This is something you might look into, as well.
Here is what a body shop friend recommended
1. Sand the decals down with an automotive Scotch-Brite pad or 800 grit sandpaper.
2. Clean them thoroughly with mild detergent, rinse, and dry.
3. Tape off the edges with green detail tape first then blue painters tape and finally paper.
4. Apply a base coat of primer either by spray or roller. Keep in mind the wrong nap roller can produce an orange-peel finish! The primer coat is designed to fill in cracks. Do very thin applications several times allowing proper drying time. You can use commercial-grade spray paint such as Rust-Oleum or Krylon.
5. Sand the primer with 1000 grit sandpaper between coats and clean with paint thinner.
6. Spray or roll desired paint color with several light coats and let dry properly between coats.
7. Spray several clear coat applications after the paint has dried properly.
8. Remove the tape and paper carefully as the paint could start to peel between the tape and part of the unit you want painted. Go slow. You may need to use the sharp knife to help keep the edge you want.
The bottom line in keeping your graphics/decals looking good longer is protecting them from the harsh UV rays of the sun.
This can be done by covering the unit when not in use, positioning the rig in a direction that keeps the sun away from it during the hottest parts of the day, or looking at UV protection products. As mentioned before, 303 protectant is a good product as well as Protect All and a good wax that has UV protection.
Read more from Dave here.
Dave Solberg worked at Winnebago for 15 years developing the dealer training program, as marketing manager, and conducting shows. As the owner of Passport Media Creations, Dave has developed several RV dealer training programs, the RV Safety Training program for The Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation, and the accredited RV Driving Safety program being conducted at rallies and shows around the country. Dave is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.
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Watch YouTuber “Switch It Up” who applied vinyl wrap directly over existing graphics, and YT’r “RV Street” who painted over his graphics.
My local ” 1 Day Sign” company makes many different designs and graphic for direct application on most surfaces. You might check with one after cleaning and/ or removal of old graphics. They may even suggest the best way to remove them or prep.
Firstly, go to YouTube and watch a few examples to get an idea of how to…….
This isn’t brain surgery! Take a standard hand held hair dryer and carefully apply medium heat to soften the decal then using a putty knife and pulling the decal “slowly” back at about an 80 degree angle to the sidewall. Be patient and careful not to damage the fiberglass with the putty knife. I have also used a windshield scraper – the old fashioned kind with a single edge razor blade; this actually works best – but again be very careful.
You might find some replacement decals on EBay for older units or custom styles or better & less expensive yet – Rustoleum paint and green painters masking tape and a lot of old newspapers! Be creative and have fun!
Well I learned a lot, but how depressing, that these things are made to disintegrate long before the chassis will. Cheated again by this wonderful industry.
Great idea putting a product that deteriorates in the sun on a vehicle that will be in the sun the majority of the time.
What not to do Our decals were so bad in our old 2008 Coachman that I matched the paint and painted in the cracks! Finally removed all the decals and had custom full body paint done in Elkhart. Outrageously expensive, but beautiful!. Wouldn’t do that again either.