How To Affordably Paint Your Own Car

How to Affordably Paint Your Own Car

Your car is a major part of your life. Most of us spend hours every day sitting in our vehicles, which is why we want them to look and feel their best. However, if your car is not the right color, how are you going to fix it? You could take it to an auto body shop and spend hundreds of dollars on a new coat, or you can do it yourself.

Although painting your own vehicle can be a little bit complicated, once you get the hang of it you will probably want to try and customize it in a variety of ways (i.e., designs and patterns). So, for that reason, we are going to show you how to affordably paint your own car. 

What You’ll Need for This Tutorial

Overall, this list is not exhaustive, but it we’ll go over the details as we discuss the step-by-step process of painting. This is just a list to help you get started. Obviously, if you’re trying to get a more professional appearance, you may want higher-quality equipment.

  • Orbital Sander
  • Sandpaper (60-800 grit)
  • Four or Five Touch-Up Brushes
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    Four or Five High-Density Foam Rollers
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    Tarps or Drop Cloths
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    Brush Bucket
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    One Gallon Mineral Spirits
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    Automotive Masking Tape
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    Dust Mask
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    Two Tack Cloths
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    A Dozen or So Paint Sticks
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    Spray Bottle
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    Three Paint Tray Inserts
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    Two Qts Glossy White Automotive Primer
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    Two Qts Glossy Automotive Paint (Your Choice of Color)

You can also use a paint sprayer instead of rollers and brushes. In that case, we recommend an HVLP model because it offers the best results, but you may need a compressor to make it work. Many units don’t require a separate compressor, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Also, you will need a clean and well-ventilated area in which to paint. The fumes can be hazardous and flammable, so it’s imperative that you don’t have any combustible materials lying around, nor do you have any heated appliances (i.e., a radiator or water heater).

Light will be essential to ensure that you can maintain a pristine coat as you go. If you don’t have sufficient lighting, then you will have to buy some extra lights to see how the paint dries and whether it’s even.

Step by Step Instructions

Before starting anything, make sure that your work area is set up. You will want to place drop cloths or tarps below your car, and you will want to keep the area as clean and clear as possible. If you do decide to use a paint sprayer, then be aware that particles will mist and get onto anything within the vicinity. 

Step One: Prep the Vehicle

Many newer cars allow you to pop out different trims (i.e., chrome accents) and then snap them back on. Alternatively, you can tape them instead to make things a little easier on yourself.

The other thing you will have to do is repair any dents and clean off any rust. These will make it harder to get an even coating of paint, so you want to take care of these things beforehand.

Step Two: Sand the Surface

Your car already has a coat of paint on it, so you will have to either remove it completely or sand it down so that the new coat will stick evenly. You could do this by hand, but it’s much faster and much easier to use an orbital sander instead. If you do it by hand, it could take days just to complete this step.

With the sander, use 60-grit sandpaper first. Make sure to wear your dust mask and goggles as fine particles will be blasting into the air. Once you’ve done the whole surface in 60-grit, move to 220-grit for better results.

Overall, even with an orbital sander, it can take up to 10 hours to complete this section. Plan on a whole day (or two) to get this done.

As you can already see, painting your car is not something that can be finished in a casual weekend. As such, don’t assume that your vehicle will be ready to go on Monday morning.

Step Three: Clean the Surface with Mineral Spirits

This is where your spray bottle and tack towels will come into play. Wipe the entire surface with a light layer of spirits so that it will absorb the paint much more easily. This step ensures that there is no leftover oil or grease on the surface. 

Step Four: Cover All Open Spots

Using your automotive tape, cover any portion of the car that you don’t want to get painted. You will also need to tape plastic sheeting around things like the windows and grill to ensure that paint particles won’t mess up the rest of the car.

Even if you are going to use a paint roller, you should still cover everything just to be safe.

Step Five: Mix Your Paint

If you don’t have automotive paint, then you can mix mineral spirits with Rustoleum color and make it thin enough to apply correctly. When combining these two compounds, do it in the paint tray and not the bucket. This will ensure that you only mix what you need since the mineral spirits will evaporate overnight. 

Step Six: Apply Your First Layer

Whether you’re using a paint sprayer or rollers, make sure to produce a thin, even coat. If you removed the previous primer, then you want to start with a higher-grade primer so that the paint will adhere correctly. If the old primer is still there, then just use a generic type to get started. 

Step Seven: Let the Primer Dry

It can take up to eight hours or so for the first layer to dry. Right now it will look uneven and blotchy, but that’s okay. You will need to apply about three to four coats before you start getting an even covering. 

Step Eight: Repeat Six and Seven (Until You Have Up to Four Coats)

Step Nine: Sand the First Layer

You will want to mist the paint with a relatively thick layer of water. You will also have to do this by hand since the orbital sander will remove too much and you’ll have to start over. You want to use 220-grit sandpaper, and the goal is to smooth out any imperfections on the surface.

Once you’re finished sanding, clean the surface with mineral spirits so that no dust or dirt will affect the next coating.

Step Ten: Apply the Paint Color

If your primer is still patchy, then you will have to apply more coats until it’s sufficiently even. However, assuming that four layers were enough, now you can begin to paint with your desired color.

Once again, you will have to apply multiple coats to get the color to be bold and vibrant. In some cases, it could take as many as six or eight passes.

Step Eleven: Sand the Surface

Using 800-grit sandpaper, smooth the surface to buff out any imperfections. You should do this between each coat so that you get better results overall. 

Step Twelve: Polish the Paint

Once you have sufficiently coated the car and you’re satisfied with how it looks, you should apply a coat of polish to make it shine. This will also protect your new paint job against the elements, ensuring that it stays on there better.


Overall, painting your car can be a long and laborious process, but it will save you a ton of money in the long run. As long as you have patience and perseverance, you should be able to make it work without any problems.

Thanks for reading our tutorial, and we hope that you enjoy your new(ish) ride!

About the Author Paul Hawkins

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