Today, having your vehicle repainted professionally can be a bit pricey. However, it’s very possible to save some money by doing the painting job yourself. On the other hand, painting a car properly requires solid technique and a good bit of practice. So, you should consider watching an experienced painter in action and practice on a “Junker” before trying to paint your own car. All in all, this guide will provide you with some of the best steps you can follow in-order to properly paint any vehicle.
SECTION-1: Setting Up For The Paint Job:
-Find a covered, ventilated, low-dust & safe place to do the painting job: To safely and skillfully paint a car, you will need an enclosed workspace with excellent ventilation, minimal dust, good lighting and lots of room to work around the vehicle. In fact, your home garage may fit the bill but do not paint in your garage if it contains a water heater, furnace or other source of potential ignition for the paint fumes that will accumulate during the process. Additionally, it may also be illegal where you live to paint a vehicle in your garage. So, check with the local authorities before proceeding. Lastly, covering the interior of your workspace with plastic sheeting can limit overspray and reduce the amount of dust that may fall on your new paint job while it cures.
-Take safety seriously: When you go to any home-center, paint-shop or auto parts store to pick up the sprayer, primer, paint, sanding tools and other necessary materials for the paint job, remember not to neglect health and safety equipment. So, buy a respirator mask and make sure you know how to use it properly. Additionally, choose a respirator that is designed and marketed for use in vehicle painting. Likewise, wear safety goggles, nitrile gloves & disposable plastic coveralls with a hood whenever you’re removing the old paint or adding new paint.
-Match the existing paint color by using your vehicle’s color code if desired: You can find the color-code on the “compliance-plate” located under the hood. This plate contains the VIN number and other essential vehicle info. The color code may also be noted on the inside of the driver’s side door frame near where you’ll find info on things like; ideal tire pressure for your vehicle. So, take the color code to any retailer that supplies automotive paint to get the right match. If you can’t find the code, contact the vehicle manufacturer so you can get the correct code. Alternatively, some automotive supply shops may be able to color match the paint without the code.
SECTION-2: How To Sand, Clean & Mask The Car-Body:
-Remove any chrome or plastic trim pieces: Many body panel moldings used on cars can be “snapped” off and snapped back on easily. Auto supply stores often sell tools that aid in the process of removing trim. Additionally, you should refer to your vehicle’s manual for information on properly removing trim pieces. Any trim pieces that refuse to come off can be taped over instead.
-Repair any rust spots before sanding down the entire vehicle: Since you’ll be sanding and repainting the whole car, you don’t need to be too gentle here. So, put on your respirator, overalls, gloves & safety goggles then use a metal grinder to grind away all of the rust. If you end up with any small holes, use a putty knife to apply a non-rusting auto body filler then smooth out the patch material when you move on to sanding step. For larger rust holes, you’ll have to get more creative by creating patches out of cut pieces of beer or soda cans or even thin sheets of semi-rigid plastic. These can then be adhered in place with auto body filler and slowly sanded down smoothly.
-Sand the paint down to bare metal: You may only sand down to the primer layer or even just sand down the finished coats enough for the new paint to stick. However, you’ll always get a better finished look if you take the time to sand the entire car down to the bare metal. So, use a dual-action (DA) power sander with a 400 or 600-grit pad and work in circular motions with constant movement. However, a 600-grit pad will take longer to do the job but will also reduce the chances of scratching and etching the surface more than desired. All in all, your aim is for a matte finish on bare metal not to polish it smooth. Likewise, always wear your safety equipment most especially eye protection and your respirator when sanding.
-Clean the entire vehicle surface thoroughly once you’re done sanding: Use tack cloths to remove visible surface dust then wipe every surface on the vehicle with rags dampened with paint thinner, mineral spirits or denatured alcohol. This wipe-down will remove any remaining dust and clean away any oils from the car surface. However, don’t mix surface cleaning materials whereby if you start out using paint thinner, then clean the entire car with rags dampened only with paint thinner. Give the vehicle surfaces 5-10 minutes to dry before taping off the areas you don’t want to paint.
-Cover all areas you don’t want to paint with painter’s tape, masking paper or plastic: You’ll need to mask off the window-glasses, window-trim & mirrors. You will also need to cover things like door handles and grills. However, make sure to smooth the painter’s tape over the edges of the covered areas completely so that the paint won’t sneak through any gaps. Additionally, cover your workspace with plastic if you want to avoid painting it too.
SECTION-3: How To Prime Your Vehicle’s Body:
-Practice your spraying technique on a scrap car door or metal-sheet: Set up your compressed air auto paint sprayer and add your chosen corrosion-resistant, self-etching automotive primer according to the product instructions. Hold the sprayer about 6″ (15cm) from your practice surface then squeeze the trigger and use a steady, side-to-side motion to coat the surface. Always maintain this sweeping motion while spraying. However, the process of loading and using a sprayer varies widely based on the brand and model. So follow the product instructions carefully during use. Remember to put on all your safety gear first.
-Apply a primer coat working from the top of the car downwards: After mastering your spraying technique on any scrap material, replicate it on the vehicle. Aim to lay on a thin, even coat starting at the roof and working down from there. Keep using the sweeping, side-to-side spraying motion throughout. In fact, it will take about 10-20 minutes to add a full primer coat to a typical car body.
-Leave the primer to cure then add 1 or 2 more coats as recommended for the product: Follow the instructions on the container for letting the primer cure. The typical waiting time is usually 20-to-60 minutes. After that, repeat the process 1-2 more times basing on the product instructions. After 2-3 coats of primer, the bare metal surface should be fully and evenly covered. Once you’re done applying the primer, clean the sprayer according to the product instructions.
-Sand away the powdery finish of the primer coats with wet/dry sandpaper: You should wait for at least 1-hour after applying your last coat of primer then use 1500-grit wet/dry sandpaper to smooth out the primed surfaces of the car. Work section-by-section, sanding lightly from side-to-side then up-and-down. In fact, some vehicle painters prefer to use sandpaper with an even finer grit like 2000-grit for this task. It will take longer to do the job, but you’ll be less likely to sand off too much. Lastly, remember that your goal is just to remove the powdery finish but not to expose the bare metal beneath the primer.
-Wipe down all primed & sanded surfaces before applying paint: Use clean rags slightly dampened with a wax and grease remover, acetone or paint thinner. Wipe gently in circular motions just enough to remove any accumulated dust or oil. Give your vehicle-body at least 5-10 minutes to dry before proceeding.
SECTION-4: How To Spray On The Paint Coats:
-Practice spraying on your chosen paint: Prepare your chosen automotive paint and load the sprayer according to the manufacturer’s directions. The paint may spray somewhat differently than the primer and that’s why you need to practice on your scrap surface first then spray a coat on the vehicle afterwards using the same side-to-side motion while working from the top downwards. In case your chosen paint requires thinning, follow the instructions for thinning carefully. In fact, over-thinning the paint will decrease the gloss of the finished surface and cause runs. Additionally, use a respirator and other safety gear at all times when spraying paint. Lastly, it should take around 20-minutes to spray a single coat on a typical vehicle.
-Add 3-to-4 coats in total with proper curing times in-between coats: Leave the first coat to dry for 20-to-60 minutes or according to the product directions. Repeat the process for 2-to-3 times basing on the manufacturer’s instructions. Clean the sprayer again after finishing to apply your paint coats.
-Sand and wipe down the paint lightly: Wait for at least 1-hour after applying your last coat of paint then lightly sand away any powdery residue with a 1500-grit or 2000-grit wet/dry sandpaper. Use the same technique as you did when sanding the primer coat. After, wipe down the surfaces with lightly dampened cloths using wax and grease remover, acetone or paint thinner. Lastly, wait for 5-to-10 minutes before proceeding to the next step.
SECTION-5: Finishing The Painting Job:
-Spray on 2-coats of clear coat lacquer: Load your sprayer with any chosen automotive clear coat lacquer and then spray on the coat in a side-to-side & top-down manner. Allow the clear coat to cure as directed then sand and wipe down the finish. After that, add 1-2 more coats of clear coat basing on the manufacturer’s guidance. For the best results, practice spraying the clear coat on your scrap surface first. Lastly, remove any painter’s tape or masking material from the vehicle about 10-minutes after applying the final clear coat layer.
-Sand away any minor imperfections in the finish coat: Start with a 1200 or 1600-grit wet/dry sandpaper to gently sand down any imperfections. After, wipe down the sanded areas with damp cloth then follow up with 1600 or 2000-grit sandpaper to even out the finish in these areas. Wipe down the entire car once again after doing the final sanding. However, this is delicate work and you should sand gently and carefully.
-Give the paint job up to 1-week to fully cure: The paint and clear-coat will likely be dry to the touch within 24-hours. However, for best results allow the finish to cure for up to 7-days or as directed by the manufacturer. So, store the vehicle where you painted it and prevent dust accumulation as much as possible. Don’t move things around in the workspace or tear down any of the protective plastic sheeting. Just stay out of the area to prevent kicking up dust.
-Buff your car by hand or machine to bring out the gloss: Buffing machines & power polishers can make the job much quicker but you will get the best results by hand. In fact, proper buffing requires a careful technique and a good bit of practice. So you may want to let a pro handle this step if you’re not experienced. For the best results, you’ll have to re-mask the car and make multiple buffing passes over the entire vehicle. However, remember to wear your safety equipment during this step.
*Remember to keep the recommended distance between the sprayer and the car body. Otherwise, the paint will adhere in large clumps. If it’s your first time, ask for help from someone with experience painting cars.
*Attach a ground wire to the vehicle and to a common electrical ground to prevent static electricity build-up which might attract dust particles.
*Paint fumes can be harmful and potentially lethal. Safety precautions include using an appropriate vapor respirator, such as an organic respirator, and ensuring the workspace is well ventilated.