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Car Painting 101: Your Guide to Spray Painting Your Car

October 30, 2017

Whether your car’s paint job is looking a little worse for wear, or you just want a change of colour, spray painting your vehicle is a cost-efficient way to give your ride a whole new look.

However, the difference between a proper spray paint job and a DIY disaster requires research, planning and prep work. Use our car painting guide to give your vehicle a shiny new coat of paint, and a new lease on life!

What You’ll Need

In order to properly spray paint your vehicle, you will need a few important materials:

  • A power sander
  • Sanding pads
  • An air compressor
  • A paint sprayer
  • 1200- and 2000-grit sandpaper
  • A cleaning solvent
  • Newspaper
  • Masking Tape
  • Primer
  • Enamel, acrylic enamel, or polyurethane paint
  • Paint thinner
  • A face mask
  • Safety glasses
  • Undercoat/primer
  • A clear coat lacquer
  • A rag
  • Denatured alcohol or mineral spirits
  • Rubbing compound (optional)


A proper paint job cannot be rushed – painting your vehicle requires plenty of time, so make sure that you have a few days set aside in order to do the job right.

Step 1: Choose Your Location Wisely

Before you begin any actual painting, you will need to find a suitable location for your DIY project. Make sure your location offers plenty of room for working around your car, and is well ventilated and well lit. Choose a place with electricity and minimal dust. Avoid residential garages, since these often have furnaces or heaters, which pose a fire hazard when coming into contact with paint fumes.

Step 2: Remove rust, dents, and trim

Make sure your paint job does not accentuate any imperfections – fix any visible dents, repair any rust, and remove chrome or plastic trim. Moldings and trim can be replaced after painting is complete.


Step 3: Sand

Give your paint a smooth and even surface onto which it can adhere – sand your entire vehicle using circular motions, either all the way to the bare metal, to the original primer, or at least enough for your new coat of paint to adhere to.

If you are short on time, the 3rd option will suffice – however, you will get the best results from sanding down to bare metal.

Step 4: Clean

Using a rag and denatured alcohol or mineral spirits, wipe down all surfaces of your vehicle thoroughly, to remove any oil residue and ready it for painting.

Step 5: Tape Surfaces

Use masking tape and newspaper to cover the surfaces of your vehicle that you don’t want painted, including mirrors, window trim, glass, grills and door handles.


Step 6: Prime

If you have sanded down your vehicle to the bare metal, you will want to use a corrosion-resistant and self-etching primer in order to prime the surface of your car.

Step 7: Allow primer to cure

If you removed any rust, make sure to prime these properly by feathering them until they are smooth and applying enough primer to the areas. Allow all primer to cure thoroughly, according to instructions on the container.

Step 8: Sand once more

Sand the newly primed surfaces once more, but be sure not to sand too much and expose the metal surface again.

Step 9: Wipe down

Wipe the primed surfaces with a rag slightly dampened with thinner.


When you are ready for painting, make sure to follow manufacturer’s directions and prepare the paint for spraying.

Step 10: Paint

Holding your spray gun approximately 6 inches away from your vehicle’s surface, and using a side-to-side sweeping motion, apply paint in thin and even coats. Typically, it will take three to four coats to completely cover the surface. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s drying time – this can vary from 20 minute to an hour.

Step 11: Sand and Wipe

Before you apply your last coat, sand the surfaces once more to remove powdery residue, then wipe with a clean rag.

Step 12: Apply lacquer

Remove masking tape while the clear coat is still wet, then allow the clear coat to dry according to your manufacturer.

Step 14: Buff

Using circular motions, complete your paint job by buffing out all painted surfaces. What’s more, you can use a rubbing compound to bring out a glossy finish.

These tips are provided for information and prevention purposes only. They are general in nature, and Desjardins Insurance cannot be held liable for them. We recommend using caution and consulting an expert for comprehensive, tailored advice.

In Quebec, Desjardins Insurance refers to Desjardins General Insurance Inc. In Ontario and Alberta, Desjardins Insurance refers to Certas Direct Insurance Company, underwriter of automobile and property insurance.