July 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Car Culture: Have car decal fun for $20 or less

Get crafty to avoid spending thousands on decorative wraps

Well, it seems those old “auto wrap” email come-ons are making the rounds again; I’ve had a couple such offers pop up in my inbox in the past few days.

Those are the unsolicited messages that offer $300 or $400 a month just to swathe your vehicle in the logo of a name-brand consumer good like an energy drink or laundry detergent. But instead of providing its victims with a painless income stream, the “phishing” scam, as it’s known, tricks them into sending their own cash as some sort of good-faith payment on a phony wire transfer.

The car-wrap fraudsters have reached around the globe — recent news reports of unwary motorists being taken advantage of by the too-good-to-be-true schemes range from Pennsylvania to Kansas to down under in New Zealand.

It’s too bad, because aside from the easy money, think how amusing it would be to buzz around in a car or truck decked out with splashy graphics and logos. Much as I love the pearlescent white finish of my little vehicle, the occasional fling as a big can of cola, a dragonfly or a four-wheeled peony would be fun, for a change. (And the extra protection from those annoying rock chips and other scars would be welcome, too.) The beauty of today’s printing and materials technology is that unlike the gluey bumper stickers of yore, auto wraps are removable and won’t (theoretically) harm the vehicle’s paint job.

Clicking “delete” on the phishing emails, I wondered if there were a way. Online sites say the cost can range from $5 to $20 or more per square foot depending on design requirements, vinyl used, installation time and other factors. That adds up to about $3,000 for a car and $5,000 for an SUV or truck, according to estimates posted on an array of websites.

Not going to happen, for most of us.

Lots of sites online sell removable vinyl decals but they trend heavy on the flames, skulls, risqué silhouettes and race-car-style numerals and stripes. Shopping around I did see a few peace signs, flowers and abstracts; some sites let you select color and size for a more affordable $50 or so. Still, that’s a lot to spend on designs that are generic and mostly one flat color.

Never one to be deterred, I started combing the craft and office-supply stores. And if you want to have some whimsical fun with your vehicle — or a new craft to occupy kids during the summertime doldrums — a $20 bill and an inkjet printer can buy a fair amount of car decal fun.

For about $15 you can pick up five 8.5” x 11” sheets of magnetic material that runs right through a standard home inkjet. Like those business-card stick-ups, the magnet material is flexible and soft enough to cut with household scissors.

Poke around online for images in your theme, from sports teams to hobbies to school affiliations. (Beware of copyright infringement issues, though.) I went for a retro vacation motif and found lots of cute vintage travel trailer and iconic road-trip graphics. Here’s a tip: Pull up Pinterest and search on the term “printables” plus whatever keyword fits your theme; I found retro vacation posters, a Route 66 sign and other fun images instantly. A few clicks of the keyboard and I had a DIY magnetic car decal.

Be sure to take a piece of the magnetic sheet to your vehicle before you start printing; with plastic panels and edgy body shapes so prevalent you’ll have to experiment to see what size and shape of decal will best adhere to the metal parts; chances are it won’t be the bumper.

Prefer a see-through design to adorn your window? Printable static-cling material also is readily available; just be sure to follow directions on reversing the images before you print so the design is oriented correctly.

Until car wraps become more affordable to the average motorist, a few one-of-a-kind decals can be an amusing way to speak your piece, add a bit of flair or advertise your business wares at a very economical price.

Now, I’m off to find a retro Mt. Rushmore poster to print …

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via mpreddy@aol.com.