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Refresh Your Ride: How to Prep a Car for Paint

How to Prep a Car for Paint Blog Header

By Madeline Klein on June 11, 2021 in Life Hacks

Hey, you’ve heard of changing your hair color to match the season, so why not give your car a makeover this year? Has hail caused your paint to chip in a section or two? Are you ready for your ride to look brand new again? With a fresh coat of paint, your friends are sure to be impressed with your “new” ride!

Shoutout to WikiHow for making the process easy and digestible!

Warning: The auto professionals say the name of the game is preparing your car the correct way, so continue reading to get the scoop on what to do before you apply the paint.

Warning #2: It’s important that you repair existing damage before starting the painting process. So, if you need to pull out or fill any dents, be sure to do that before committing to your new color.

One, two, here we go!

Step 1: Strip Existing Finish

What you’ll need:

  • Sanding block, sandpaper or sanding pad + orbital sander
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask
  • Wet rag

If you’re just doing a small touch-up, you could use a sanding block to get your spots ready. However, if you have a bigger spot to paint, you might opt for an electric orbital sander! Use 500-1,2000 grit sanding block, sandpaper, or sanding pad to ensure the existing paint is removed or roughed enough to start the next step.

When working the orbital sander (Pro Tip: You can rent one from your local hardware store if you don’t want to buy one), be sure to use circular motions and consistent pressure. The goal is to sand until you can’t see any gloss – if you’re changing colors, you’ll want to sand all the way down to the bare metal. This prevents the old color from peeking out later! Once you think your work is complete, grab that wet rag we called for earlier and wipe it along the car to clean the dust. You must make sure the car is evenly sanded.

Don’t let the time of the sanding step discourage you, it even takes the professionals a while to complete the sanding. It’s crucial to get this part right, so don’t skip ahead because you’re bored or your arms get tired! P.S. This definitely counts as your workout for the day.

Step 2: Prime Body for New Paint

What you’ll need:

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Masking tape
  • Paint sprayer
  • Automotive primer paint
  • 1,200 grit sanding block (You can keep your block from step 1 to save you another trip to the store!)

Start by covering all areas you’re not painting with plastic sheeting and masking tape – including tires and windows. Then, grab your primer (thinned and mixed) and paint sprayer and get to work! You’ll want to aim for the sprayer to be about 6-8 inches away from the car.

Just doing a touch-up? A single layer of primer might be all you need! However, if you’re doing a bigger area you will want to do another coat after about an hour. Grab your sanding block to even out any bumpy spots before applying another coat of primer (circle, circle, circle). Generally, you’ll want to prime and sand about 2 more times to be sure it’s all even! Then you’re all done with the prepping stage! Who is ready to paint?

Now that your ride is prepped and ready for action, it’s time to bring on the paint!

We love the DIY spirit, but don’t be afraid to take your ride into a shop if this process seems too daunting or time-consuming for you. Completing the whole process from start to finish can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, so there’s definitely no shame in letting the pros take over!

Let us know if you get a fresh coat this summer by sharing your photo with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Now that you’re ready for paint, get covered.


Madeline Klein is Say's Digital Content Producer. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism, emphasis in Strategic Communication. Her experience is in writing and digital media. Madeline loves using her creativity to write and design new and exciting pieces of work for Say!

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