How to Add DIY Racing Stripes to Your Car

White car with racing stripe.

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There are hundreds of ways to enhance or modify your vehicle these days. While many gearheads prefer to make internal alterations — think turbochargers and nitrous oxide systems — others would rather soup up the exterior. In this case, adding stripes might be your best option. Some drivers prefer to have a professional complete this modification. However, if you want to save hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars, you can easily complete the project at home. Here’s how to add DIY racing stripes using two different methods. After reading the instructions, you can decide which one is best for you based on your confidence level, time limit and desired final product. 

How to: Vinyl Wraps 

Vinyl wraps or decals are the go-to for many car lovers looking to soup up their ride. These stick-on treatments are relatively easy to apply and some manufacturers even sell kits for certain makes and models. Subsequently, it’s entirely possible to complete the job in just a few hours. However, it’s important to note that decals are often more difficult to remove than peel coat paint. At the same time, they’re also more durable and may yield a more professional-looking job. 

1. Gather Materials

Before you prep your car, you must gather all the necessary materials. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Sponge
  • Towel 
  • Water
  • Wash and wax cleaner
  • Vinyl wrap
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape 
  • Spray bottle 
  • Squeegee

2. Prep Your Car

Once you determine where you’ll apply the stripes, take inventory of any dents, scratches or rust spots. You must remedy these flaws and imperfections before moving on because the wrap needs a flat surface to adhere properly. 

Next, clean your car to remove dirt, bugs and buildup. Rinse with water and use a wash and wax cleaning product to clean the surface. Rinse one last time and use a microfiber towel to dry it off. Repeat the process if you notice any stubborn streaks or gunk. 

3. Place the Stripes

Locate your racing stripes and remove them from the package. If they begin to curl or crinkle, your workspace may be too hot or humid. In this case, you may have to find a cool, dry place like a garage in which to finish the job. 

Next, place the stripes exactly where you want them and use masking tape to keep them in place. Make sure they’re straight and cut off any excess material before marking their positions with tape and removing them from your car. 

4. Apply and Finish

Mist the application site with water and tape one end of each stripe to hold them in place. Then, slowly pull the release paper away and use a squeegee to press it to your car’s surface and remove any air bubbles. 

Once your stripes are in place, remove the masking and backing tape. Then, smooth the wrap with a damp squeegee one last time to ensure they are secure. And there you have it. Your whip has racing stripes now!

How to: Spray Paint 

The process of spray painting stripes is quite similar to that of applying vinyl decals. However, the entire job will likely take a bit longer, especially since the paint must dry for at least a day before you hit the open road. Removing pell coat spray paint is also easier than removing decals if you change your mind about stripes later on. Of course, this point is rather reassuring if you don’t feel incredibly confident with an aerosol can in your hand. 

1. Gather Materials 

First, gather your materials. Many are the same ones you’d use to apply the vinyl wrap. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water
  • Sponge 
  • Towel 
  • Cleaning solution 
  • Peel coat spray paint 
  • Painter’s tape 
  • Masking tape
  • Latex gloves
  • Drop cloth
  • Plastic sheeting 
  • Squeegee

2. Prep Your Car 

Prep your car the same way you would before applying vinyl decals. Rinse, wash, rinse again and dry. Once your hood is clean and free of dirt, debris, dents and rust, use painter’s tape to outline your racing stripes. Use the squeegee to firmly secure the tape. 

Then, protect the rest of your vehicle from overspray by applying plastic sheeting. You can also lay a drop cloth around the base of your car to preserve your driveway or garage floor. 

3. Apply Paint 

Slip into some latex gloves — and a mask if you’re indoors — and shake your can of peel coat paint until you hear the mixing ball rattle. Hold the can eight to 12 inches away from your hood and apply the paint using a back and forth motion. Aim for 50% coverage on the first pass. Then, allow that coat to dry before applying any more. 

Four or more additional coats with about 10 minutes in between should be enough to create a solid stripe. However, applying more will make the stripes easier to remove if you ever decide to peel them off. 

4. Finish

After you’ve applied the final coat, allow it to dry almost completely before removing the tape. Doing so will ensure the paint’s still wet enough to peel off the tape without breaking the edges and dry enough to prevent gooey edges. Test pull a small, inconspicuous spot before peeling the rest of the tape back on itself to ensure proper timing, achieve clean edges and produce a more professional look. 

Don’t Be a Poser

According to classic car lovers, applying stripes to the wrong vehicle is like committing a crime against good taste. Regardless of how professional the job looks, you’ll still look like a poser if your car simply can’t pull them off. 

Of course, you can always reverse the damage and remove the paint or decals if you receive negative feedback. However, it’s best to save yourself time — and dignity — by thinking twice before adding racing stripes. Still, at the end of the day, it’s your decision and, if a striped Prius makes you smile, go for it. Just don’t be surprised if you get more than a few funny looks.