Replacing a Worn Trunk or Side Emblem

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Emblem Replacement in a Nutshell

old and new emblem
Out with the old worn emblem, and in with the new black Carrera. Matt Wright

The plastic emblems on the back of your car allow you to communicate things like what kind of car you drive and they need replacing every once in a while. As they age and experience car washes, bad weather, and the harsh light of the beating sun, they can start to deteriorate and lose their aesthetic appeal. Often, they start to show their age long before your paint job, and they can become an eyesore on your trunk or tail gate. If this is the case with your rear end, you can replace it with a new emblem in an afternoon. The emblem itself is usually inexpensive, and the tools to replace it are cheap, too. This article shows you how to do the job on a Porsche 911 Carrera, but most modern vehicles use the same sticky emblems. 

Clean the Work Area

Before you grab a tool or start picking at the corners of your old emblem, be sure to thoroughly clean the old emblem and the area around it. Use a soft brush if you have one available, as this will get any little pieces of dirt or grit out of the nooks and crannies of your old emblem. I know it may seem counterintuitive to clean something that you’re about to happily chuck into the garbage can, but this is an important step. Have you ever seen a car that’s really dusty, and run your finger across the dust to make a clean spot? It turns out what you thought was a newly brushed clean spot is actually now the home of a bunch of fine scratches in the paint. Even very fine dust can be abrasive enough to scratch paint. This is why we always rinse vehicles off thoroughly before we wash them with sponges and rags. So, getting back to our emblem job, we need it to be as clean as possible so we don’t damage the paint while we’re trying to remove the old emblem. 

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Mark the Location

rear car emblem
The masking tape will be your guide for installing the new emblem. Matt Wright

There is one huge mistake you can make when doing this repair. Its easy to get so excited about such a rewarding fix and using your new homemade tools (see below) that you dive right in and scrape off that old, dirty emblem. Stop! Don’t do it yet. Before you take it off, you need to mark the exact location of the existing emblem with blue, non-marring masking tape. This is the only way you’re going to know exactly where your new emblem should go. When you’re standing behind your car or truck, looking at that emblem on the back, you can’t afford any confusion about where it should be placed when you go to install the new emblem. But believe me, that same area of trunk with nothing on it looks like a 10-acre open field and you’re trying to figure out where your tent use to be. I’ll also tell you that getting it “close enough” might not be enough at all. An emblem that is just an inch off in any direction can often look terrible. The back of your vehicle is an exercise in visual balance (some more than others) and throwing things off can ruin the aesthetics from the rear. On top of that, a misplaced emblem is often a sign that a car has been in an accident, repaired, and repainted, something you don't want to indicate to a future buyer simply because you replaced an emblem. 

To mark the location of your old emblem, first be sure the area below the emblem is clean and dry. Remove a piece of blue masking tape at least 2 inches longer than the emblem. Align the top edge of the tape with the bottom edge of the emblem. I like to leave a millimeter or two of space between the tape and the bottom of 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 existing emblem. If your emblem has a letter that dips below the line, use two pieces of tape to work around that lower “y” or “g.” If you don’t get it on there straight, peel the tape off and try again. This is the part of this job that you can redo as many times as needed to get it right. When you’re placing the actual emblem on the car, you only get one try! Once you’re happy with the placement of your tape guide, press it firmly on all sides to be sure it’s there for the duration of this repair. Now mark the left and right edges of the emblem. This will allow you to easily center the new emblem using those edge marks as guides. 

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The Seldom Used Tool

car emblem removal
Use fishing line to saw through the old foam adhesive. Matt Wright

To remove the old emblem you have your choice of tools: dental floss or fishing line. These may seem like unlikely objects to find in an automotive tool box, but if it works, why question it? There are some professional emblem removal tools that work quite well, too, but most of us aren’t going to be removing emblems every week, or more than once or twice in a lifetime for that matter. If you’re interested, the pro-grade tools are available here at Amazon for under $15. This kit has a number of tools in it that are super handy, but again, why spend your money on a kit if you’re probably only going to use it once? If there’s no alternative, I’m always in favor of forking over the cash for a proper tool, but in this case the homemade tool works as well as, or better than, the plastic professional tools. And I’m pretty sure the homemade tool is faster, too. 

Now that your work area is clean, cut a length of floss or fishing line that’s about 2 feet long. It’s not important to measure exactly, but be sure it's not too short. Spray the emblem area lightly with window cleaner. This just acts 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. You’ve just made a string saw! 

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 begin to saw the foam adhesive layer that’s attaching your emblem to the vehicle body. You may be tempted to saw as close as possible to the car body in an attempt to remove as much of the foam as possible, but don’t do it. You’ll never get it all off with the string, and the more you rub against the paint the more likely you are to add some scratches that will have to be removed in future steps of this job. Continue to slowly saw through the foam layer beneath the plastic emblem until it’s completely free of the car. Done? Not quite, you still need to remove all of that foam and adhesive from the car before you can install the new emblem. This can, and in most cases should, be a time-consuming part of the job. 

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Remove the Adhesive Residue

back of car
Keep working on the adhesive removal until it's nice and clean. Matt Wright

Before you can install your new emblem, or completely eliminate the emblem and all evidence that it ever existed, you have to clean away all of the foam, adhesive and other residue of the old emblem. You may be tempted to grab a scraper and go at it, but I don’t recommend this. While I’ve seen it done successfully, but I would never take the risk. One deep scratch and you’ll be kicking yourself for taking a shortcut. You’ll need a rag, preferably something with a little bit of nap on it like an old washcloth, but make sure it’s clean without any dirt, old paint, or abrasives stuck in it. I recommend wearing some nitrile gloves for this part of the job. The chemicals you’ll use to remove the adhesive residue aren’t great for your skin, and you may have to come in contact with them for more than a few minutes depending on how long it takes to liberate the foam funk. I also recommend doing this in a well-ventilated area, outdoors if possible. It’s never a good idea to breathe in a bunch of fumes, even miles fumes for a short period of time. 

Tip: Before you use any type of chemical on your car’s paint, test a small, inconspicuous area to be sure there isn’t any type of unexpected reaction. A tiny area of ugly, bubbling paint is much easier to live with than a huge swatch of your hood or trunk. Mineral spirits will almost never harm a paint job that’s in decent shape, but test to be sure! 

Moisten a small area of the rag with mineral spirits, and gently soak all of the areas that still have foam adhesive stuck to them. Try not to completely soak your perfectly placed masking tape guide, but don’t worry if it gets a little damp. It will stay in place unless you really go bonkers on it. Working from one side to the other, or top to bottom, or from the middle to the outside, scrub the foam gently. In the beginning, it will seem like your scrubbing is getting you nowhere, but be patient! The solvent will start to break down the adhesive and you’ll begin to see clean areas showing through. Progress! Keep at it until you think all of the adhesive has been wiped away. Allow the area to dry and you’ll usually find some spots that still have a trace of the old sticky stuff. Clean again. When there’s nothing left but paint, you’re ready to proceed to the next step. Spoiler alert: you’re not ready to install the new emblem quite yet! 

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Prepping the Area for the New Emblem

polish and wax
Polish the area under the emblem location. Matt Wright

Now that you’ve removed all of the old foam adhesive residue, you need to prep the area for the new emblem. Before you start, I’ll let you know that if you really don’t care about aesthetics, you can skip this step. (But if you didn’t care about aesthetics, would you even be replacing your emblem at all?)

This part of the process takes some time, but it’s well worth the extra effort. The area behind the emblem, especially the exposed paint in between and around the letters of your emblem, has likely never been properly washed or waxed. It’s almost impossible to get any kind of scrubbing or polishing tools in between the letters without being obsessive. This being the case, there is likely a number of fine scratches around the area of the old emblem. These are easier to see when the area is clean and dry, which at this point should be the case. While you won’t notice any fine scratches in the paint as much when the new emblem is in place, now is your only chance to polish these out. You can always look up and fully wax and detail the rest of the vehicle some day, but that area immediately surrounding the emblem will be largely inaccessible. If you don’t care, move on to the next step. If it’s important to you, or you just generally like to do a thorough and complete job, read on to complete this step.

*Do not remove your blue tape for this process. We'll need it soon.

With the emblem area clean and dry, use a high-quality liquid wax to polish out any scratches that have crept into the area. Buffing out scratches with a liquid wax can be a slow process, but taking your time will make the job more complete and higher quality. Apply a small amount of wax to a moistened applicator pad or very soft polishing cloth (micro-fiber, for example). Polish a large area around the emblem location using a slow circular motion and only moderate pressure. After you’ve polished for a few minutes, wipe away the haze and check the surface. Continue this process until you’re happy with the results. Remember, this is your only chance to work underneath and directly around the emblem. 

When you’re happy with your wax and polish job, it’s very important to remove the wax from the surface that the emblem will be attached to. Yes, you just applied a coat of wax and spend half an hour polishing it, only to remove it now. But your new emblem won’t stick well to wax, so we will use mineral spirits to remove it. Using your original mineral spirits cloth, follow the same process as in the previous step, slowly rubbing the surface of the vehicle to clean off any remnants of wax. Do this at least twice to be really sure. Wipe away and excess, and you’re finally ready to install the new emblem!

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Hold Your Breath, and Go!

new Carrera emblem
The new emblem installed, looks brand new!. Matt Wright

Before you peel the protective backing from your new emblem, hold it in place and practice installing it just above the line you made with your guide tape. It may feel silly to practice this, but the foam adhesive your emblem comes with is so sticky that if you accidentally place even the very end of the emblem and it sticks, you’ll have a very hard time getting it off and may lose some of your precious foam adhesive in the process. So practice holding it in place and lining the emblem up without it touching the vehicle’s surface yet. When you feel you’ve got the motion down, you can peel away the layer of backing from the adhesive. You are now holding the automotive equivalent of a loaded weapon. That’s a little extreme, sure, but if you treat your unstuck emblem like something dangerous and give it full concentration, you’ll have a much better chance of getting it right the first time. 

If you happen to get it wrong, it’s not the end of the world. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll lose some of the adhesive when you pull the misplaced emblem off. Now you have to decide whether there’s enough there to hold it in place for years or you need to order a new one and start over. The hard part is finished, so don’t despair if this is the case.