How to Paint a Car

June 4, 2013

How to Paint a Car


  1. Find a suitable place to perform the work. You will need a place with excellent ventilation, minimal dust, good lighting, electricity, and room to work around the vehicle. Residential garages are not usually suitable because of the presence of water heaters or furnaces that may cause ignition of paint fumes which can accumulate during the painting process.

    How to Paint a Car
  2. Gather the materials and equipment you will need to do the job. See “Things You’ll Need” for a complete list, but here is a general outline:
    How to paint a car
    • Painting equipment
    • Paint
    • Sanding and polishing tools and supplies
    • Safety equipment
  3. Remove rust and repair any dents you do not want to be visible when the painting is complete.

  4. Remove any chrome or plastic trim which can be taken off easily and replace later. Much of the body panel moldings used on cars can be snapped off and snapped back on easily, but if a gentle attempt to remove it is not successful, do not try to force it off. Some stores sell tools that aid in the process of removing trim.
    How to paint your car
  5. Sand the paint either to the bare metal, the original primer, or at least sufficiently for the new paint to adhere to. How much you choose to sand is up to you, but the best results will require removing the paint down to bare metal, repriming the surface with an automotive primer, and then applying your finish paint.
    How to paint your car
  6. Clean all surfaces thoroughly, using mineral spirits or denatured alcohol to make sure no oils (including body oils from fingers and hands) are on the car.
    How to paint your car

  7. Use masking tape and paper to cover all surfaces not to be painted, including glass, window trim, door handles, mirrors, and grills. Make sure that there are no holes in the masking tape and paper that will allow overspray to get through.

    How to paint your car

    • Covering your garage with plastic is also a good idea to avoid permanently coloring the whole room.

Painting the Car

  1. Prime the surface with a corrosion resistant, self-etching primer if you have removed all paint down to bare metal. Prime any surface you used body filler or removed rust from, feathering these areas to a smooth transition and applying enough paint to fill scratches or pits left in the preparation process.

    How to paint your car
  2. Allow the primer to cure thoroughly. Check the information on the container. Primer curing times may differ, and some primers require recoating (applying finish paint) in a certain time period after application.

    How to paint your car
  3. Sand all primed surfaces smooth. Use a 600 grit wet/dry paper to smooth paint runs or drips smooth to the surface, being careful not to sand too far and exposing the metal again.
    How to paint your car
  4. Clean the surface after priming to remove any dust or oil that has accumulated during priming. Sand it using a wax and grease remover or acetone.

    How to paint your car
  5. Spray the finish paint on the car. Prepare the paint for spraying according to manufacturer’s directions. Automotive enamels and some polyurethanes give better results with a hardener or catalyst.

    How to paint your car
    • Make sure the paint is thinned correctly for the equipment you are using, but avoid over-thinning, which will decrease the gloss of the finished surface and can cause runs.
  6. Allow the paint to fully cure. When using a catalyst, your paint should be dry to touch in less than 24 hours with full cure taking as long as 7 days depending of the product. During the interval between beginning the painting process and tack free time, the car must remain free of dust.

    How to paint your car
  7. Finish sanding the car. Use 1200 or finer grit wet sand paper, and sand the finish coat of paint until it is perfectly smooth. Rinse any sanding residue from the surface and allow it to dry.

    How to paint your car
    How to Paint a Car
    • Clear-Coat may be used if desired to give a deeper, higher gloss look.
    • Clear-Coat may be sanded with 1500 grit wet sand paper to remove small runs, dirt, and other minor imperfections.
  8. Use a rubbing compound to polish the paint and begin to bring out a gloss. This step is best accomplished by hand, but buffing machines and power polishers are available that can make it much easier. Be cautious, as they can ruin a paint job if misused. It may be a good idea when using a machine to tape off the edges and buff them by hand.

    How to paint your car
    How to Paint a Car

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