Wondering whether it would be worth a try to paint my car myself?

Dear cartalk.com, I have a 2002 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport with a recently rebuilt engine at around 140,000 miles and it has about 161,000 miles on it now and is running very well after the engine was rebuilt. I have been giving some thought to doing some painting to the rear bumper which has some abrasions on it and then also the drivers side of the car where the clear coat is flaking off and has a yellow tint to it under the flaking clear coat. I have watched youtube.com videos where the experienced body shop guys claim that an individual can do a professional paint job on their own car and was wondering about taking a crack at painting my car myself in my garage and with some of the equipment and materials I see them using on youtube.com. I do not have the experience that the guys on youtube.com have however and am a little nervous about how it might turn out and I do not want to regret giving it a shot. Just wondering if anyone else has had the same idea and or experience with painting their own car and is it worth a try? Thanks for your help.

I’ve done acceptable stuff before, nothing you’d notice from galloping horse. It kind of depends on your level of acceptance. It is probably not going to be perfect, but if you decide it is a fail, it will probably end up costing about the same for the pros as if you did not try at all. Try a smaller less conspicuous area first, then see if you want to tackle the whole job.

“an individual can do a professional paint job on their own car”

Maybe the tenth time they try it, not the first. Do you have relevant experience?

It’s worth doing, especially since you seem to be motivated to try it, but don’t use rattlecans. Find a shop that sells real automotive paint and can mix it with the proper amount of flex agent and provide a pressurized applicator with the paint. Or get a pancake compressor and the proper spray guns. Rattlecans will likely leave you disappointed, but with proper cleaning and prep work decent paint should give you a result you’ll be happy with, as long as you don’t expect yourself as a first timer to do as good a job as a pro would. Every pro was a first timer once, and perhaps this will open up a for you to an additional skill that you enjoy.

You’re doing the research. And you’re motivated. Those things plus the proper paint and application equipment should give you a great result.

Sincere best. I for one would love to see before and after photos.

I’ve painted a couple fenders and panels. Texases is right…it takes los of practice. The two times I tried it looked fine at 50’ away. I have great respect for a good automotive painter.

Can you paint your finger nails?

If not! Don’t attempt to paint a car.


I’d be less concerned about getting a perfect appearing job than about making sure you do it safely. After all, if it doesn’t turn out looking right, you can always do a re-spray. But you can’t do a re-spray to restore your health.

The chemicals used in certain types of paint sprays can really do you some harm if you don’t protect yourself properly. Pros use special booths that move clean air through them at the proper rate, and wear protective clothing and the correct breathing apparatus for the kind of paint being applied.

I’d guess some paints are more deadly than others. Two-parts probably being the most worrying health-wise, and lacquer paints (if anybody still uses those) the least.

There’s a much safer alternative btw. Just paint your car with a paintbrush roller. Don’t laugh, this is done all the time. In fact there was a Car Talk blog post here a while back about someone who did that. If you want to paint your own car, for a 2002, that’s probably what I’d do.

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All my DIY attempts are auto painting are great – for a car heading to a demo derby.

Here’s the Car Talk Blog Post how one poster did it the no-spray method, by painting it on the car with a roller.

It is worth a try. It might even be OK as far as you are concerned. You might want to visit a junk yard (sorry, recycling center) and find a piece of bumper cover and possibly a small piece of car metal and practice on them first.

One thing you need to consider is that your materials cost will more than likely far exceed the cost of just running it down to MAACO (Not spamming them as I’m not a MAACO fan…) and just having them shoot it.

There’s more to it than sandpaper, reducer, and paint. Much more.

Plastidip the car.

I’ve done hobby painting and body work for over 40 years and I’ve never done a whole car at one time. Outside of the major equipment needed to do a decent job, the paints today are actual killers. You need a self-contained breathing apparatus for the new stuff and a good paint booth. You would be better off doing all the prep work yourself and then having a shop spray it out. Back in 1966 that’s what I did with my Morris Minor. I did all the prep work and a body shop painted it for a total of $20, including the paint. Things were a lot cheaper then.

Seen a Guy paint His 53 Plymouth with ,I think it was Wizard black enamel ,it actually looked pretty good,the old faded turquoise stock paint was shot.My friends tell me to use an exploded tip brush,hey what to lose on a $ 100 car ?Drying rates and foreign objects can really mess up a marginal paint job,these modern Urethane paints for instance are extremely toxic. A pro can do it so fast with such good results,prep is important,the surface tensions of the paints,etc ,have to be taken into consideration,fish eyes ,orange peel(how much will you accept?) and runs are a bugaboo.
Good finishes are an art and science.
Modern car paints(factory applied finishes are pretty darn good) they are like the fast food of the painting art ,not perfect ,but perfectly acceptable on" Joe average’s" new sedan.

I like @Bing 's idea. You do most of the prep work. That’ll save you a lot of money and get you a better overall paint job. No need for nasty chemicals or expensive equipment.

I’d still recommend a mask for the sanding tasks.
I’ve done some auto body painting myself and found it rewarding. It isn’t rocket science, it’s a well documented process, but it takes patience, elbow grease, and realistic expectations. After the prep comes the primer, and then the sanding, and after the paint comes the polishing steps, and they’re all essential to a decent job. And, as already mentioned, doing it properly yourself will cost more than having MAACO do an overspray.

I say “go for it”. The OP is clearly doing the research, so I think he has an excellent chance of a good result. There’s no better way to learn than to just do it.

I have bought cars and trucks at really cheap prices after the owner botched up their efforts at painting. From buying the wrong shade of paint to ignoring the need for proper preperation the results are often much worse than the problem they were trying to cover up. And with so little to lose and being in no hurry to finish I have had some success in DIY painting, often with the rattle cans. But while patience and persistence are mandatory and can result in an acceptable result there is no comparison to professional work. My best effort was an '81 Camaro that the previous owner had applied 2 shades of white and neither was correct. The most difficult part of the job was feathering the paint into the orginal finish but using the trigger adapter for spray cans helps.

I agree an amateur can do a professional job. But NOT in their first attempt. It’ll take patience and practice to get it right. The old lacquer finishes you could mess up a little and wet sand and buff it out.

For the cost of the equipment, it is likely worth getting an inexpensive paint job at a local shop. You mask what doesn’t get painted as mentioned before, and you clean up. All they do is spray the original color on the car.

Just to chime in again. My BIL has been doing body work and painting since the 60’s, professionally for a while, then for himself and part time. So he’s my go to guy on anything paint and body wise. He bought a 62 Fairlane to restore a while back and was going to leave the Arizona patina on the fenders for character. Next time I saw it though it was all nicely repainted. We started talking spray equipment again since my sprayer was pretty much shot and he always had quality stuff. He said he just used a Harbor Freight gun for $20. Buys a couple at a time and throws them away. So I bought one but haven’t used it yet so can’t say. I plan to use it on my trailer. I think it just depends on skill level though and crappy equipment can return good results. But if you’ve never done anything before, it takes practice practice practice for a good job.