How To Install And Remove Reflective Tape
So we all know that we must install reflective tape on trucks and trailers over 10,000 pounds and 80” wide. The question is what is the best way to do this? Typically reflective tape is not exactly a cheap item. An industry standard roll can cost from $44 to $100 a roll. And it’s very, very, sticky and prone to tangles. So it’s not something you (or your boss) wants you to learn by trial and error – let’s get it right the first time.
First of all – what NOT to do. Never install directly on top of fresh paint. The offgassing of new paint fumes can affect the adhesive qualities of new reflective tape and it might all fall off in a day or two. Your fresh paint must be fully cured for at least 2 days. Another very important point – always apply firm even pressure over the full length of the reflective tape. This is best done with a plastic scraper blade or a small rubber roller. Don’t use a metal blade scraper, it might scratch the surface of the reflective tape. Don’t let anyone tell you “just run your finger over it good and it’ll stick ok”. Yes, it might stick but just wait a season for the sun and rain to do their work and once again, that new DOT reflective tape will be curling up and dropping off that new trailer. Vehicle surfaces also must be dry, grease-free, dirt-free, and best between 40 and 85 degrees. No tape manufacturer has said you can’t install reflective tape at very cold temperatures but that glue on the back of tape is a viscous material and it will stiffen up the colder it gets and make adhesion more challenging. Note that some tapes, even when stuck for a few minutes can really stick. And that’s a problem when you remove a pieces of crooked reflective tape. It can pull the paint off with it. Avery makes a great reflective tape that is repositionable – it sticks lightly until the adhesive reacts with the oxygen in the air and then really tightens up after about 48 hours. Check this premium tape out at Briargate Supply.
For those of you that do boat trailers – just a word about galvanized surfaces. The galvanizing process always makes a rough surface. And reflective tape adheres to the high points. So yes, ALL reflective tape struggles with galvanized surfaces. Just apply firm even pressure and lots of it when installing.
It can be challenging to lay out that tape even and straight down a long trailer. A very thin pencil line drawn with a long straight edge works good. For truly long runs a chalk line snapped lightly works well. Just use a white chalk, not something like bright lime that can be a dickens to clean up. For anyone that doesn’t know – fresh chalk is not unlike toner ink in your photocopier. However, a snapped chalk line is one of the fastest ways to get a perfectly straight line – just go easy on the chalk.
So now you have an old trailer with 10 years of reflective tape that must be removed. And that tape is just about permanently adhered to the aluminum, trailer bed. You have cussed and discussed that tape and it’s just not coming off. There are a couple of methods available. A heat gun can work well, but beware, it leaves behind quite a gummy mess. It can work better to remove old reflective tape with the proper solvent like paint thinner or a proper adhesive remover. Just work a corner loose and keep squirting the proper solvent on the back edge of the tape to loosen it, and unpeel it as you go. Be very careful about using the heat gun and the solvent together. Most solvents are very flammable you can cause a serious fire or explosion by using a heat gun along with solvents. Solvents can also damage fresh paint so try a small test patch first. Also be sure to use the proper gloves, and plenty of fresh air return with any solvent use.