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Car restoration, those two words come with a connotation of sweaty, grimy, and many oil-stained articles of clothing. Although an inaccurate interpretation “To some, it means simply painting their car and replacing items as they can, making the car better than it was, while for others, restoration means a complete tear-down and overhaul, with each piece getting rebuilt or replaced” (Young Dave). Car restoration, while it does embody all of that, also allows the owner to project personality and style into the vehicle. A paintjob is not a simple task of slapping a fresh coat on the vehicle but instead a process formed by a plethora of intricate steps. These steps include: project research concerning car paint, acquiring the appropriate equipment, choosing the type of paint, prepping the car, and applying the different coats of paint to the car. From aesthetic to utilitarian the purposes for a repaint are endless but the science and steps to the process remain uniform.
Understanding how car paint functions is an aspect of automotive painting that is not necessarily required but learned inherently from research as the project progresses. To break it down there are essentially three ingredients that make up all kinds of automotive paints. They are known as the carrier agent, the pigment, and the binder. The carrier agent is the solution where the resin ingredient of the paint is suspended. It is what liquefies this resin until its application, when it bonds chemically to the car’s surface or evaporates. This resin is otherwise known as the binder and it works like sap from a tree because it is that sticky and thick hydrocarbon liquid that toughens up when it meets air. Meanwhile, what is responsible for the color of the paint is referred to as the tint or pigment. The resins in automotive paint are usually made up of one of three elements namely urethane, enamel or lacquer. The first two elements are the best options although they can come in many varieties. These are acrylic, synthetic and hybrids made up of the two resins. In general, though, enamel and urethane are the common terms for the chemical combination of hydrocarbon polymers that formulates the resins in paints. This chemical combination determines the durability, look of the paint finish, cost of the project, and the technique of applying the paint.
Painting a vehicle will be a time-consuming job so be sure to clear up calendar space. It is best to use a garage or shed to avoid the elements, but it can be done outside. 1200- and 2000-grit wet and dry sandpaper, an electric or air-powered sander, masking tape, newspapers for masking off, an air compressor and a spray gun, a buffer, paint thinners, face masks, safety glasses, undercoat, topcoat acrylic or enamel paint, and clear-coat lacquer are all recommended for the project. The amount of paint that is required is dependent on the car size and model. For a small- or medium-size car, approximately one gallon of base coat or primer, three gallons of topcoat, and two to three gallons of clear coat are needed. For larger cars, use one and half gallons of base coat, four gallons of topcoat, and three to four gallons of clear-coat lacquer. “Professionals will use less than this, but factor in a few practices runs and any corrections that will need to be done” (Ben Murphy). Anyways it is always better to have a surplus than shortage. If matching the new color to the original is a priority than give the color code, found on your car's compliance plate, to an auto paint shop. They should be able to match the color for the vehicle.
Clean your working area to remove dust as “…anything floating in the air is going to stick to the paint" (Kim). If spraying outside, hose the area down and be sure that the painting doesn’t occur underneath trees or anything else that will drop contaminants onto the wet paint. Then wash the car down and clean the surface of any dirt, grease, or road grime. Mask any exposed areas that do not need paint. Take time to mask the areas down with masking tape and newspaper or plastic sheeting. Taking time with this step will ensure the absence of any unwanted overspray. To achieve the best finish possible sanding the entire care to bare metal with a perfect smooth finish is essential. This step in the process is often the most time consuming with each panel taking up a minimum of two hours to completely sand to smooth finish. Plenty complaints that are associated with professional paint and body shops is the large waiting list. Many people are left on a waiting list of several weeks or months. Simply by doing the project yourself “…you can often have an acceptable paint job done in a fraction of the time a professional shop would’ve taken” (Autos.com Editor).
The type of paint the owner uses is entirely up to the purpose of the project. If an owner is wanting a glossy aesthetic finish, then a clearcoat should be applied, (basecoats or clearcoats dry to a semi-gloss or matte finish) albeit “…single-stage paints result in a glossy finish even without the help of a clearcoat” (Murphy). What makes basecoats or clearcoats glossy are the succeeding coatings of clear paint. So, if choosing between single-stage and clearcoats or basecoats, you should know that both are great in terms of quality. However, this will also depend on the color. For basic yellow, black or red colors, save up budget and time by going for single-stage paint, as this will not need an additional cost of a clearcoat. Although any way done will still be less expensive than taking it to an automotive shop as stated by Corey “Completing a paint job will usually increase the resale value much more than the cost of the service” (Corey). If going for a metallic finish though, it is better to go for the basecoat-clearcoat system even if there are single-stage paints available. The additional clearcoat layers provide more protection to the car against chips and scratches. Painting a vehicle allows the owner to focus energy into a constructive manner and with great individuality. A car in the hands of a professional automotive painter is much the same as canvas to an artist although a canvas does not transport the family to holiday getaways.
The preparation of a car or hot rod before body painting involves not only skill and expertise but also the virtue of patience. “Completing a paint job will usually increase the resale value much more than the cost of the service” (Corey). The satisfaction felt from completing the project is well worth the effort, and the money saved will be astounding. Among other lessons learned is the “virtue of patience” (Bakersville). From aesthetic to utilitarian the purposes for a repaint are endless but the science and steps to the process remain uniform. If developing skills, practicing fiscal responsibility, and conserving time then a DIY custom paint job is the better choice.
Works Cited Page
Murphy, Ben “Car Painting 101: How to Paint a Car.” Popular Science, 26 Feb 2015,
Corey, Brian “7 of the top reasons to paint your car” Ace Auto, 11 Nov 2016,
Dave, Young. "Levels of Restoration." Gale Virtual Reference Library, Mopar Muscle, Nov 2010
Autos.com Editor “Paint Your Own Car? 6 Reasons For and Against” Auto Repair
7 October 2013,
Kim, Stephen. "'Color sanding to perfection: the paint may be dry, but if you want a show-quality finish color sanding is a must.'" Gale Virtual Reference Library, Chevy High Performance, Aug 2010,
Final Research Paper and to smooth finish. Plenty complaints that are associated with professional paint and body shops is the large waiting list. Many people are left on a waiting list of several weeks or months. Simply by doing the project yourself “…you can often have an acceptable paint job done in a fraction of the time a professional shop would’ve taken” (Autos.com Editor).
Kim, Stephen. "'Color sanding to perfection: the paint may be dry, but if you want a sh