The Only Time It's OK to Put Racing Stripes on Your Car

Courtesy of FCA
Courtesy of FCA

Stripes on cars are actually a somewhat controversial topic. They neither make your car faster nor your penis bigger, yet they're still all tied up with racing heritage and alpha-male bravado. So let's say you've got a sweet car and you wanna spiff up the looks a little bit -- what about adding stripes? Well, let's talk about that.

Flickr/Alexander Nie (edited)

Here's the deal: it's your car, and it's a free country. Do whatever makes you love your car enough to turn back and look at it after you park, and at the end of the day, you'll be fine. But that said, you risk broadcasting to the world that you're a card-carrying member of the car-illiterate class, or worse, a complete poser.

If you'd rather have a car that's stunning and a classic throwback, whether you should stripe it depends on the car itself, its heritage, and the style of stripe.

Aaron Miller/Thrillist

Does your car have a clearly established pedigree of stripes?

Mustangs have worn a pair of stripes down the middle of the car ever since the days of Carroll Shelby. The look is so well established that Shelby is often incorrectly attributed as the inventor of the stripes, and today, virtually any American muscle or pony car can rightly get away with it.

Porsche's partnership with Martini branding (as in the previous photo) is seemingly prehistoric, while BMW has been using several variations of its blue/purple/red M stripe since the 1970s -- they're both acceptable.

Flickr/Grant C (edited)

Stripes on a fender like you see here originated in motorsport, back in the pre-radio days before drivers and pits could communicate with each other. It was a way for the team to identify drivers in otherwise identical cars. Honda roadster tradition does indeed include a stripe, but nothing like the ones on the Honda above. A well-meaning attempt, but still completely wrong.


For God's sake, don't use the wrong style

I'll never forget walking through my high school parking lot one day and stumbling on a Mustang that had Camaro stripes. The poor guy (or girl, I have no idea who owned the car) probably had no idea what he had done wrong, or why the car just didn't look right. Do you see that extra-thin stripe outlining the two main stripes here? That's a GM thing. Compare it to the Shelby above and you'll see the difference.

This car was done right (granted, from the factory, as an option).

Flickr/Open Track Days (edited)

Is your car souped up, or are you just using it for your daily commute?

Even if you do everything right with the stripes, they're still a reference to high performance and a competitive heritage. I'm not saying you can't have stripes on your car if you don't take it to a race track (though that is where they look best). But they're boastful by their very nature, so first of all, expect a little extra attention from law enforcement, and secondly, it helps to have something to back up the boast. If you're serious about being taken seriously, check out our list of car mods that'll actually improve your car's performance. Honestly, stripes should be among the last things you do.

Flickr/Adrian Salgado

Whatever you do, don't do this

Ultimately, it's up to you to know your car's heritage; does striping it actually make sense, or are you just putting a stamp on something because you think it looks cool?

The most important takeaway here is that you do not, under any circumstances, put stripes on a Prius. Even if you're doing it in hipstery, drinking-PBR-ironically sort of way. Just no.

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter. He has never, ever had a stripe on a car... yet.