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 CANOne 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.
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.