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How to Spray Paint Your Car on a Budget

by Neil Allen /

Sometimes, a scratch or scuff on your car’s bodywork is just too deep and wide to be able to use a paint repair kit, and the panel may need respraying instead.

close up front bumper scuff

However, if money is tight and you simply can’t afford to have it done professionally, or your car isn’t worth spending that kind of cash on, the other option is to do it yourself. We’re talking aerosol cans here, and not a compressor and paint gun.

Daunting? Yes, but it can easily be done to a level where it at least looks much better than a nasty gouge running across the bodywork.

Some panels will be harder to spray than others, so be wary of the task ahead. A large area like the roof, bonnet or boot lid, for example, will be extremely hard to tackle and will require some good skills to do a good job. Unless you really don’t care too much about the outcome, I’d recommend taking it to a professional to have sizeable areas like those spray painted.

Getting the correct paint colour match is absolutely essential, and while you’re working to a budget, there are still lots of places out there who can mix cans of paint to the exact specification of your car by using the paint code, and they’ll be pretty much close price-wise to the generic ones available from nationwide motoring stores. Oh, and it’ll likely be a much better match than using theirs too.

There are plenty of videos on YouTube on how to prep and spray your car, so take your pick. I like this one, simply because it’s fun and easy to follow:


If you don’t have a garage, or one big/tidy enough to pull the car into, or the weather is looking bad, it’s probably best to remove the panel and find somewhere under cover and well ventilated, to do the job.

This is a guide on how to do a basic spray job, and not one on how to fill in/repair dents and really deep scratches, although there are plenty of YouTube guides on how to that as well.

Equipment you’ll need

  • Tools to remove the panel, if necessary
  • A dust mask or filter respirator
  • Sanding/grit paper in varying grades (600, 1,200, 1,600 etc). If you’re not sure which you’ll need, ask the paint shop which grit grades they recommend using on the bodywork.
  • Degreaser
  • Masking tape & masking paper
  • Primer paint
  • Basecoat paint
  • Clearcoat spray

Note: there are specific ‘wet-on-wet application’ paints that can be used without the need to sand between coats. These will save both time and effort.

Preparing the area

1. If you’ve not removed the panel, carefully mask off the areas around it to avoid overspray.

2. Wash the panel down with soap and water. Make sure the area is completely clean and free of any baked-on dirt and grime.

3. Dry the panel, and then use the degreaser on a cloth over the entire area, to make sure there’s nothing that’ll stop the paint from sticking.

4. Rub the area down with your grit paper as evenly as possible, making sure any light scratches are flatted so they won’t show when you spray the panel.

5. Wipe the panel down once more with degreaser, and make sure all dust from the sanding is completely removed.

Spraying the panel

1. After shaking the primer can thoroughly (always read the instructions on it), apply the primer by spraying it in a light, even pattern across the panel. Do not spray on thickly, otherwise the paint will wrinkle and you’ll have to rub the panel down and start again.

2. Allow each layer of primer to dry thoroughly (which can vary depending on the temperature and humidity), before applying another one. It’s recommended that at least 3 or 4 coats are applied.

3. Next, move onto the basecoat. Again, follow the manufacturers instructions and shake the can throughly. Repeat step 2 with the basecoat and apply coats evenly and thinly, covering the entire panel each time.

4. Now for the clearcoat. Follow steps 2/3 with it, except this time spray the clearcoat in one direction without going over the same area with each coating. Wait 5 – 10 minutes (depending on the temperature/humidity), and feel for it being ‘tacky’ to the touch (in an unnoticeable area), before applying another coat.

5. Once the clearcoat is completely dry, check for any ‘orange peel’ (where the finish appears slightly patterned, like orange skin), and if this is the case, you may want to sand it down with very light grit paper, and then either machine or hand-polish the area to get a cleaner finish.

6. Finally, to protect the paint finish, I would recommend using a good quality sealant and/or carnauba wax, which will also give the paintwork an ultimate depth of shine.

If you’ve done it right, your car now looks way better than before, has improved in resale value, and you’ve saved yourself a load of money over a professional spray job!

Written by Chris Davies – an award-winning motoring journalist writing for CarProductsTested.com

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