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30 Ways to Make Budget Paint Look Great

We all know that "you get what you pay for," but what if you could get more? A cheap paint job doesn't have to be bad if you spend the time to make it right before the paint goes on. If you want to make your budget paint look good, you'll want to pay att

By , Photography by Brian Winckler, ,

START WITH A GOOD CAR, BUT DON"T CARE TOO MUCH
It's an obvious but crucial point: The straighter the car is going in, the sharper it will be coming out. One of the best points about our '77 Nova was that, despite having rear-ended a semi-truck, it was pretty straight except for stuff we could unbolt anyway. It also only seemed to have one paint job on top of the original. The less old, flaking paint, the less the need to strip the car to bare metal. Another point that made it a good candidate for a budget repaint was that we only needed it to be average, and we were only willing to put a few day's worth of time into our own prep work. Unless you have a lot more time, patience, and skill, a production-shop repaint is probably best for a car you're not deeply in love with. Even so, ours came out surprisingly well.

DISSASEMBLE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
One thing that makes production paint jobs cheaper than custom paint is that production shops take virtually nothing off the car, masking it off instead. However, that doesn't stop you from removing as much as you can. The result will be better detail in the crevices, less random overspray, fewer masking lines that can lead to flaking, and better prep of the edges. Remove bumpers, lights, trim, door handles, outside mirrors, and lock cylinders. We also torched off our cool receiver hitch.

UNBOLT UGLINESS
Now's your chance to lose tacky trim. Our Nova was the ghastly Concours edition, and since the grille was gone, we took the chance to convert it to a base Nova; that meant changing the fender extensions, the valance, the headlight buckets, the grille brackets, and the grille itself. We also changed hoods to avoid filling the big hole from the swanky Concours hood ornament. Additionally, we tore off the bright trim around the side-window frames. That trim is virtually impossible to get on and off without destroying it, and leaving it on means tons of masking that will lead to unpainted edges or flaking. We chucked it all.

PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO WINDOW TRIM
It's tempting to just mask the front and rear window trim, but don't. Shops often mask the trim by cutting the tape around the edges with a razor blade, invariably cutting through the old paint. That leaves a perfect place for rust to start, and budget paint almost always starts flaking around the windows first. The solution is to remove the trim and carefully sand the edges. This clip tool can be purchased at Pep Boys, and replacement trim clips are available at Classic Industries.

REMOVE MORE INTERIOR TRIM THAN YOU WANT TO
If you're having the jambs painted, remove all the trim around them: sills, front kick panels, headliner-retaining trim, and rear door panels. Otherwise you'll either get paint on your trim or masked edges that show through to the old color. If new weatherstrip is available for your car, make sure to take all of the old stuff out too.

KILL THE DUST BUNNIES
Lose anything with the potential to blow dust or dirt into the paint when the car is being sprayed. A good example is the hideous and likely cancer-causing underhood mat. When the hood is propped up for the jambs, this thing will send shreds of nastiness all over the fenders. Toss it.

SCRUB THE ROCKER PANELS
Many people ignore the dirtiest part of the car when prepping for paint: the rockers. Ours looked like it had been doing burnouts in 90-weight. Scraping, Scotch-Briting, and degreasing should be a priority. The cleaner the underside of the car, the less dirt will end up in the paint. Scrub the inner fenderwells too, and make sure to thoroughly sand the fender lips.

LEAVE SLIGHT GAPS
In places where two body parts bolt together, such as these fender extensions, leave them unbolted enough to allow about an 11/48-inch gap. It will help you sand the edges more thoroughly and get paint all the way around the corners. With parts bolted up snug, paint can fill the crevice, leading to a cheap look and eventual flaking.

FIX DENTS YOURSELF
You might say you're scared of paint work and would prefer someone else to do it so you don't butcher your car. However, no matter how deep your fear of body filler, we've found that nearly anyone can fix door dings easily. Do it.





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91 comments
Scooter's Garage
Scooter's Garage

all the prep work prior to paint...sanding till your fingers bleed!

Zeuz Alexander
Zeuz Alexander

My dad use to have an L79 .......was a great handle anfd throthle for a family car!

GothicBikers MC Mongolia
GothicBikers MC Mongolia

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Andrew Crouch
Andrew Crouch

Restraining myself from killing the person that gives me the first real door ding...

Perla Ruiz
Perla Ruiz

Chevy nova yo tengo uno modelo 1975

Carlisle Customs and Classics
Carlisle Customs and Classics

Explaining to customers that the car's metal and body work needs to be solid and smooth before the paint can be applied. If you don't have a great canvas, you can't have a great painting!

Daniel Sanchez
Daniel Sanchez

Wen u get ready to paint.and mother nature throws a wrench in tha spokes..but for months prior,tha weather is fine!!wtf..

Michael DiGregorio
Michael DiGregorio

Preparation. The paint only looks as good as the material under it.

Jacob Mollica
Jacob Mollica

Painting is cake work it's all the sanding and attention inbetween

Andre Bandourov
Andre Bandourov

Free Tip : 1st and last ...... If care about your ride save up and do it right

Luke Burfield
Luke Burfield

Prep to get to paint. Why is this even a question

Justin Baumann
Justin Baumann

Wet sending for 5 hours straight to get the clear coat perfect is hard to do sometimes haha

Jeremy Leeper
Jeremy Leeper

Jeff Williams its a chevy so most likely at the harbor being used as a boat anchor lmao

Leo Stewart
Leo Stewart

Prep. I'm pertinent to detail. If it's not china smooth? Re-do it! And then do it again cause I know it's not right!

Ben Pewterbaugh
Ben Pewterbaugh

Old magazine project cars never die, they just fall into corporate obscurity. Speaking of that, what happened to the El Cheapo Camino and the hemi orange Duster??

Tim Wyant
Tim Wyant

I have painted cars with spray paint .and sanded and buffed it to shine just like a spray pro paint job would look like ..many times..

Tim Wyant
Tim Wyant

i remember that nova ..the most hard thing about painting is the sanding..

Tom Cooper
Tom Cooper

yep. 76 with a white top. traded it in on an 81 Z28. my last real muscle car. Now I have a tank - 55 Studebaker Commander.

Fernando Muro
Fernando Muro

NICE 77 NOVA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joe Compani
Joe Compani

Explaining to your neighbors why there is overspray all over their new prius.

David Delgado
David Delgado

Spraying the clear.Making sure you lay it down smooth, wet, without orange peel, no fisheye, no runs

Luis Matías
Luis Matías

Fixing the dents'that's somethin that only skill workers can doit right. After that anyone can spray paint.

Joe Cormier
Joe Cormier

Wet sanding! Not really difficult just sucks

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