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How to Spray Paint A Car (If You Must)

how to spray paint a car

So you already know why spray painting your car could be considered a terrible idea. But what happens if there isn’t a body shop near where you live, or you’ve got access to tons of spray paint and you want to try it out?

Is there a way to learn how to spray paint a car effectively?

Whatever your reasons for taking on this project — and if you won’t be dissuaded — there are at least a few things you can do to mitigate the negative aspects of spray painting a car. So if you are willing to put in a lot of work, you’ve got a reasonable chance of walking away with a result that won’t fill you with shame as you roll down the street.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Here’s that word one more time: preparation. Why the emphasis on this step when learning how to spray paint a car? No matter what type of painting you do, preparing the vehicle to receive its new hue is the single most important factor in determining how the end result will look.

This means investing the time in the following:

  • Properly sanding your car’s sheet metal and plastic
  • Taping off and masking body trim and glass to avoid overspray
  • Using the right spray primer
  • Wet sanding
  • Adding a second coat of primer

This doesn’t include dealing with any rust that you might encounter along the way. You’ll have to remove any rust — which could leave a hole — and then fill out that body panel with a filler, like Bondo, in order to achieve smooth results before priming.

Short strokes for best spray can resultsFocus On Small Areas

Learning how to spray paint a car means focusing on painting small areas rather than attempting to do the entire side of a vehicle — or the entire hood, for example — all at one time. Using short, overlapping strokes on a small part of the car will give you the most even results and will also help to avoid the inevitable nozzle clogging that comes from spraying paint out of a can for an extended period. Remember to use horizontal strokes instead of vertical and keep coats thin. It’s better to have many thin coats than one or two thick coats, and it also avoids runs or drips in the paint.

Wet Sand, Then Clear

To preserve the color of your paint job, and to prevent fading, you’ll need to use a clear coat that can protect it from the UV light of the sun. Before you spray on clear coat, however, you’ll need to wet sand your paint again to smooth out the color as much as possible and remove any surface imperfections, high/low spots or “orange peel.” Wet sanding, which you also did while priming, is often the difference between a decent-looking paint job and one that clearly came out of a spray can.

Spend as much time as you need to on this final step, and you’ll have the strongest chance of pulling off a spray paint job that looks as close as possible to a factory finish.

Check out all the paint & body supplies available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to spray paint a car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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