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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

FILL TRIM HOLES
They say you shouldn't fill trim holes with body filler because it will shrink and pop out, but in our experience, the newer fiberglass-reinforced fillers will hold tight in an 11/48-inch hole virtually forever. If you're a novice, it's better than warping the panel with a welder and a grinder. Just fill small holes with Everglass (or similar), then sand with 80-grit, smooth with body glaze, and finally smooth it all with 180-grit.

SAND TILL YOU BLEED
Once the car is as disassembled as it gets and all the dents you can fix are repaired, sand forever with 180-grit, which is as fine as you want to go for the primer to stick well. The photo shows us at 5:30 a.m. after we'd been rubbing on the car for 12-plus hours. And we could have used more. The more you're willing to sand, the straighter the car will be and the fewer flaws you'll find. Use longboards on big surfaces and Popsicle sticks to get into the tiny crevices. Body glaze may be needed on areas where you sand through to bare metal, especially if the car has a lot of old paint jobs on it.

MARK THE DENTS YOU NEED REPAIRED
When you're done, there are likely to be some dents that you don't want to tackle. If you want the shop to fix a dent, make sure to mark it with a pen (or better, with masking tape), then take a picture to document the dent (to prove that you asked for it to be fixed in case they don't do it). Production shops will only fix dents that are specifically requested to be fixed, and you'll pay an hourly rate for them to do it.

WASH IT FOREVER
When all the sanding is done, blow off the car with compressed air if you've got it, focusing on all the little crevices. Next, wash it for as long as you can, cleaning everything and then blowing it out again with air. However, make sure not to use car-wash soap, which usually contains silicone for shine. In fact, the longer you can keep silicone products off the car before it gets painted the better. Do all your scrubbing with dish soap.

MASK CRITICAL PARTS YOURSELF
If there's anything you really, really want to keep paint off of, mask it yourself. This window felt is a good example of something that is a pain to change but looks terrible if it gets color on it. Pull it back with the masking tape as far as you can to avoid old color showing at the masked edge. Masking your engine is also a good idea, since it's bound to get fogged in overspray.

REMOVE WAX AND GREASE
While the car will certainly get handled quite a bit before it goes in the booth, we figure the best chance to reduce fisheyes in the paint is to degrease the surfaces as much as you can yourself. It will get done again at the shop, but why not be thorough?



SEND IT WITH TIRES YOU HATE
There's no chance you'll escape the paint shop without at least some overspray on your tires and wheels. Bolt on some throwaways before you take the car in to be painted.




PICK THE RIGHT COLOR
When you're going for cheap paint, your budget and your bodywork partially dictate the color. We took heavy advice from John Chohlis at the 1 Day Paint & Body in Torrance, California, where we took the Nova. A repaint of the same color is always safe, since chips will show less than if you, for example, painted a yellow car black. You can also choose a color of the same general tone as the base paint for the same reason. If your bodywork is really bad, then white and bright yellow are always safe bets, since they reflect the most light. Dark colors are the worst when it comes to revealing body flaws, and we think metallics can look bad if you don't step up to a basecoat/clearcoat process. We ultimately chose '04 Ford Zinc Yellow, partially to hide our mediocre dent repair, partially so it would be easy to buy touch-up paint, and partially in tribute to the long-lost Car Craft Cheap Street Chevelle. We had the car sprayed with regular single-stage paint but added a clearcoat so we could color-sand it later. A true basecoat/clearcoat system would have cost much more.

BLACK OUT THE OVERSPRAY
When your project comes home there's bound to be overspray all over the inner fenderwells and on the undercarriage. Ours was not nearly as bad as expected, and the shop had blackened out behind the grille for us. We still spent a few cans of VHT semigloss black to kill the misplaced yellow.





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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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