Replacing a Worn Trunk or Side Car Emblem

It will take just an afternoon to do the job carefully

The emblem on the back of your car identifying its model needs replacing every once in a while. As it ages and undergoes car washes, bad weather, and harsh sunlight, it can deteriorate and lose its aesthetic appeal, often showing its age long before your paint job does. The good news is you can replace the emblem in an afternoon. A new emblem is inexpensive, as are the tools for the job.

Here are the steps for replacing the emblem on a Porsche 911 Carrera, but most modern vehicles use the same sticky emblems so the process would be similar: 

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Clean the Area

old and new emblem
Matt Wright

Thoroughly clean the old emblem and the area around it. Use a soft brush to get the dirt and grit out of the nooks and crannies of your old emblem. Cleaning something you’re about to toss might seem counterintuitive, but this is important. Even fine dust is abrasive enough to scratch paint, which is why we rinse vehicles thoroughly before we wash them with sponges and rags. The area should be as clean as possible so you don’t damage the paint as you remove the old emblem.

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Mark the Location

rear car emblem
Matt Wright

Before you remove the old emblem, mark its exact location with blue, non-marring masking tape so you'll know where your new emblem should go. An emblem that's just an inch off in any direction can look terrible, throwing off the visual aesthetic balance and making your car appear to have been repaired and repainted after an accident, which could spoil a future sale. 

Clean and dry the area below the emblem. Align the top edge of a piece of masking tape at least 2 inches longer than the emblem's width with the bottom edge of the emblem, leaving a millimeter or two of space between the tape and the emblem. Hold the tape between your thumb and forefinger at each end with your fingers toward the top, stretch the tape straight, and gently place it under the emblem. If a letter dips below the line, use two pieces of tape to work around that “y” or “g.”

If you don’t get it on straight, peel off the tape and try again. Redo it until you get it right. You'll only get one try to place the new emblem on the car. Once you’re happy with the placement of the tape, press it firmly on all sides to be sure it’s there for the duration of the repair. Now mark the left and right edges of the emblem so you can easily center the new emblem using those marks as guides. 

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Pick the Tools

car emblem removal
Matt Wright

Use dental floss or fishing line to remove the old emblem. Professional emblem removal tools work quite well, but you aren't going to be removing emblems every week, so why spend the money? Homemade tools work just as well—or better. 

Cut some floss or fishing line about 2 feet long, making sure that it's not too short. Spray the emblem area lightly with window cleaner as a lubricant to further protect your paint. Wrap the string around the second finger of each hand, leaving about 6 inches of line between your fingers. 

Start at one end of the emblem, usually the end that has the tightest point, like the trailing “a” in the pictured Carrera emblem. Pull your string saw tight and start sawing the foam adhesive layer attaching the emblem to the vehicle body. Don't be tempted to saw as close as possible to the car body to remove as much foam as you can. You'll never get it all off with the string, and the more you rub against the paint the more likely you are to scratch it. Slowly saw through the foam layer beneath the emblem until it’s completely clear from the car.

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Remove the Residue

back of car
Matt Wright

When you start to clean away the foam, adhesive, and other residue of the old emblem, you might be tempted to use a scraper, but don't risk it. One deep scratch and you’ll be kicking yourself. Use a rag, preferably something with a nap, such as an old washcloth. Make sure it’s clean of dirt, old paint, and abrasives. Wear nitrile gloves for this part of the job. The chemicals you’ll use to remove the adhesive residue aren’t good for your skin, and you may come into contact with them for several minutes depending on how long it takes to remove the foam funk. Do this in a well-ventilated area, outdoors if possible. It’s never a good idea to breathe in fumes, even for a short time. 

Before using any chemical on your car’s paint, test it n a small, inconspicuous area. Mineral spirits will almost never harm a decent paint job, but test to be sure.

Moisten a small area of the rag with mineral spirits and gently soak the areas still covered with foam adhesive. Try not to soak your masking tape guide, but it will stay in place if it gets a little damp. Working from one side to the other, top to bottom, or from the middle to the outside, scrub the foam gently. At first, it will appear you're getting nowhere, but soon the solvent will start to break down the adhesive and you’ll see clear areas showing through. Keep at it until you have wiped away all the adhesive. Allow the area to dry and you’ll usually find spots with a trace of the sticky stuff. Clean again until nothing's left but paint. 

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Prep the Area

polish and wax
Matt Wright

The area behind the emblem, especially the exposed paint between and around its letters, has likely never been properly washed or waxed. It’s difficult to get scrubbing or polishing tools between the letters, so there are probably fine scratches around the area of the old emblem, which are easier to see when the area is clean and dry. While you might not notice fine scratches in the paint when the new emblem is in place, now is your only chance to polish them out. If you don’t care, go to the next step.

With the emblem area clean and dry, use a high-quality liquid wax to polish out any scratches you find. Buffing out scratches with a liquid wax can take time, but it will make the job more complete. Apply a small amount of wax to a moistened applicator pad or soft polishing cloth (microfiber, for example). Polish a large area around the emblem location using a slow, circular motion and moderate pressure. After you’ve polished for a few minutes, wipe away the haze and check the surface. Continue until you’re happy with the results.

It’s important to remove the wax from the surface where the emblem will be attached, even though you just applied a coat of wax and spent half an hour polishing it. Your new emblem won’t stick well to wax, so use mineral spirits to remove it. Using your original mineral spirits cloth, follow the same process, slowly rubbing the surface to clean off any wax remnants. Do this at least twice to be sure.

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Apply the Replacement

new Carrera emblem
Matt Wright

Before you peel the protective backing from your new emblem, hold it in place. The foam adhesive that comes with your emblem is so sticky that if you accidentally touch even the very end of the emblem and it sticks, you’ll have a hard time getting it off and may lose some foam adhesive in the process. So practice holding it in place, just above your guide tape, lining up the emblem without touching the vehicle’s surface.

When you feel you have the motion down, peel away the backing layer from the adhesive. You are now holding the automotive equivalent of a loaded weapon. If you treat your emblem like something dangerous and give it full concentration, you’ll have a better chance of getting it right the first time. 

If you get it wrong, don't panic, though you’ll lose some adhesive when you pull off the misplaced emblem. Decide whether enough adhesive remains to hold the emblem in place for years or you need to order a new one. The hard part is finished, so if this is the case, don’t despair.