by Jim Kerr

The colour of your vehicle makes a statement about you, the owner. So does the quality of the paint. Stone chips and scratches not only make your vehicle look worn, but create a place for rust to start. Keeping the paint on your car looking good takes a little work, but the procedures are not difficult. It just takes time.

Whether you need to paint the complete car to make it look like new, or are just touching up some stone chips, the process of applying paint to your car is the same. While the skill and knowledge of the person applying the paint is important, preparation is the key to a good-looking paint job. Even if you don’t feel you have the skills to paint your car, a lot of money can be saved by doing some of the prep work yourself.

Vehicles with dents or rusted areas should have these fixed first. Nothing looks cheaper than new paint over a bad body. If your vehicle has slightly faded paint, then you may only need a polish and detailing. If the paint is damaged by stone chips or scratches, or is badly oxidised, then you need new paint.

Start prepping the vehicle by wiping it down with a wax, grease, and silicon remover. This volatile cleaner is available at autobody suppliers and it is applied by wiping the vehicle’s body with a saturated cloth, and then wiping dry with a different clean cloth. Many fine paint jobs have been flawed by “fish eyes”, blemishes created when the new paint flows around a spot of wax, grease, or silicon left on the body. Avoid touching the body with your skin after wiping the car down to prevent oil deposits on the finish.

Stone chips and scratches can be touched up with a fine artist’s brush. Apply a little colour to the bottom of the chip and let it dry overnight. Add another coat of paint to the bottom of the chip, let it dry, and repeat the procedure until the chip or scratch is filled level with the original paint. Several thin coats of paint are preferable to one or two thick ones.

I have seen cars that have been painted completely by brush, and the finish was factory smooth, but this takes practise, patience, the correct paint and brush, and some luck. I would recommend using a quality spray gun, a paint booth, and all the breathing safety gear if painting complete cars or panels.

If you need to paint a panel, remove trim items first. Small chips can be filled with glazing putty (thick primer in paste form) and sanded smooth, or they can be “feathered out” by sanding the area around them to make it a smooth transition. Sand the panel with 400 grit “black” silicon oxide wet and dry sandpaper, but always use it wet. Sand in straight lines and in one direction. Use lots of water while sanding and avoid pressure on corners and edges. This will take paint off right down to the metal and then you will need to use primer.

Primer helps bond the paint to bare metal. Spray cans work fine for home use, but a smoother finish is possible if a primer-surfacer is used. Primer-surfacer has high solid content and builds the surface up so it can be sanded smooth. Make sure the primer is dry completely before sanding it. Then you are ready for masking and the final colour coat.

Mask areas not to be painted with good quality masking tape. Protect large areas with masking paper. Don’t cheap out and use newspaper; it tears easily, is porous in spots, and has a lot of “dirt” (any foreign materials) on it that will find its way onto the fresh paint surface.

Professional looking paint jobs have been done in the driveway using only spray cans, but paint hardeners and two-part paints used by professionals add durability to the finished product. If you are using spray cans, be sure to shake the can well to mix the paint. Once you think you have it mixed, mix it again. If you pause for a minute during the job, mix it again!

Practise painting on a piece of masking paper. Hold the spray gun or can a few inches away and start spraying while the gun is moving. Stop spraying before you stop moving the gun. Smooth sweeping strokes, keeping an even distance from the surface, and light coats are important.

Many vehicles receive a lot of stone chips along the lower sides of the body. Rocker panels and lower areas of the vehicle can be sprayed with a stone guard rubberised coating that can then be painted the original body colour. The softer coating reduces stone chipping, is quite durable, and hides existing stone chips well.

Time, patience, and a few simple tools are all that is needed to prep a car for paint or touch up stone chips. A little practice and your car can retain its new car look.