How to Paint a Car

People have this notion that painting a car is as easy as painting a wall in the house. Household painting...

People have this notion that painting a car is as easy as painting a wall in the house. Household painting projects only require a good paint, a few paint brushes, and paint rollers. Painting a car is a different story. You will need a compressor, respirators, paint guns and sprayers, primers, paints, and clear coats, among others. It is for this reason that professional car paint jobs are quite expensive. Do not fret, however. You can also learn how to paint a car right in your home.

Car painter preparing car for a painting

Prepare the Things That You Will Need for the Job

Painting a car is very different from painting a house or any other structure. There are many materials and tools that you will need to accomplish this project.

Automotive paint is different from other types of paint in that it comes in aerosol form. You can inhale these aerosolized paint molecules and cause respiratory problems. That is why you will need one of the best respirators for spray paints. Some may recommend a face mask. Unfortunately, this may not do a good job of protecting you from the fumes. You will also need a face mask to protect your eyes.

You will also need the best automotive paint guns to help you apply a more uniform coating of paint on the car. There are also systems that allow you to paint using an airless sprayer. If you decide to use one of these systems, make sure to choose only from the best airless paint sprayers.

As mentioned, the paint for your car is different from the paint for your house. These come in different formulations. You can chose from polyurethane, acrylic enamel, or enamel. There are those that can leave a metallic sheen that household paints cannot provide. There are also chrome paints that can give your car a more refined, more exquisite look. Remember to pick only the best chrome spray paint if ever you want to use such a material.

Small to medium sized cars will often require about a gallon or so of paint primer. They will also need about three gallons of car paint or top coat. This is in addition to about two gallons of lacquer or clear coat. Larger vehicles like SUVs, vans, and trucks may require more. Do not forget to get the exact color of paint that matches the one on your car. Always check the color code on the compliance plate on your car.

In addition to these materials, you will also need a power sander, masking tape, an air compressor, sanding pads, sandpaper, and a cleaning solvent. Paint thinners, primers, and a lacquer or clear coat are also essential. You will also need mineral spirits or denatured alcohol, newspapers, and rags. It would also be nice if you can get a dust extractor to draw debris from the air.

Choose and Prepare the Location for Painting Your Car

One of the fundamental requirements for painting a car is a good location. There are four things that you should check whenever choosing a location for your DIY car paint job. First, make sure that you will have plenty of room to move around. You will be working with different devices. Adequate space will help minimize tipping or bumping into these gadgets.

Second, the location should have adequate lighting. One aspect of auto painting is the preparation of the surface of the car. You will need to make sure that everything is smooth. You will also need to see that you have sprayed a uniform coating of paint on the car. This will only be possible if you have a well-lit room.

Third, you need to have a location that has good ventilation. Only aerosolized paint will work on cars. Unfortunately, these will also get suspended in the air for some time. You will need good ventilation to help disperse these volatile compounds in a more efficient manner.

Fourth, and perhaps the most important of all, you need a location that is as free from dust and other contaminants as possible. Spraying a car will often leave a wet surface on the automobile for quite some time. Dust and other particles can stick onto the surface and ruin your car paint job.

Worker painting a car

Prepare the Car

One of the first steps in painting a car is preparing the surface. Decide which parts of the car you want to paint. If you are going to work on the engine bay, make sure that you know how to remove the different components in this area. You will need to remove the engine, the transmission, and all the other parts in the engine bay. If it is the inner doorsill that you want to paint, you will also have to remove the outer door panel.

Painting the car requires you to remove those parts that you do not want to get painted. If these are not removable, then you should be able to cover them with newspaper edged with masking tape.

Check the surface of the car for any dents, scratches, and other imperfections. Remove any rust that you see. If you paint over rust, it will only eat away at the fresh paint and further undermine the integrity of your car. Remove any plastic or chrome trims and moldings.

Get an orbital sander and smoothen the surface of your car. It is important for paint to have an even and smooth surface to adhere to. Make sure to sand the surface until you get to the metal body of the car. Pay attention to hard-to-reach areas. You may need a special attachment for these.

Always use circular motions when sanding the vehicle’s surface. Work your way from the clear coat, all the way to the base coat. Do it one section at a time. This task alone can already set you back for about 3 to 4 days, depending on the extent of the auto painting project.

There are those who say sanding up to the primer or base coat level of the car paint is enough. While this can help hasten the process of a car paint job, it may not provide you with the best results. Sanding the surface to the bare metal takes time. However, it offers you the best results.

Clean the surface of the car using mineral spirits or denatured alcohol. Use several pieces of rag and moisten this with the cleaning compound. This will help remove any debris, oil residue, and other contaminants that may still be present on the surface. This also helps prepare the car for painting. Make sure to wait several minutes for the denatured alcohol to evaporate together with the oil residues before you wipe the surface again.

Once you’re done stripping the car, it’s time to cover those surfaces that you are not going to paint. Cover the door handles, windows, windshields, glass, mirrors, grills, and others using newspaper. Tape the edges with masking tape.

Apply Primer to the Car

It is best to practice applying primer to a surface before you start painting the car. This is a very crucial step in learning how to paint a car at home for beginners. Professional auto painters have many years of experience painting a car. As such, they can shorten the length of time needed to paint a vehicle.

Primers require thinners before you can apply them on any surface. It is important to follow the correct ratio of paint thinner to primer. Make sure to read the primer’s instructions on how to do this.

Once you have prepared the primer, try it out on a large piece of metal first. Do not apply it on your car yet. It is critical that you get a feel for the correct way of spraying paint on your car. Practice spraying junk metal in your garage so you will develop the confidence in how to paint a car.

Hold the spray gun about 6 inches away from the surface of the practice metal panel. Squeeze the trigger only as you move the spray gun in a side-to-side motion. Release the trigger the moment you reach the end of one pass. Resist the temptation of squeezing the trigger all the time. This will make some sections of the metal to have a thicker paint than others.

It would also be best to check the speed of your arm movement. Too fast and you may not apply the correct amount of paint. Too slow can make the paint thicker than necessary. This can lead to paint runoffs. Keep on practicing until you can feel confident about your abilities. Take note of the technique that works best for you.

You are now ready to perform the DIY car paint job on your vehicle. Start on the roof of your vehicle. Move down towards the body and from side to side. Apply a thin coat first. Priming your vehicle often requires two to three applications of primer. After each application, wait at least 30 minutes to help cure the primer onto the surface. One hour is best.

Applying a primer on your vehicle will leave a powdery texture on the surface. After the curing of the last primer application, it is best to smoothen the surface with a 2000-grit sandpaper. Use both wet and dry sanding techniques to smoothen the surface. Slightly dampen a clean piece of rag with thinner and use this to wipe the surface of the vehicle. Do not soak the rag with thinner; otherwise, you will strip the primer that you applied.

Car surface buffing

Paint the Car

One of the last steps to painting a car is the application of the top coat. This should already be easy since you will use the same technique as in the application of a primer.

Always hold your spray gun about half a foot away from the surface of the car. Be mindful of your arm movements as you want to spray in a smooth yet sweeping manner. Be consistent with the pressure that you apply on the trigger. That’s why it’s important to practice spraying with a spray gun first before you make any attempts at learning how to paint a car at home.

Painting the whole car should take you about 15 minutes per section or panel. You will have to apply about 4 coats of paint on your car. Always observe a 1-hour curing period in between applications. On your fourth coating, it is best to smoothen the surface with a 2000-grit sandpaper again. Use both dry and wet sanding techniques to remove any powdery residue on the surface. Wipe the surface using a clean piece of rag. Once done, you can apply the last coat of automotive paint. Let it cure for about an hour.

After applying the last paint coat, you can start applying the clear coat lacquer. You will stick to the same spray painting techniques we discussed above. Before the clear coat dries up or cures, remove the masking tape on the different sections of your vehicle. Be very careful when doing this. You do not want any bit of newspaper or masking tape to get stuck on the still-wet lacquer. Allow the clear coat to cure, following the recommended time period by the manufacturer.

Inspect the surface for any imperfections like missed spots or paint runoffs. If there are any, then it is best to smoothen these sections with a 2000-grit sandpaper. You can then re-spray the section until you get a more uniform result.

Finish the Job

Always finish the car paint job by buffing the surface. This will help bring out the natural shine of your vehicle and make it look brand new. In buffing the car, make sure to use circular motions. Be careful not to overwork any particular painted section. Buffing one area a lot longer than necessary can burn the new paint.

Learning how to paint a car is not difficult. You only need to have the right mindset, the patience, and the right tools and materials for the job. Not only will a DIY car paint job save you money, it can be a very rewarding experience, too.

You may also like our article on the best ceramic coating for cars.

Sources:

  1. How to Paint a Car – WikiHow
  2. How to Paint a Car Yourself – YourMechanic Advice