Enhanced Safety Bling

In the process of removing the courtesy lights in the Prius doors a while back and being mildly concerned about maintaining night-time visibility, I had decided to spiff up the car with bits of retro-reflective tape along the door edges to yield an even better indication of an open(ing) door to a driver behind at night than the lights could ever hope to. I still believe that all car manufacturers should do something similar at the factory -- passive retroreflector tape is a very cheap and effective way of doing that which lasts quite a while, and more permanent methods could probably be designed as well. Many public safety and commercial vehicles already receive similar treatment before being placed into service. My own efforts quickly led to getting a little carried away with the whole night visibility thing even back then, as shown at the end of that other page. The car ran around like that for a couple of years.

It wasn't enough.

With the ever-increasing neanderthal stupidity on the roads these days and so many people completely not paying attention to their driving, it was becoming clear that the "conspicuity effort" needed another step up. While idly browsing around various safety-product sites an idea began forming, and to help visualize some aesthetics a quick-n-dirty "artist's conception" photochop was done based on an old picture from the "naked Prius" page.

This isn't a real photo and the faked-in stripe is a bit too wide, but it was clear that two-inch retroreflective "bumblebee tape" would fit perfectly along the flat body crease just under the windows. I had to consider this carefully, as it would likely be a permament change. The better "engineer grade" embedded-glass-bead variety of this stuff is very difficult to remove, and would probably take a lot of paint with it if attempted.

But I liked the look already, and went ahead to find a local supplier for National Marker's RHS2BY striped tape. The good stuff ain't cheap -- over a buck a foot, and I'd wind up needing about 28 feet of it all told. Conveniently, it comes in 30-foot rolls.

Cleanliness is paramount for good adhesion. First the whole car exterior was washed with soap to degrease it, and all the target areas wiped down with alcohol and carefully dried.

Obviously breaks would be needed at all the door seams. Masks to just barely cover the edges were applied, primarily to serve as cut guidelines.

Initial alignment, with the backing still on, to make sure the path would continue correctly to the rear. The angle break toward the front would conveniently happen right at the door hinge, as a separate piece.

The secondary piece down the front fender would end under the headlight, following the same little "point" as the body panel itself. This would give maximum length without continuing onto the nose piece, which may get removed periodically.

From one end, progressive stick-down happened while peeling the paper backing away underneath. This was a little touchy, and I'm amazed I didn't really screw it up somewhere. The tape stretches quite a bit more once the backing is gone, making alignment even more interesting.

A few little air bubbles inevitably got trapped underneath, but they were easy to mostly remove by poking through one edge of each bubble with a sharp pin and squeezing the tape down from the other side. Final press-down was through a soft cloth that could slide easily across the tape while under heavy finger pressure and not scratch it up.

Edges were cut along the tape masks, letting the masking tape cushion the knife point away from the body paint.

The masking could then be peeled away including the tiny bit from under the cut edge, after which the edge was stuck down the rest of the way. This is actually on the angle break and shows how the alignment of the secondary piece on the driver's side is a little off, but I later cut a little flat off the upper corner and it's almost invisible from a distance.

The fuel door was easy: run straight across the whole area, then slit carefully along the exact middle of the gap and then tuck all the tape edges down onto their respective parts. The adhesive is sticky enough that even those tiny little flaps stay firmly down.

The finished job, including the addition of some more "trailer tape" along the bottom. Early evening shot, with just enough flash to light the retroreflective stuff. It brings a bit of angular aesthetic to an otherwise rather curved body shape, a kind of industrial-themed hint of that "star wars imperial destroyer" look I've always favored. Angles in bodywork itself aren't aerodynamic, but here's how to get some of that early-eighties feeling without any drag-coefficient penalty.

So is it the hybrid version of Buckaroo Banzai's jetcar, or a rolling Jersey barrier? I thought about this in advance -- frankly I don't mind my car looking like a construction-zone hazard by day or night, if that helps keep people the hell *away* from me on the road. That's really the whole idea here.

So why would *anyone* want to tailgate something like this? I cannot fathom that, but they do it anyway. That's gotta be it -- they're all Red Lectroids and think that I'm an escape pod headed back to New Jersey. For such numbnuts there's the yuppie button, which may or may not actually work to get rid of them.

Here's what the retroreflective beads look like under about 30x magnification. They sit on a shiny metallized vinyl backing that helps reflect light too, but the beads have a particular refractive index and do most of the work of turning light back around to where it came from. Each one only shows a tiny pinpoint of light, but millions of them together make the whole surface very visible. The backing is somewhat fragile and sits right on the adhesive, so trying to get tape like this off again tends to yield many frustratingly small pieces.

The trailer tape uses a different technology known as "Reflexite" and other trade names, which is essentially a little sea of embedded corner reflectors that gives up to five times the visible brightness although usually at a smaller reflected angle.

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