How To Prep A Car For Paint

Painting a car requires a lot of auto body preparation. It is important, before starting a new body paint project, that you set aside enough time and space to complete the work. Below, we take a look at what specifically you need to do to prep the body of a vehicle for painting.

Step #1: Acquire the Materials

First things first, prior to acquiring the right materials and tools for auto body prepping, it’s important to make sure you are in a suitable place to perform all of the work, from prepping through painting. Ideally, the place will have great ventilation, minimal dust, good lighting, electricity and plenty of room to move around the vehicle. Keep in mind, if there are furnaces or water heaters in the area, like in many residential garages, they could ignite the paint fumes that accumulate during the painting process. Once you’ve got your space, it’s time to gather the supplies you will need for prepping:

  • Paint gun and air compressor – Preferably a gravity-feed HVLP paint gun for an consistent and economical spray.
  • Power sander and sanding pads – To grind down the already existing surfaces on the body.
  • Hand sand paper – Use grits 120 and 600 for prep work.
  • Cleaning solvents – To remove grease and grime from the surface of the vehicle.
  • Masking paper and tape – To covering windows and other areas of the car you do not wish to get primer or paint on.
  • Primer – To preserve the metal vehicle body and to give the paint an adhesive substance to stick to.
  • Body filler and applicator – To fill in any dents, pits or imperfections on the metal surface, ensuring the consistent shape of the body.
  • Respirator and goggles – To prevent the paint fumes from entering your lungs and eyes.
  • Nitrile gloves – To keep your hands clean and clear of contaminants.
  • Single-edged razor blade – To remove any rust or material accumulation from the surface of the vehicle.
  • Car soap and sponges – To thoroughly wash the car, prior to paint prep.

Once you have acquired all of the tools you need, it’s time to get to work on the paint prepping process, starting with washing the vehicle.

Step #2: Execute the Process

Before prepping the body for paint, it is important to wash the entire vehicle. When washing, use a car soap that has no silicones in it to make sure that the wax substances on the vehicle body are not protected. Before sanding your car, it’s important that these waxy and greasy substances are all off of the surface to ensure a lack of paint contaminants. Once you finished the initial clean, use your single-edged razor blade to remove and rust that may have accumulated on your vehicle. If there are any dents, chips or pits on the surface, apply your body filler, using the metal applicator, onto the affected area. Once it dries, use your 120 grit hand sand paper to smooth the filler surface so that it is consistent with the contour of the whole body.

Now, remove any chrome or plastic trim that can be easily taken off and put back on again. Many of the moldings on vehicle bodies can be snapped or pried off and on pretty easily. Once that is done, use your power sander to sand the paint down to either the bare metal or the original primer. Sanding down to the bare metal is recommended, as it will give you a cleaner lasting finish in the long run. Thoroughly clean all of the surfaces that you sanded to the bare metal with cleaning solvents, like mineral spirits or denatured alcohol, to make sure there are no residual oils on the vehicle. After all of the spot repairs, sanding and cleaning has been completed, the last step before priming, is taping up all the surfaces you do not want painted. Use your masking tape and paper to cover glass, window trip, door handles, mirrors, grills and wheels. Make sure there are no holes in the masking tape or paper, and it would be a good idea to cover your workspace with plastic to avoid any unintentional redecorating.

Now, it’s time to apply the primer with your paint gun. If you have removed all of the paint down to bare metal, use a corrosion resistant, self-etching primer and apply it to each surface area you used body filler or removed rust from. Feather these areas with the primer to smooth the transition between them and the rest of the vehicle’s body. Once the primer is cured completely (curing times will be written on the primer container), sand all of the primed surfaces smooth with your 600 grit hand sand paper. Be sure not to sand too much to reveal the bare metal again. Lastly, clean the entire surface of the sanded vehicle, using a grease remover or acetone, to remove any last particles of dust or oil that may have attached themselves during priming. Once that is done, you are now ready to start applying your first coat of paint.

To learn more about auto body painting and for more DIY car tutorials, be sure to visit

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