Introduction: VW Beetle Rally Stripe!

About: I'm an actor/tech/IT/graphics/editor/writer kind of guy. I do a fair share of voice over work and have the full time gig at Bard College at Simon's Rock. While waiting for machines to do things, I hit the wo…

Here's the story. I just turned 50 and I wanted something sporty. (I love my wife, no mid-life crisis needed.)

I drive a 1999 VW Beetle TDI, and I would LOVE to have a TDI Audi TT, but alas, I live in the states and it's just not available. (the Beetle and the TT share the same A4 platform.. so I'm close already!) Also I prefer a manual transmission, not some tiptronic, give me a big gulp-while I'm driving-and-texting type of situation.

House of Grafx to the rescue!

For less than a hundred dollars with shipping I ordered the Model: 022-VW stripe kit. The images on their website showed it only covering the hood, but they assured me they would ship enough to cover the bumpers as well.

So for tools:

Dawn® dishwashing liquid

Spray bottle

Masking tape

Razor blade


Let's get started.

Step 1: Wash the Car.

There is mantra to this job. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Oh, and don't rush.

I took the car to the local car wash and scrubbed it down. That was ok, but not good enough.

Once home, I grabbed a bucket of water, some Dawn dish washing liquid and a small face cloth. And really cleaned the areas where the stripes were going to go. All bugs, splats, and bits of sap were removed. I even went to far to wipe the area with some isopropyl alcohol. We're talking clean.

Step 2: Lay Out the Vinyl to Warm Up.

The vinyl stripes come in a roll, shipped in a tube, cut in 5' lengths or so.

I laid them out with some weights to get the curl out of them and warm up. House of Grafx says the longer you can let them rest flat, the better.

Do not do this work in direct sunlight. The car heats up too much and the vinyl gets TOO stretchy. In the shade, or an overcast day is best.

Step 3: Layout a Guide Tape.

This was done mostly by eye. Fortunately the logo, roof antenna, rearview mirror.. all give visual clues to where center is on the car.

I didn't measure at first, but did run a few test measurements to make sure I was right. You'll notice that the tape doesn't line up with the front license plate holder holes. The plate holder was OFF CENTER. Oh the horrors. When I remount it, I'll fix that.

Step 4: Dry Fit

Preparation, preparation, preparation...

I cut a piece with some overlap and fit it to a section. I started with the hood, figure I may as well get that out of the way. In retrospect, I should have started with a smaller piece, because first piece I cut for the hood, I screwed up. I'll get to that in a second.

The roll of tape I was using was the right size for the hood and trunk emblem. So I used that as a template, traced it onto the stripe, and using a razor blade, cut it out.

Easy so far.

Step 5: Application

Ok, here's where things get interesting.

Fill the spray bottle with water and two or three DROPS of Dawn® dishwashing soap. No more than that. It's just to break the surface tension and create a slick surface to play with.

Spray the area you're going to work in with the mixture first.

THEN remove the backing paper from the graphic.

Here's why. Unless you're using a helper, (I wasn't) you DO NOT want to let go of the sticky graphic once you have it in your hands with all the adhesive exposed. I put it down for a second to pick up the spray bottle, and the smallest puff of wind came along and it slid onto the ground, sticky side down.

Just like a piece of buttered toast.

It picked up every piece of gravel, dirt, grass clipping, bug it touched.

Trashed. And it was a big piece. Fortunately House of Grafx sends you more than enough to screw up. At least they did with me!

With the surface wetted, the stripe doesn't stick right away, you can move it, slide it, position it till you're 100% happy. It gave me the confidence I needed to move on.

Step 6: Apply, Squeegee, Adjust and Continue.

The VW Beetle is a fun little car, curvaceous and perfect for some customizing. Did you notice I said curvaceous?

With a stripe you are applying a flat surface to a curved surface. In my case a multiple curve surface.

It is possible, but on a flat hood of a car, this would be a breeze.

So you have to work with the material and make adjustments as you go. With the hood of the VW, the graphic wanted to arc in as it reached the front of the car. I let it. Then adjusted the stripe along the bumper to match. You can't tell unless you measure the gap at the windshield verses the gap under the logo. It's almost a full 1/2" difference. BUT that allowed me to work with the curve of the hood so everything laid flat.

The vinyl will stretch to move, but you'll be hard pressed to shrink it. I could of used a straight edge to trim it, but it looked right, so I didn't mess with it.

It has to LOOK right. Trust your eye.

I removed the third brake light, and cut the vinyl after applying it. I did the same thing with the rear license plate region. Instead of trying to line up a cutout.

Once it was in place, I would remove the top layer of paper to reveal the vinyl. Things are still wet and adjustable if you peel up the vinyl, and a couple of shots of the spray bottle help with moving things till you're happy. Then squeegee out the water.

If you get a bubble that won't move, just put a pin hole in it and squeegee out the water from there, don't force it or you'll stretch and ripple the vinyl. Small bubbles will work themselves out over time.

Step 7: Stand Back and Admire!

This job took me all afternoon, with a break when the sun poked through the clouds.

Once you get the hang of it, it goes quickly.

Now you may ask, "Why not just mask off the car and use some Plastic coat spray paint?"

Good question. With a machine cut vinyl graphic, the lines are sharper, the gaps are precise, and there is a lot less waste IMHO.

The kit was $75.00, I'm not sure how many spray cans I would have used. Or rolls of tape and newspaper.

I have seen that if you use a blow dryer, you can warm up the vinyl to get it to stretch around some compound surfaces, but the day was warm enough to work the material.

Would I do it again? Oh hell ya. That Dawn® and spray bottle trick make it completely workable. No rush, no panic, take your time, and do it.