Will these magnets run?
November 29, 2004 1:26 PM   Subscribe

If you live in the US, you've probably seen them. Those yellow and red,white and blue magnets that people stick on their cars that look like ribbons, usually saying "Support Our Troops" or something of the sort. I've got a question about them. [MI]

I've seen a chain mail being passed around that the material these are made of is potentially harmful to a car's paint job when exposed to temperatures under 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Does anyone know how valid that is?
posted by shawnj to Grab Bag (34 answers total)
Response by poster: Text of chain letter:

You know those yellow magnetic ribbons you see on cars these days? Eventually they can eat through the paint on most kinds of cars.

That flexible, magnetic material called Cemdex(TM) first came out in 1976. They tried to market it to the department of defense to use on big bulletin boards to track troop movements, but it never caught on.
Later it became used for promotional graphic arts purposes like business cards that stick to the fridge. IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE USED IN EXTREME WEATHER CONDITIONS.

Normally the flexible resins are completely inert and harmless, but if the material gets below 30 degrees Fahrenheit the resins can seep out and slowly dissolve the paint on your car.

The reaction: poly-iso-cyanate (the enamel in your paint) + polyvinyl resin (ingredient in the flexible magnet material) => polyvinyl acetate + 2 cyanic acid + 3 CO2

It will happen slow, but if you leave it on for an whole season, eventually you will have a big, gray, ribbon-shaped hole in your car's paint job.
posted by shawnj at 1:29 PM on November 29, 2004

Don't believe everything you read in chain emails. The company that makes them will have tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits for not putting the warning on the packaging if this were true.
posted by Arch Stanton at 1:31 PM on November 29, 2004

I call BS.

Search google for 'Cemdex', and nothing remotely related to flexible magnet material comes up.

Try searching for 'cemdex magnetic', and you only get two hits, one of which is this chain mail.
posted by jammer at 1:34 PM on November 29, 2004

As a rule, I don't believe anything I get in a chain letter, though I don't see this on Snopes yet or on the FAQ page of the folks who make them. I had a big magnet on the side of my car for a while and I must say, though a lot of junk collected around the outside of it [rain + dirt] so that it looked awful when I took it off, it did not do anything to the paint.
posted by jessamyn at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2004

I have a BS in chemistry (although in fairness I've forgotten a lot of it), and I'm calling BS as well. BS. BS. Hee.

Without commenting on the specifics of the alleged reaction here (part of the stuff I've forgotten, I'm sure), there's at least two things that set off my BS-detector:

1. Polymers (the "poly-iso-cyanate" and "polyvinyl resin" alleged to be the reactants here) tend to be non-reactive.

2. In general, substances become less reactive at cold temperatures, not more reactive.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:43 PM on November 29, 2004

I used to work at a sign company where we made those big 12 x 24 magnet signs for contractors trucks. They would leave those things on for years at at time, and sometimes, when you removed them, there was paint damage. But we're talking years here...
posted by quibx at 1:50 PM on November 29, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you all. I was a bit skeptical about it when I heard about it, but now I feel a bit better about them.
posted by shawnj at 1:56 PM on November 29, 2004

I'd guess that any damage from the magnet is more likely due to grit between the magnet and paint and the minute but pervasive vibrations a car normally experiences on the road. A solution would be to make sure the car is really clean before application, and to remove it and clean it every so often, as water/wind could probably force grit in the small space between the magnet and paint.
posted by loquacious at 2:00 PM on November 29, 2004

Like quibx said, these flexible magnets are used regularly by sign makers. Often as temporary signs when you use a personal vehicle for a company. So the idea that they are not intended for car use is a bit silly.

OTOH, they will cause a problem eventually, but only because the paint under them will not fade like the rest of the car.
posted by smackfu at 2:00 PM on November 29, 2004

Funny story-- last Friday I was saying good-bye to my (liberal democrat) parents in a parking lot. I grabbed one of those magnetic ribbons off of a neighboring SUV and stuck it on my parents'. They drove from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine with a red, white and blue magnetic ribbon that said "One Nation UNDER GOD". (magnet maker's emphasis)

(thou shall not steal, etc. That Lincoln Navigator was going to use the two dollar value of the magnet in gas leaving the parking lot.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2004

One of my clients often used those magnets on rented and leased cars and vans, and let me tell you that I asked the people who fabricated them IN GREAT DETAIL whether they would damage the paint in any way, and there was never any damage reported as far as I know.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:22 PM on November 29, 2004

It may not hurt your paint, but if the ribbon in question has some sort of Jesus message, you will get struck by lightning.
posted by spilon at 2:24 PM on November 29, 2004

Here's a way-out-there thought: If 1 million people stopped putting the magnet on their cars, the savings in the weight would roughly equal 125,000 lbs. In equivalent oil purchases this would be about $90,000US in foriegn oil support .

We can potentially show greater support our troops by dependening less on foreign oil to move these stickers around.
posted by omidius at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2004

Why do they say "support our troops" instead of "support war"?! What kind of lame cop out is "support out troops". Many of those stupid ribbon propaganda magnets are made in China anyway, why don't they just put "support Chinese troops" or "support patriotism". Are they demanding that I support our troops by making me look at their stupid waste of money magnet or are they claiming that they support our troops? And finally, if they support our troops so much, why don't they spend the $5 it takes to buy their propaganda magnet and actually use it to support our troops, buy them a card or something and send it in the mail.

Also, those things ARE magnets and thus easily and quickly removed (just saying).
posted by alicila at 2:42 PM on November 29, 2004

Here is Rob Walker's Consumed column from the NYT magazine on November 7 about these very magnets.
posted by stevil at 2:48 PM on November 29, 2004

It may not hurt your paint, but if the ribbon in question has some sort of Jesus message, you will get struck by lightning.

But it will hurt your paint when someone keys your car.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:57 PM on November 29, 2004

But it will hurt your paint when someone keys your car.

Bah, you stole my snark! Yesterday I made the drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and if I never see one of those stupid ribbons again, it'll be too soon.

Putting a magnet on your SUV != "supporting our troops."
posted by ludwig_van at 3:09 PM on November 29, 2004

Ah, I do love toothpastefordinner.
posted by The White Hat at 3:19 PM on November 29, 2004

alicia: One of my co-workers explained to me that the reason she put a ribbon on her car was because, as I'm sure you're aware, many US troops from the Vietnam era returned home to derision and scorn from their fellow countrymen. We can all recognize that this, by and large, was a major mistake on our part. Her rationale for putting on the decal was so she could show returning troops that, even though we might not support the war itself (she doesn't), we still support the people over there and are proud of their service. That seems comendable enough to me- in fact, it almost convinced me to get one, but I have a brand new car and I don't want to take any remote chance of damaging the paint job.
posted by baphomet at 3:23 PM on November 29, 2004

This version bugs me because the yellow and the red and white stripes would be on the same side if it were an actual ribbon.

Wikipedia has a nice summary of the origins of the yellow ribbon, and they disagree with baphomet's friend:
It often had the implied meaning of supporting the Desert Shield and Desert Storm troop deployments themselves and/or loyalty to President George Bush, and therefore became somewhat politicized. It appeared again during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq with similar meanings.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:51 PM on November 29, 2004

I had a "support our troops" ribbon on my truck along with a Kerry04 bumper sticker. I didn't want anyone to think that the Bush supporters had a monopoly on caring about the people who are at risk. It's not their fault they're there. And I'll admit I stole the ribbon off someone else's car (they had several).
posted by TimeFactor at 4:14 PM on November 29, 2004

I kind of agree with baphomet's friend that, although I strongly, strongly disagree with this war, I don't blame the people fighting it.

Having said that, I hate it when people put crap on their cars.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:23 PM on November 29, 2004

One of the guys at work is selling them as part of a parental support group. His son is in Iraq, near Mosul. All the proceeds are going to the troops. I'm against the war, but I bought one anyway. It was the best five bucks I've spent. The sticker is now on my fuel efficient car; right below the W with a circle/slash around it.
posted by keswick at 4:29 PM on November 29, 2004

ribbons = the 'baby on board' signs of '04.

i also hate all those freaking ovals with freaking letters in them. arg.
posted by glenwood at 7:00 PM on November 29, 2004

Around here most cars have them. The local Guard brigade arrived in Baghdad recently, and have lost a guy seriously injured already. I think people see the magnets as the only thing they can reasonably do to help. For example: I met a man recently who was talking about his son who was shipping out, how it would be good for him, and how it had meant a political career for so many others. I was about to nail him when I realized he was just terrified his son would be killed or hurt. A Vietnam vet who happened to be standing next to me and I reassured him that as a Signal soldier his son would be very safe and near the headquarters at all times.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:26 PM on November 29, 2004

The car I stole the ribbon from had several. I'll assume that the owner was sincerely interested in getting out the message "support our troops". By liberating one of his superflous ribbons I made that message visible to thousands more people than if the ribbon had remained on the original car. I think I helped that car's owner, the troops, and myself with one simple act. Isn't that a win-win-win?
posted by TimeFactor at 8:45 PM on November 29, 2004

I'm pretty sure that chain email is crap. If I'm thinking of the right ones, it should be vinyl on a magnetic backing... although even if it didn't have the magnetic backing it shouldn't hurt it. Most likely the vinyl film is made by 3M, and the company I work for installs this stuff on cars/trucks/buildings all the time, with no ill effects.


There are different kinds of vinyl film made with different chemicals and have different tolerances to temperature. Most likely the worst thing that would happen if it got cold is it would crack and get brittle. But from what I've seen this takes a while to do.

I'll check with our 3M rep, and get more details.
posted by jackofsaxons at 10:51 PM on November 29, 2004

Has anyone else seen the ribbons turned sideways? They started popping up here a month or two ago, and I finally figured out what they were trying to do when I pulled up behind a huge SUV with three or four ribbon magnets of various colors and motivations, alongside a virtual school of Jesus fish. Just when you think it can't get any tackier...
posted by majcher at 11:02 PM on November 29, 2004

I'm pretty damn certain that Jesus would never drive a SUV.
posted by ninthart at 2:30 AM on November 30, 2004

I was at a casino yesterday (Grand Casino Hinckley, in northern MN) and I swear to God, just about every fifth car in the parking lot had at least 5 of the damned magnets...
posted by neckro23 at 2:44 AM on November 30, 2004

I've got a bright red sticker on the back of my car
Says United States Marines
And yesterday a lady in a mini-van held up a middle finger at me
Does she think she knows what I stand for
Or the things that I believe
Just by looking at a sticker for the US Marines
On The Bumper Of My SUV

See, my brother Chris, he's been in for more than 14 years now
Our dad was in the Navy during Vietnam
Did his duty then he got out
And my grandpa earned his purple heart
On the beach of Normandy
That's why I've got a sticker for the US Marines
On The Bumper Of SUV

But that doesn't mean that I want war
I'm not Republican or Democrat
But I've gone all around this crazy world
Just to try and better understand

Yes I do have questions
I get to ask them because I'm free
That's why I've got a sticker for the US Marines
On the Bumper Of My SUV

(i bet the lady gave chely wright the middle finger because she was yapping on a cell phone and eating french fries while putting on makeup)
posted by Hankins at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2004

The only person I know who has one of these magnets has a son serving in Iraq. She also has a license plate that reads BE NICER. She does not drive an SUV. From her it seemed like a graceful gesture.
posted by Lynsey at 10:01 AM on November 30, 2004

Yesterday I saw a pickup truck with a sticker proclaiming that the driver was a "Marine Against Bush." That made me double-take.
posted by LimePi at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2004

Has anybody looked into the money flow from these things? Why not just send five bucks over there (or invest in proper armor or whatever they need at the moment) and be satisfied with yourself?

As somebody who hasn't purchased a single one nor supported the troops other than paying my taxes, I'm not sure what to think when I see stacks and stacks of them at every wal-mart and gas station I see. Where's the guy who's getting rich off of mass-producing these?

Or are all the proceeds, and I mean the Wal-Mart ones too, going over there?

As an aside, how come there hasn't been a Calvin-peeing-on something variant yet, on either side of the issue?
posted by codger at 10:25 AM on December 1, 2004

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