After a while, that shiny new car you were so proud of starts to look dingy and faded. The paint has taken a beating over the years and all you’re left with is a car in a different color (or colors) than the one you started with. YOu could throw in the towel and just buy a new car, but we’re not quitters around here. Your other, much braver choice is to have the car painted by a pro, or yourself, to restore its former glory.
Every shop is a little bit different on pricing because of variations in quality, skill level, and the type of paint job being done. It’s probably obvious that painting a Ford Econoline van is going to cost more than painting a Volkswagen Golf, but there are plenty of other factors that play into the costs of painting a car. As does doing it yourself. Though we caution anyone who thinks it’ll be a simple job.
But we’ve written this comprehensive guide to lend a helping hand. Before you give up and either sell your car or resign yourself to rattle-canning primer over the faded spots, stick with us to get the lowdown on painting a car.
Car Painting Basics
Estimated Time Needed: Several days
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced
Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully. Take these precautions to get through the process alive.
- Cover your body and wear eye protection. Use a respirator, nitrile gloves, safety glasses, and coveralls with a hood.
- Work in a well-ventilated area. Breathing in paint fumes may make you feel good for a moment, but you need to hold onto all the brain cells you can.
- Don’t work near open flames or near other chemicals that could react with the paint
- Dispose of spent chemicals and paint properly.
Everything You’ll Need To Paint A Car
Here is exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or even street parking. Plus, it absolutely must be well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting you, or your ride, out of the clink.
Here’s How To Paint A Car
Before you get started, you’ll need two things above all else: time and space. Give yourself enough time to sand, repair, paint, and dry your vehicle. This is a crucial step that can save you big headaches with smeared or damaged paint. Space is vital, because unless you’re a machine (you’re probably not), painting a car will take time. You’ll need a safe space to store the car where the paint job can be done without damaging the paint or annoying your neighbors.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s do this!
- Clean your workspace to get rid of unwanted dirt and dust.
- Sand your vehicle until you get an even layer of metal, in the case of rock chips, or below the clear coat. This will take time, so work methodically and during when you won’t need to use your car too much. Each time your car leaves the garage, it will need to be cleaned again or else it could oxidize and rust.
- Wipe down the vehicle with a clean lint-free rag and paint thinner to make sure all paint residue is gone.
- Tape off and mask the areas that you don’t plan to paint, such as windows, trim pieces, and wheels.
- Mix your paint with thinners according to the directions or The Drive’s guide for How To Mix Automotive Paint.
- Spray on the paint using gentle, smooth motions, keeping the sprayer perpendicular to the surface for the most even application. This process will take 3-4 coats. You’ll want to take half an hour up to a day after each coat is finished to allow drying.
- Take the fine-grit sandpaper (2000-grit or higher) and smooth out any imperfections in the paint before applying the clear coat.
- Apply the clear coat (same way as the paint). Expect to do this in several coats and then leave the car alone to cure. This may take a day.
Pro Tips to Paint A Car
Most of us have considered changing our vehicle’s color, but very few actually go through with it. That’s for a few reasons, mainly related to cost and time. Changing a car’s color is a lot more involved than just painting in the same shade, so before changing your car’s color, here are some things to keep in mind:
- No matter how subtle the color change is, all of the old paint will need to be removed. If it isn’t, the old color will show up every time a door or the hood is opened, and if the change is drastic, there could be some bleed-through from the old to new colors.
- Painting a vehicle in a different color is more expensive and takes longer to complete. If done correctly, the color change will involve painting the inside of the vehicle’s engine bay, door jambs, trunk lid, and other surfaces that are usually hidden
- The extra time and effort a paint color change requires will cause the cost to rise. Changing paint colors will easily cost as much as the highest quality standard paint job and may be even more, depending on how drastic the color shift.
- Painting a vehicle in a different color also affects its resale value. This is less important with newer, more mainstream vehicles, but with collector’s cars, the color can make a big difference in selling price.
- If you change the color of your vehicle, you’ll also have to change the color on its registration and any other documentation, such as insurance cards.
How Much Does It Cost To Paint A Car
The costs to paint a car vary depending on where the work is done, the size and complexity of the vehicle to be painted, and the quality of the paint job itself. In general, expect to pay anywhere from $300 to upwards of $10,000 for a professional paint job. The upper end of that price is where we find metal flake, multi-colored, and custom paint jobs, so unless you’re prepping your car for a show there’s really no need to spend that much.
If you feel that you’re skilled enough to do the job at home, and keep in mind that this is a big if, you can get a similar result for much less money. Supplies can run anywhere from $100 to $1,500, depending on what you already have at home. Also, keep in mind that if you don’t have a well-ventilated area where dust and debris can’t get to your new paint job, it’s probably best to let a pro do the work.
Like many things in life, you’ll absolutely get what you pay for when it comes to professional paint jobs. You can swing into a budget shop and be out the door for $500, but don’t expect it to be a top-notch job. A solid, high-quality paint job averages around $5,000. In general, you can count on paint job prices to vary based on:
Size of the Vehicle:
- Painting a Geo Metro is going to cost a lot less than painting a Cadillac Eldorado, based only on the fact that the Caddy’s got quite a bit more real estate that needs painting.
Additional Repairs Needed:
- If you can’t leave the Starbucks parking lot without curb surfing, you’re going to pay extra to have any damage repaired prior to having the vehicle painted.
- Choosing a mainstream color like black, white, or gray is the cheapest way to go. If you want a specialty color, especially one used by a premium automaker, you’ll pay more. Also, keep in mind that changing your vehicle’s color will cost more because of the work it will take to paint the engine bay, door jambs, and more.
Quality and Paint Preferences
- A single-coat synthetic enamel paint job can be had for as little as $300. Prices can range up to around $1,000 for this type of paintwork.
- A higher quality paint job that includes bodywork, such as dent/rust/damage repair, can cost as much as $3,500.
- Multi-coat, high-quality paint jobs can cost as much as $8,000 or more, depending on color and vehicle. Extras such as racing stripes, metal flake, and candy coat colors all add to that price tag.
FAQs on Painting a Vehicle
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q. Does Repainting a Car Affect its Resale Value?
A. It can, but more often than not, when you’re correcting the paint or fixing some damage, it’ll increase your car’s value.
Q. How Long Does the Whole Process Take?
A. You’re looking at between a few hours fixing a spot to 40 to 80 hours painting the whole car.
Q. Then What’s the Easiest Paint to Take Care Of?
A. White, while blacks are some of the hardest.
Q. OK, and What’s the Hardest Color to Paint?
This video from Eastwood shows you how to achieve professional results while painting at home. It breaks everything down into four easy steps.