Paint a Car

This is a basic overview for people to follow so that they can paint their cars themselves!



  1. Find a suitable place to perform the work. You will need a place with excellent ventilation, minimal dust, good lighting, electricity, and lots of 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.
  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:
    • Painting equipment
    • Paint
    • Sanding and polishing tools and supplies
    • Safety equipment
  3. Remove-Rust-from-a-Car 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.
  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, re-priming the surface with an automotive primer, and then applying your finish paint.
  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.
  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.
    • Covering your garage with plastic is also a good idea to avoid permanently coloring the 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.
  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.
  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.
  4. Clean the surface after priming to remove any dust or oil that has accumulated during priming. Wipe it using a wax and grease remover or acetone.
  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.
    • 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.
  7. Finish sanding the car. Use 1200 or finer grit wet sandpaper, and sand the finish coat of paint until it is perfectly smooth. Rinse any sanding residue from the surface and allow it to dry.
    • Clear-Coat may be used if desired to give a deeper, higher gloss look.
    • Clear-Coat may be sanded with 1500 grit wet sandpaper 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.


  • Make sure that the weather is suitable for painting.
  • Don't rush the preparation work. Get it smooth and straight before you paint the car. You don't want to mess up.
  • Remember keep the distance between sprayer to the car body. If not, the paint will come out in large clumps.
  • Be patient and meticulous! Paint slowly. Don't rush it, or you may have to redo it which is a hassle.
  • Attach a ground wire to the vehicle and to a common electrical ground. This will prevent a static electricity build-up which might attract dust particles.
  • Learning how to paint a car requires patience, and should not be rushed. Just keep a smile on your dial and you'll be set.
  • Don't do it yourself. Ask someone that has experience painting cars if willing to help! You might get a better paint job if it's your first time?


  • Fumes can be harmful and potentially lethal. Safety precautions to avoid the inhalation of fumes include using an appropriate vapor respirator such as an organic respirator and ensuring the workspace is well ventilated. Ventilation is also essential to avoid the build up of fumes in an enclosed space which could explode.

Things You'll Need

  • Air Compressor
  • Paint Sprayer (HVLP, LVLP, or airless)
  • Power sander with sanding pads
  • Hand sandpaper in grits from 120-600-1200-1500 for prep to finished sanding
  • Solvents for cleaning surfaces
  • Masking tape and paper
  • Primer
  • Paint (enamel, acrylic enamel, or polyurethane)
  • Paint thinner and catalyst or hardener
  • Respirator, dust masks, eye protection
  • Body filler or fiberglass components for repairs

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