We’ve all seen a car or two from the early 80s with a terrible, splotchy “black” paint job that came from a rattle can and makes the vehicle look like a moldy chalkboard from an abandoned rural schoolhouse.

But that’s on the extreme end of the spectrum! There are plenty of serviceable DIY paint methods; they simply require you to put in the time and effort. And of course, there’s always the option to just drop your car off for professional auto painting. Let’s take a look at how to paint your car, whatever your situation or budget.

Why Paint Your Car?

Picking color to paint your car

When it’s time for a repaint, you can feel it in your heart. Oh, and you can also see it with your eyeballs. The difference between a coat of paint that’s holding up and one that’s reaching its end-of-life is obvious.

There may be areas with noticeable weather damage, where the paint is faded or chipping. It may just be an old vehicle, and the paint overall no longer presents so well. 

  1. If you’re looking to sell, fresh paint on the car will help it look more appealing to buyers and let you bump up the asking price. A DIY method or lower end paint job may work here. You wouldn’t want to pay triple the value of the car (or more) for an all-out paint job — you can’t recoup the full price just because the car doesn’t look terrible anymore.
  2. Sometimes it’s a matter of pride. If you’re fond of your ride, you probably want to keep it looking good as well as running well. We support you in this, even if it doesn’t always make sense.
  3. The car isn’t the color you want it to be? Paint the car. You could choose an unusual color to make the vehicle your own, or you could just paint it a color with better resale value when it comes time to sell. 
  4. And of course, a proper full respray is an exciting step in any total restoration. If you’ve handled the restoration carefully and lovingly, you’ll definitely want to enhance that with a meticulous, albeit more expensive, repaint over anything quick and cheap.

Different Ways of Painting a Car

This section is broken into two distinct categories: painting a car yourself and having someone else paint your car. Let’s break it down.

How to Paint Your Car at Home

Even the most expensive DIY paint job doesn’t match the cost to paint your car professionally. You can find professional estimates under $1000, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be of a reputable quality, let alone showroom ready. 

An at-home repaint probably won’t get you showroom results either, unless you hold yourself to a professional level with the skill to match. The price should max out under $500, which would be an amazingly cheap find for a pro job.

That cost comes from materials and tools: 

  • Some people get by with a foam roller, a high-density foam brush, or spraying directly from an aerosol paint can
  • But the best car spray paint results come from a pneumatic paint sprayer gun, which can run from around $20 to over $100.
  • For prep work, you need to sand vigorously, so you may want a power sander to make the process a little easier. They’re also available somewhere between $20 and $100.
  • Then comes the actual painting. You can get automotive paint kits, which may be a single-stage, all-in-one paint or might include a separate base coat and clear coat. But you’ll still need things like an automotive primer, mineral spirits, paint thinner, and any protective gear.
  • Additionally, you’ll need fine-grit sandpaper, sanding pads, tape and paper for masking, and plastic sheeting to protect your work area.

How to Get a Car Professionally Repainted

Professionally Repainted Red car

When contemplating how much to paint your car, getting it done professionally will be more expensive. But even then, there are different tiers of work to consider. 

Many wonder how much it costs to paint a car a different color. If you are getting a basic respray, the lower cost may only cover a color match. But for mid-tier service, the process and pricing come out about the same whether you want a color match or a brand new look. 

  • For a car or small trucks and SUVs, prices usually start around $1000 for a quick but well-done repaint. Expect to call in or stop by for a personal estimate. 
  • Sub-$1000 offers certainly exist if you shop around — some national chains have cheaper options, or a local shop might cut you a great deal. But if you’ve got a large vehicle, you’ll always pay more than someone with an economy sedan, and you’ll also get what you pay for. Be prepared to see flyaway spots, rougher edges, a lower overall quality.
  • For a nice, high-quality paint job, you can expect to pay between $2500 and $5000, depending on several factors like the size of the car, the paint type, and color, and how detailed of a repaint you want.
  • The national chain Maaco, for example, has three levels of automotive spray paint service. They can focus either on speed and affordability, the best possible paint job with a 5-year warranty, or a balance between cost and quality.

Aside from the tools used and skill level involved, an at-home or an in-shop repaint involves the same steps. 

  • Trim and molding will be removed, and glass and irremovable pieces masked off. With an expensive, high-quality job, they’ll also make sure the sheet metal is all straight and that any rusty areas get repaired.
  • The outside of the car needs to be sanded down to some degree: just enough for a new coat to stick, down to the primer, or stripped all the way down to the bare sheet metal. The best repaint will see the car sanded down completely.
  • Then come the primer and painting processes, which take a lot of time between curing and re-sanding and applying multiple coats. More expensive paint jobs will probably also include a lot of touching up, making sure all the crevices and proper interior areas are painted (like the trunk, engine bay, and door jambs).

Takeaway 

One final thing to remember is that painting a car takes time. It’s hours of careful work to get it right, whether you’re tackling it yourself or just dropping it off for an appointment. 

You’d want to set aside an entire day for the project, and some shops may need more like a week, depending on their workflow and workload. Make sure you discuss and agree on a timeline beforehand and have time along with your professional goals or workout plan.

Repainting a car isn’t a complex task — just a tricky, time-consuming one. Never forget to weigh the cost of your own time and effort when deciding which method is best for you.