1. For some, the idea of spray painting a car is absurd.  These types think that painting a car can only be performed by body shops.  While it is hard to achieve a quality paint job from a spray can, I am here to tell you it is possible.  There are many affordable products on the market that can help you to perform the seemingly impossible task of using spray paint to paint your vehicle.


    You will need the same basic tools that any paint job needs, but first you will need to assess if you need to do any repairs.  Rust spots and dents are really beyond what I wished to talk about here, but there are many resources just a Google search away.

    You will need:  

    • Sandpaper 80 grit, 240 grit, 600 grit, 1200 grit
    • A sander, unless you really want to hand sand everything
    • masking paper and tape
    • Several cans of filler primer
    • Several cans of etching primer
    • Several cans of your paint color
    • Several cans of clear coat
    • Rubbing compound
    • Polish
    • A buffer, unless you again want to hand rub everything
    • Wax
    • Lots of time

    The Process

    Unless you are planning to use the vehicle during this process we can take the entire car in as one project.  But if you are planning on using the car, then it would be wise to find the most troublesome areas and concentrate on one panel at a time. But don’t forget to mask off the windows and trim in the areas that you are working in.

    If you do not have access to a sander, then find a short piece of wood.  About eight to twelve inches long should suffice, but make sure it is perfectly flat.  Now staple a sheet of 80 grit sandpaper to it.  Make sure not to put any staples on the sanding edge that will be touching your paint.  

    Now sand the car’s flat surfaces with the sanding block you have just made or your sander.  Do not press too hard, as the main thing we are looking for right now is small imperfections and dents.  These will show up as still glossy after you have sanded the area to a matte finish.  Small dents and scratches can be filled with the filler primer as I will describe shortly.  Larger dents and rust holes should be filled or worked out using the proper technique.

    Filling a scratch takes nothing more than spraying the area with a mist from the can.  Filling dents with primer may take several applications, sanding smooth after each drying time.  

    Make sure to read the cans of paint that you have purchased.  Important notices like health hazards should be noted and heeded.  Also, look for the drying time between coats.  Some primers are ready for sanding in just ten or fifteen minutes.  Some clear coats and paints are going to take as much as twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

    Sanding around the badges and trim takes a special technique, but it is not hard at all.  Simply roll up a small piece of sandpaper into a funnel that will look very similar to a pencil.  This may be necessary even if you have a detail sander as the sanding pad may not get close enough to the piece to get a good bite in the old paint.

    Once you have your vehicle looking like a spotted cow from all of the small scratch and dent repairs, make sure the whole vehicle is masked off.  Now spray a good coat of etching primer on the entire car surface to be painted.  This should take about one to one and a half cans per panel.  Hoods (bonnets) and trunks (boots) may take more paint so be sure to have enough paint on hand.

    Using the same basic idea, after your drying period is over, start shaking your paint cans.  Make sure again to read the directions.  A can that is not shaken well will have issues such as sputtering and thin pigment.  These are things that will hurt your finished product.

    Now the technique I use not only keeps down runs and orange peel, but it also helps bond the paint better to the surface.  I fog the paint.  Using the directions on most cans of paint, you begin by holding the can about twelve inches from the surface.  Using a linear motion, spray in continuous lines but while the can is still in motion, remove your finger from the nozzle.  This will keep from causing build up in the area where you switch directions, and help keep a uniform thickness to your paint.

    Your first direction is not going to change the color of your primer much.  This is a good thing.  One, it cuts down on dry time between coats and two, it helps the paint molecules to bond to each other better.  Continue to spray the entire panel.  When you reach the end of the panel, you should be able to start the next spray pattern, using the exact same technique.  Continue this process until the entire panel is painted the desired color.

    After painting the entire surface area, you should pull off the masking before the paint sets up too much.  If you wait too long, you may need to use a razor knife to separate the masking from the paint.

    Now to wait the appointed time.  I actually suggest waiting a bit longer than the label says.  Because the paint may be dry, it may not be cured and anything you do to it at this point may cause you to have to start over, should there be a problem.

    Now that the pigmented paint has cured, mask off the car again.  Start the process over for your clear coat.  Use the same exact process.  When finished, again pull the masking from the vehicle.

    Again, wait slightly longer than the appointed time.  This will be critical for the success of your clear coat.

    Now that you have spent over a week on your paint job, we will start the shining process.  Start by filling a wash bucket with water.  Now using a very light touch and a folded piece of 240 grit sandpaper, only knock off the high points of your spray.  A light touch and only a few scrubs on each area rising and rewetting your sandpaper with each stroke.

    Work only one panel at a time and rinse the residue from the panel.  Now graduate to the 600 grit paper and do the same process over.  And again with the 1200 grit paper.  Continue for each panel on the car.  Once finished, wipe the car down with a dry cloth.  You should see a nearly finished paint job.  If you wish you can stop now and do your wax job.

    Or you can go the extra steps and put some real shine to that clear coat.  Hopefully, you have a buffer, but not a problem if you don’t.  This process can be done by hand too.  Put a small amount of buffing compound on either the bonnet of you buffer or an applicator.  If using the buffer, let the machine do the work, don’t push it into the paint or you could burn the paint causing swirl marks.  The same for the applicator, just a gentle rub.  Once the compound dries to a haze, wipe off with a clean applicator.

    Now apply the same step to the polish as you did the buffing compound.  At this point you will be wondering why wax it?  Well, the polish is still only the paint shining, you need to protect it somehow.

    This is where the wax comes in.  Using the same exact process as the last two steps, apply the wax.  Don’t forget that applying wax to your windows also helps reduce scratches but also repels water like RainX.

    Of course there are many other things you can do as far as two tone paint, pinstriping and graphics.  The only deterrent is your imagination and skill.  There are many tricks that can be used to enhance even the lowly spray paint job.  All it takes is time.

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