By on September 21, 2018

2004 F150 Paintjob, Image: OP

Lenn writes:

Sajeev,

I’ve got a fairly nice 2004 Ford F-150 in a nice dark shade of metallic green. Thanks to a rather unlucky previous owner, most of the body panels have been repainted except the roof and the hood… both of which are in very bad shape (see above). Body shops have quoted me an average of $1,400 to paint both panels, which seems insane to me.

I’ve read a LOT and attended classes at YouTube University and feel competent in attacking a DIY paint job in my garage. My question for you and the B&B consigliere is rather simple:

What are your opinions on this and has anyone (not experienced in paint work) ever attacked this with successful results?

Sajeev answers:

I saw a guy restore a Buick Grand National, according to the brag book in his trunk at Cars & Coffee, so it’s totally possible. If you have the free time and are a detail-oriented person!

And if you are not, instead learn to prep the surface (maybe prime it, too?) then drive to a body shop to complete the somewhat more technical, definitely more clinical part: big savings await!

Attend YouTube University majoring in Body Prep — this is a far better use of your time.  Consider the time value of money and diminishing returns in creating a dust-free paint booth for a perfect, flawless top coat! Unless you plan on doing this more often, there’s no need to go all the way: do the hard labor in body prep yourself, let the body shop clean up and lay down the paint.

Best and Brightest?

[Image: OP]

Send your queries to [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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50 Comments on “Piston Slap: DIY Paint Job or DIY Body Prep?...”


  • avatar
    maryland1966

    Body shops use exact matching sprays/chemicals. If you bring in a prepped panel for paint they will have to sand off your primer and respray/prep it again so it’s a futile effort. Go to car-part.com and buy a used hood/fender/trunk with good matching paint.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    Don’t do it, unless you are an experience body painter and have an appropriate paint garage and spray gun.

    If you do attempt it, prep prep prep. Spend more time on prep, it’s like the old tale of taking down a tree, spend a week sharpening the axe and an hour chopping.

    I tried to respray some rusting doors on a Peugeot, it never looked right. Pay a professional if you can.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      My ideology here was that the following is the worst case scenario:

      – It’s already rusting on the roof. If I sand/prep/paint/clear and it doesn’t look right, it’s still no longer rusting, it’s protected, and it still needs a paint job.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Correct about prep and paint.

      (Not so much about the axe, though. It just won’t get sharper after a few minutes of proper sharpening, or hold an edge any better.

      Indeed, a felling axe shouldn’t BE razor sharp; it needs a more durable edge, in the 30-40 degree range.

      Sharpen it more than once during the chopping, not for a week in advance.)

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    It might have helped for me to include that (for those that don’t already know) the roof is typical steel sheet metal while the hood is aluminum. The picture at the top is of the hood- paint fading and cracking while the roof looks worse than that and is starting to develop surface rust in two of the most severe areas.

    I’ve got an adequate air compressor, moisture filters, and two high vol/ low press paint guns (one I’d use for primer and one for paint/clear).

    I’ve sourced (not yet purchased) Sherwin Williams 2k primer, metallic base coat, and 2k clear locally for ~$200.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      You’re good to go! You know what you’re in for, you have the tools, and you have the dedication.

      You won’t get to professional levels on your first try but you’ll look on your car with much more pride if you do the whole thing yourself and you’ll have the paint and tools ready for when the truck needs another place touched up.

    • 0 avatar
      ThreeInaRow

      Hey Lenn, I was in your same boat with a chevy malibu that I had with a mismatched fender and hood. I decided to go for a scuff and spray thrilled with the results. I used a harbor freight purple gun (like 20 bucks) and matallic base and 2k. My local paint shop was awesome, would not have been able to do it otherwise.

      Some advice that may save you some trouble.
      -Don’t simply order by paint code, take the truck to your paint shop. My malibu had a half dozen variations on the GM paint code and the shop matched it in the sunlight. I had another car that I bolted a same paint code panel from the junkyard on and it did not match nearly as well as my matched paint project.
      -As said before, the panel prep is the most important step for both adhesion and appearance. I had some small imperfections that showed through more than I would have liked.
      -Make sure you do an “orientation coat” on your last color coat (spray with the gun oriented in one direction over the entire panel, don’t walk around the panel spraying from different directions). Otherwise there will be noticeable inconsistency in the panel as the little metallic bits are oriented differently and cause the spray pattern to show. I ran into this but I was lucky in that it was subtle.
      -When they say you need to polish the 2k clear within 72 hours, they are not joking. I took a couple days off thinking it would not make a ton of difference and it took hours of extra polishing to get the panels looking good.

      That said, the car came out looking great and has held up well. Message me with any questions.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    With a truck that old and a less-than-perfect paint job already, if you aren’t going to repaint the whole truck, just match your prep work to the rest of the vehicle and mask well and paint it outside.

    In any event, you won’t wind up with a ton of paint dust covering everything in your garage.

    If it gets a little dust on it, so what? Like I said, it’ll match the rest of the vehicle. Just remove the hood and hang it vertically. Use lacquer if need be – it dries almost instantly, and you can wet sand any imperfections. Add clear afterwards.

    We’ve done this many times. and the results have been much better than if we didn’t!

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      That’s sort of my feeling as well. The rest of the truck looks REALLY good. So good in fact that I didn’t even know the truck had been painted until I just randomly decided to pull a Carfax. All I knew was that the rest of the truck looked showroom fresh and the top surfaces looked like ass.

      In the areas of the roof rusting, I’ll have to take it to the metal. Is there certain prep steps to take in those areas before laying primer other than ensuring a clean surface? I read something about etching primer if you’re going to bare metal. In that case, can I lay base coat over etching primer or do I need to apply a standard 2k primer over the etching primer before base coat/clear?

  • avatar
    don1967

    $1,400 to partially spruce up the appearance of a 14-year-old truck is not what I’d call a good use of money.

    Better to spend $140 on DIY supplies and then judge the results from a distance of 14 paces.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      My thoughts exactly. I haven’t had the job quoted by any shops if I did the prep work myself, but at that point, most of the hard work is done and I might as well just complete the job DIY. Worst case, it’s not rusting anymore and it still needs a pro job to look good.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      This is my opinion as well. It probably won’t be perfect, but good enough for most days. The hardest part is blending the clear coat. You have to get less rough with the sandpaper the further you get into the overlapping area. If you’re just taping off individual areas, you should be good. Also keep in mind temperture where you paint should be pretty warm. Don’t let it get below 70 degrees.

      I’ve done it with some decent success.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      14 year old truck, $1,400.00 estimate to paint 2 panels……

      Do the prep work yourself then take it to MAACO to shoot the paint.

      Where is Earl Scheib when you need him?

  • avatar
    arach

    Go do it!

    practice a little bit first, but its not that tough. I’ve been painting cars for many years, and I actually use rattle cans. The paint holds up extremely well as long as you do a ton of really REALLY REALLY thin layers. Most beginners make the mistake of trying to do really thick layers for complete color coverage. The trick is to just accept that the color will look right with enough layers.

    The SECOND mistake beginners make is poor body prep. You have to sand it way more than you think, and use quality primer. Don’t rush, its not worth it.

    I started with SINGLE STAGE paint. Thats pretty easy and a no brainer. I started doing that in the 90s. Most the paint jobs held out perfectly for 5+ years, and then I sold the cars and have no idea whats happened since. I saw one of the rams I painted years later and it was dented up from offroading, but the paint still looked great.

    After I did a few cars with single stage, I got involved with multistage. I’ve done flake, and 3-4 layer paint jobs.

    When I bought my new motorcycle, I wanted a new lower fairing, so I bought one and painted it myself using quality paint purchased online. It was 3 stage. Looked factory good for the 10 years I had it until I finally sold my bike earlier this year, so I know the rattle can jobs will hold up fine if you don’t cut corners.

    the only real issue I ever had was related to clear coats. On one mailbox of all things it started peeling, and on one car I got orangepeel because evidently you can’t mix paint types… so I sanded it back down and repainted it black, then added a layer of green multidimensional flake, and then clear coated it and that lasted great for many years. Make sure you use the right clearcoat for the paint you use.

    Now I most recently even painted a trim panel on my ferrari, and the shop was really impressed when I told them I did it myself. You can’t even tell.

    In short, being able to paint is a GREAT SKILL to have- so go learn it. Practice on a few spare boxes/pieces of metal, make sure you use the right paint, and go as thin as you possibly can. don’t worry about coverage on each layer, just slowly build up the layers as you go. this is different than how you do it with an air compressor, but the results are solid.

    The reason I think paint is a no-brainer, is because you can redo it fairly easily if you mess up…

    I was hesitant to do it at first because everyone told me painting is hard. I think its easier than an oil change… I don’t know why people are so worried about it.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      Here’s my n00b question- what’s different from a 2k paint and a single stage paint?

      Sherwin Williams has the ability to put the paint into rattle cans. Is it more advantageous to use rattle cans over air compressor and gun? I can see that it would be beneficial in that it eliminates the risk of moisture in the paint and the more even application of each layer of paint since you can’t adjust the nozzle flow.

      • 0 avatar
        incautious

        2k is 2 stage paint base coat and clear coat.

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        single stage just means there’s a single color. Many colors are multi-staged (layered) to get the desired look.

        I don’t want to say “don’t use an air compressor”, but honestly I think rattle cans are more forgiving. On the flip side, if your not careful you can get a drip from an uneven spray, so for example, you don’t even want to try to use the final drips in the can.

        I know nothing about Sherwin Williams from an automotive paint standpoint, so I can’t vet for that.

        Clearly the professionals use an air compressor and gun, so I don’t want to say that’s not an OK way to go. I too have an air compressor and a gun that I’ve toyed with, and used for some use cases, but the rattle can jobs look great and are easier for a beginner in my opinion. They are very forgiving if you put down thin layers. I don’t think a beginner could lay down a good smooth air compressor job without a lot of practice and precise materials.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      I’ve also read that wet sanding metallic paint isn’t advised because it can make the flake uneven. Your take?

      • 0 avatar
        sco

        Hold it, hold it! “I most recently even painted a trim panel on my ferrari”.
        What?
        You rattle can painted a panel on your Ferrari?
        Your Ferrari suitcase? Not your car, right?

        • 0 avatar
          arach

          Whats wrong with rattle canning a panel on a ferrari? Yellow is hard to match, and rattle canning helped assure I could get a good blend. No one can tell its even painted.

          I wouldn’t recommend that to a beginner, but I’ve been doing it more than 20 years.

          The panel I painted is the small 4″ x 6″ panel thats hidden under the top most times and is only exposed with the top down, visible in this picture right under the rollover hoops:

          http://2-photos.motorcar.com/used-2004-ferrari-360-spider-6383-1495663-1-640.jpg

          I was in a car show last weekend and even the judges couldn’t tell.

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        Most metallic paints i’ve used are multistage. So the base layer can be wet sanded and the clear coat can be wet sanded, but the middle layer doesn’t necessarily need to be wet sanded. Multistage paint is pretty easy if your painting a whole car, because it just needs to match itself. Its a little more challenging if your trying to match other panels because the middle stages need to be layered just right. Again why I like rattle cans- you do many smaller layers which gives you more precision in the amount of color… but I get the appeal of doing a compressor job.

      • 0 avatar
        Jagboi

        If you’re doing base/clear, the base coat is applied very thinly, there is no need for sanding. Typically, it’s done wet on wet, so spray the base, let the solvents flash while you’re cleaning your gun, and then spray the clear. You can sand the clear after it cures to remove any orange peel etc.

        You’ll also need different tips to spray the base and the clear, as the base is much thinner so it needs a smaller tip to prevent runs. In comparison, the clear can be applied much heavier, since any runs can be sanded after.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I miss the old ‘70s two-tone cars…bondo and primer.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      I’ve seen plenty of cars in those alluring colors around here in WV that are of the 2000’s era. Heck, last week I saw a late 90’s Legacy with unsanded bondo (apparently applied with a blunt rock) with rattle can grey base coat applied overtop. Real nice piece of yard art sitting in a parking spot at Lowes.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I have to say that if you have oxidation showing through on the two different metals, that quote deosn’t seem too far off.

    That said, if you have the tools and can get the paint that cheap you aren’t out much if you have to have it resprayed later.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      I know that my work won’t be remotely close to showroom fresh, but I also risk that with a body shop. Like you said, it’s not that big of a financial risk to do it myself and at the end of it, even if it looks like hammered b-hole, at least it’s not rusting.

      Think I need to prep the hood differently since its aluminum?

      • 0 avatar
        Jagboi

        Absolutely the steel and aluminum need different undercoats. The paint manufacturers all have data sheets, read those carefully as they tell you how to prep the surface, what grits of sand paper to use, etc.

        Also, never cross contaminate; so anything used for steel panels must only be used on steel, and aluminum only on aluminum. That goes for sandpaper wire brushes etc. Never use a steel brush on aluminum etc.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I painted my truck. I wanted a cheap pickup to haul my pool chemicals, landscaping supplies, and to drive to work on occasion (tired of door dings on my new Highlander) so I found a ’92 GMC Sierra for $1000 on Craigslist. It looked like hell, but only had 126k miles and ran flawlessly. For a cheap truck intended as a beater, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money beautifying it.

    I decided to paint it myself after watching some YouTube videos of guys using paint rollers on their cars. Yes, I painted my truck using a roller. The results? Good enough.

    I just went to Home Depot, bought some good masking tape, a high quality smooth roller tube, and a gallon of high gloss white paint. Forty dollars later and now my $1000 pickup looks like a $1200 pickup. Screw it, it’s a work truck. LOL

  • avatar
    gtem

    I’d be tempted to go the prep-yourself and then have maaco (or some other affordable shop) do the painting. However the DIY route makes sense to me too. It’s an older vehicle, may as well try your hand at learning a new skill.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Very timely question. The ’04 GMC Sonoma crew cab I bought a couple weeks ago has peeling clear coat, bad. Since it will be a fun/work truck (not fancy, in other words), I’m seriously thinking about doing the lower body in that undercoat stuff, and the rest in flat black. I plan to sand it and prime it first.

    Its a project, and I’m on a job in Arkansas at the moment, so I got time to think about it. There are some mechanical things I need to do first, but I’m really thinking about doing the paint myself. On this truck, I don’t much care if it doesn’t look perfect. I also plan to spray the under side with that under coat stuff too.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I’m glad someone (a pro no less) brought up rattle cans. And prep is definitely a place to DIY to save some money.

    When I lived in GA my next door neighbor’s boyfriend rattle-can repainted his Regal in her driveway, slipping it into the garage at night and waiting 24 hours between coats. Did it one panel at a time and took most of the summer. Looked better than some $2500 paint jobs I’ve seen, but then it took it from some BS faded 80s silver metallic crap to a pure white. A metallic/pearl might not have looked as nice.

    I’ve had really good luck using Rust Oleum’s Etching Primer on non-auto parts. For your rust spots use a flapper sanding disc on a grinder/drill to take the rust to bare metal and shoot it with the etching primer. It’s a great rust preventative while you’re waiting to prime/fill/prime/paint the rest of the panel.

    In high school a buddy was taking auto body classes and his dad was a pro body man. They painted his metallic brown Accord in their prepped shed (full poly sheet liner enclosed area) to go pearl white. Moths landed on the pearlescent clear and marred the final layer.

    Either DIY prep and take it to a pro shop to spray it, or DIY all the way and accept your results will be better than before but never perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      There’s some good tips here, but the “waiting 24 hours between coats” may not be.

      It totally depends on the paint, but most paint either needs to be resprayed WITHIN 2 hours, or wait a couple of weeks. Again, that may have been correct for the type of paint your neighbor used, but I just wanted to point out that waiting longer between coats is not always a good thing.

  • avatar
    incautious

    keep in mind that paint is expensive. primer, base coat and reducer clear coat and activator. to spray a whole car can cost $1000 and up Best thing if clear isn’t peeling, scuff sand with 400 grit then I would use 600 Wet. then wipe down with alcohol. You can buy paint color already thinned,but you would still need clear and activator plus a spray gun and a compressor. Easiest thing buy a couple of spray cans from like auto touch up. you can also buy 2k clear in spray can(its a can in a can so to speak) mask off, wear a good vapor respirator and on a60-75 degree non humid day, spray away out side. Spraying is a art form. best to practice on a spare piece of metal if you have one

  • avatar
    Oreguy

    I second what everyone is saying about prep – from proper and thorough sanding, rust removal (not just mitigation), and surface prep to remove contaminants such as oil, tar, waxes, etc. Also temps in the low to mid 70’s are ideal. If doing it in a garage, wet the floor down. It’s good insurance to not only keep dust levels low, but also to ensure the overspray doesn’t stick to the concrete (if you care about that). What I don’t think has been mentioned is correct lighting. LOTS OF IT. Many years ago I painted my freshly restored 68 Mustang in my parents’ garage, with less than optimal lighting. I had a lot of experience spraying 2K urethane’s and similar paints in a booth – but mostly on industrial parts and equipment. My confidence level was pretty high, and overall, the base/clear acrylic urethane in black laid down well.

    Feeling proud, the next morning I rolled the car out into the sunlight only to find out that I sprayed the base coat on the rockers too thin, and you could see the primer through it. 2 coats of clear on top of it all made that a very expensive mistake to fix for a 19 yr. old kid.

    Lighting. Very important.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I painted my truck. I wanted a cheap pickup to haul my pool chemicals, landscaping supplies, and to drive to work on occasion (tired of door dings on my new Highlander) so I found a ’92 GMC Sierra for $1000 on Craigslist. It looked like hell, but only had 126k miles and ran flawlessly. For a cheap truck intended as a beater, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money beautifying it.

    I decided to paint it myself after watching some YouTube videos of guys using paint rollers on their cars. Yes, I painted my truck using a roller. The results? Good enough.

    I just went to Home Depot, bought some good masking tape, a high quality smooth roller tube, and a gallon of high gloss white paint. Forty dollars later and now my $1000 pickup looks like a $1200 pickup. Screw it, it’s a work truck. LOL

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Does your local community college etc offer paint classes and what do they cost?

    At least one of the local community colleges offers that at a reasonable price per credit hour.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    The other tip is if you are spraying metallics, watch out for the “Zebra Stripes”. Lay down your base coat in the usual back and forth motion, and then apply a coat about half the thickness at 45 degree angles. That randomizes the coating and makes the metallic look more uniform.

  • avatar
    manu06

    After taking care of the rust issue, would vwrapping the truck be a cost effective option ?option ?

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    preparation preparation and preparation. then full vinyl. more chances of success or easier to correct an error. the important thing is that the corrosion is cured.

  • avatar
    ryanwm80

    Sajeev is 100% correct in his suggestion to handle the prep work but leave the application of color and clear to a professional shop. First practice on an old hood or fender from a junk yard. I think the hardest part is spraying the clear coat because it’s about as thick as water and it can form drips and runs VERY easily. I think the trick to spraying clear is to mist on successive light coats, allowing each coat to partially dry, except the clear coat doesn’t really “dry” because of evaporation of VOC’s – it gets hard because you need to add in a catalyst. It takes a good deal of practice to know when the catalyst starts to activate the clear and when it starts to get stiff enough to build up the clear coat. This is real skill like playing a musical instrument that takes a lot of practice to get it right. You can get clear coat in aerosol cans, but those are not mixed with a catalyst, and they’ll take months to fully harden, and they won’t hold up as well over time, and in the immediate months after it’s sprayed it’ll be dry to the touch but still soft enough that it can get wrecked by almost anything that contacts it – even a car cover. I attempted to fix some blistering clear coat on my car using PPG twilight blue in cans and U-pol clear in cans, and I use a car cover, which left impressions of the stitching in the car cover in the clear coat – even weeks after I sprayed the clear coat. Spraying primer is a lot easier because it’s thicker, stickier, and you can build it up and sand it smooth, but the final color and clear coats require a much higher skill level.

  • avatar
    fresnoautobody

    I appreciate the detail in this article. Well written and to the point!

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