So You Want to Paint Your Own Car?

Car Painting Book
How to Paint Your Car - the DIY auto painting bible. photo by Matt Wright, 2013

Whether you're at the end of a long restoration, or you've just made a quick repair after an accident, the last step in the process is paint. And what a step it is. Painting is part art and part science, with lots of experience thrown in to get it right. If you don't have the experience, does this mean that you should cut your losses and pay to have a pro get the paint job done for you? Maybe, maybe not.

Wrestling with the option of painting your own car requires lots of mental prep work -- it's not for everybody. If you're the kind of driver who wouldn't be happy with a paint job that had a small flaw in it, you are probably better off letting a professional auto painter do the job. But if you really love to save money, you can save big if you can pull off the job of painting your own car or truck. Do you want to change the color? In my younger days I painted a few cars, some we even painted outside hoping the whole time that it didn't rain.

Before you even consider painting your car, you need to understand as much as possible about the process. Countless car guys have made the mistake of studying only the process of laying paint onto the car's body, skipping all of the other information about how paint works, why paint sprays correctly (or not), what prep means. This kind of shortsightedness is a shortcut not to a good paint job, but to disappointment and a full strip and repaint.

In other words, if you don't study up before you try to tackle the job of painting your own car you'll probably end up spending twice as much money in the end. There's no better place to learn everything about being an amateur car painter than the bible of beginner spray gun jockeys, How to Paint Your Car, a Motorbooks publications that has been thoroughly revised to include all of the latest information on auto painting.

I know what you're thinking: Why is a guy who provides all of his information online recommending a book to learn about auto painting? Believe me, I am a huge fan of the internet and all of the information it has made available to us. But in some cases, especially those that involve a complex task with many, many steps and various levels of understanding, having all of the information come from single trusted source is important. If you don't know your HVLP from your IMDB you need to read!

How to Paint Your Car discusses each step in the process. If you've never seen a paint job from start to finish, you're in for a few surprises. Many people think that your average paint job consists of a little cleaning, maybe some light sanding, masking tape and paint. A little bedside reading and you'll quickly learn this isn't the case. What you'll also learn is that each step in the painting process, while important, is easily accomplished by the well-prepared DIYer.

One of the most important things you'll get from this book is the importance of proper preparation, also called simply "prep." Prep work is the key to a good paint job. But did you know that even a shiny existing paint finish requires some amount of prep to accept the new paint job?

There is a section in the prep half of the book that talks about the importance of a proper primer coat to seal away any body work and old paint before you apply a finish coat. Not only does the primer/filler serve to smooth out any minor imperfection in the surface of the metal (or your filler job), but it's also an important guide coat if you are unsure of how even things ended up. There is all sorts of information like this in the book, including a sample paint job that you can follow from start to finish, with tons of pictures and each step shared in minute detail.

I would not attempt to paint my own vehicle without doing a lot of reading. This book covers everything from prep, to chemicals, to painting, to glass, to trim, to even wax. There's a reason it's been the go-to source of information for as long as I can remember.

Need to color sand? It's here, too!

How to Paint Your Car, by Dennis Parks, published by Motorbooks. Check it out here.

Whether you decide to paint your car or not, you should check out Six Things to Think About Before You Paint Your Car.