How to Paint a Car

Learning how to paint a car might not be for everyone, but with patience and attention to detail, you can create a finished product that will rival the pros. A quality paint job can change the look of your vehicle and take years off its appearance.

How To Paint A Car Right The First Time

  • Location. The first thing you'll want to do is find a space to paint your car. Ideally, you want a sheltered area with plenty of room, ventilation and lighting. Although your garage might seem the perfect place, you'll have to rule it out if it has a furnace or hot water heater-the open flame in these appliances may ignite paint fumes.
  • Materials. To paint a car, you'll need: car-washing supplies, a grease remover like mineral spirits, sandpaper in assorted grits (320, 600, 800, etc.), enough metal primer to cover your car, enough urethane-based spray paint to cover your car, enough clear coat spray paint to cover your car, goggles, gloves and a dust mask. You may also need auto body putty to fill minor dings.
  • Get clean. Your car must be spotless before you begin. Clean your car completely, making sure all exposed surfaces are free of dust, dirt and road grime. Once you've finished cleaning the car, go over it again with a grease remover to get rid of any oils (including fingerprints) or residue. Allow your car to dry for several hours before proceeding.
  • Sparkly bits. After your car is dry, remove any parts that you don't want painted, including trim, exterior mirrors, headlights and taillights. To keep your car from attracting dust, ground it by attaching a wire from the chassis of the car to a metal spike driven into the ground.
  • Sandy smooth. Next, go over the entire vehicle with 320 grit, wet/dry sandpaper. You'll want to sand lightly in most areas, but sand to the bare metal in any areas that have rust or dings. Fill imperfections in the surface with auto body putty, allow the putty to dry and sand it smooth to blend in with the surrounding surface. To remove excess sandpaper grit, wipe the car down or blow it off with compressed air.
  • Cover up. Use adhesive tape and heavy paper to mask off windows and trim that you weren't able to remove in previous steps.
  • A prime example. Once your car is completely prepped, you can move on to painting. The first step is to apply primer to your vehicle. Primer protects the car from rust and creates a good surface for paint adhesion. Apply the primer following the manufacturer's instructions. Light, even strokes will help you avoid any drips or puddles. Once the primer has had time to dry, sand over the entire surface with 600 grit sandpaper. Remember to clear excess grit from the surface again after you finish sanding.
  • Paint on. Apply paint to your vehicle following the manufacturer's instructions. Remember that it is better to apply a number of thin coats than a single thick coat. Plan on at least two coats of paint, although three or four will provide a deeper finish.
  • Cover up. Once the paint has had time to completely dry, it's time to apply the clear coat. As with the other steps, follow the manufacturer's instructions and apply the clear coat in light, even coats. You'll want about three coats of clear finish for the best results. Once the clear coat has dried completely, you can buff the car to bring out the shine.
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