It’s not rocket science to figure out that not all cars are worth the thousands of dollars to invest in a shiny new paint job. I’ve made this list of cheap DIY paint jobs because I love cheapskate auto body (if that makes any sense.. I know it’s weird!) I’m not the guy that loves $10,000 paint jobs but instead I love a sweet $27 paint job. Here is my top 11 list. By the way, you can click through to the links of each of these to see the “how to tutorials.”
1. Flat White Spray or Roller
Who woulda thunk flat white could look cool? I know right. It’s true though. You have three factors really helping out the cosmetic appearance of the finished car. Number one, white is a super bright color and it forces the human eye to see less flaws and one general aspect. Two, flat paints don’t show high and low spots like gloss does. This is why spray bomb paint jobs looks so horrible because the rattle can can’t spray evenly and that’s where you see all the differences after it’s dry. And thirdly, you can use a roller and it helps spread the paint more evenly than a can. By the way, this is a Nissan 240sx in the image from Zilvia.net.
This is becoming huge in the honda scene because it’s cheap and easy. People are also using other light colors that are closely related to white. Yellow blends, light pinks, and very light red. The factor is that it’s a light color because light colors fool the human eye to see less imperfections (vaguely explained).
2. Bedliner Spray Can
For all you “flat black” fans this is going to be your favorite. This is also the most DURABLE choice on the list. If you have tons of rust that we all hate.. you should consider this. This Bedliner spray stuff is designed to obviously put in the bed of pickup trucks. I’m sure you have already seen it… maybe while you were loading firewood in a pickup or driving that four wheeler into a truck. Long story short, this stuff is durable is all heck!
It comes in spray cans and gallon jugs for you to roller on. I prefer to use the spray cans and my tutorial on how to spray a vehicle with cans can found here. *Side Note: This stuff costs around $13 a can so it’s not the cheapest of methods but is the strongest and most durable.
3. Plasti-Dip Spray
This stuff is the new craze! Everyone and their cousin is painting their wheels and changing the color of their hood.. or roof. Basically, this stuff is a plastic base mold that comes out as a liquid but drys into a hardened plastic. It is plyable a tiny bit which makes it deadly when it comes to good adhesion. And to top it off….. it peels right off when your done using it. Crazy right… seems to good to be true.
Like I said before, everyone is painting everything they can think of with this stuff. There are now services that offer a complete car paint job with Plasti-Dip too. And it’s only a couple hundred bucks versus a couple thousand for a real paint job. I’ve heard a person can completely cover their vehicle for around 3 years with this stuff until it needs to be changed.
4. $30 Gun + Oil Based
Oil based paints are pretty durable and that’s why we use them for farming equipment and such. Buy a $30 paint gun at your local freight store and burrow a compressor. Now buy a gallon of oil based paint and some thinner. A gun isn’t going to shoot a thick oil based paint so we need to thin it some. Don’t think too hard into all the variables of a paint gun because they can get extremely intensive. Guns range from $20 all the way up to $3000. Get a basic HVLP gravity feed or similar.
5. Paint Matched Rattle Can
Your auto parts store will sell “pre-mixed” rattle cans of paint. These are designed specifically for troubled areas where a person can spray the area themselves. It’s designed for small areas on a vehicle and they mix the paint up perfectly to your already color of paint. It’s a two stage paint all combined into one so it is a pretty darn good paint actually.
Instead of just spraying a problem area.. I have heard of people spraying their entire car with this stuff and of you choose a lighter color.. the turn out will surprise you. I’ve personally used these paints to spray a damaged hood and they work great. I could barely tell the difference between my OEM paint versus the new stuff.
6. Vinyl Small Sections
Vinyl stickers have been cool for decades and now you can buy just large chunks of that vinyl as a plain piece. People are wrapping entire vehicles in this stuff and the only hard part is laying the vinyl around the rounded edges and body lines of a vehicle. I have been dabbling with stuff and it’s awesome. Once you understand how to shape it using a heat gun.. it’s virtually endless to what you can put it on.
I ordered a piece of vinyl that was “carbon fiber design” and large enough to fit my hood and fooled a lot of people with that hood (I’m a ricer!) Long story short, if you have some areas or maybe just a body kit or a bumper this could be perfect for you.
7. Camouflage “Using Leaves”
This has been around since the stone ages. Ok.. not really but it’s super simple. All you do is get a bunch of leaves and hold them against your vehicle and spray away. And when you remove the leaf away you will have the outline design of a leaf. Rinse and repeat this over your entire vehicle.
Sort of a hillbilly way to go… but it’s not bad for a truck! I’m not a huge fan of this method but it’s definitely easy and low cost.
8. “Spray Bomb” Light Colors
Spraying your entire vehicle with rattle cans is hated upon very much. That’s because people have wrecked it for us that are willing to take our time at it. I’ve had plenty of cars that turned out descent from a rattle can. The trick is to choose the right paint, the color, and prep work prior to spraying.
9. Reppin’ Primer Only
Rat rods have been driving around in only primer forever! Why can’t you, right? Don’t forget they have gray primer and it will probably look better than that rusty dark red color. Although…. Sometimes the uglier the better or wait.. that’s just my preference. This one is pretty simple to understand. Sand your car down and primer it!
10. Flat Green “Military Look”
Somewhat growing in the euro scene is the flat green military look. This is one of my personal favorites and it needs to be real thick for my liking. It’s different but it’s easy and super durable. Rustoleum sells a flat green spray can for around $3.97 a can and a car will most likely only take 4-6 cans. Pure awesome in my opinion.
I really crave seeing an old hatch back car in a really “boxy” body line like the ford pinto or celebrity wagon.. Or.. you can’t go wrong with flat green on a truck because ITS A TRUCK. All your basic prepping and taping apply for the general “spray bombing” a car.
11. Any Camouflage in General
What makes camouflage so great is that there are no paint spots large enough to see a “low spot” or a high spot. If a person can have a paint job that is cut up into smaller pieces.. it will look better. That’s why sometimes people will spray paint their car but maybe have a design on the side to cut up the defects in the regular base color. Camouflage cars are cool though right?….
I understand that not everybody is an ex-military hunting freak… but I’ve seen different aspects to camouflage like.. SNOW CAMO. I once cut out a bunch of pieces of vinyl in the colors of snow camo and laid it over white. Just to break up the paint so your eyes didn’t concentrate on how crappy the original paint really was.. Haha.
What Do You Think?
Posted by Kevin S:
I’m going with the flat military green. It seems to be a nice fit for my 1987 Chevy Blazer. It’s not a mud truck or anything but instead just my daily driver. The amount of rust the truck has really has forbidden me from a lot of other options. I would go for the Bedliner route if they weren’t $20 a can here in Canada! Sometimes I hate where I live and other days I love it.
Posted by Eric Windsor:
The honda scene is going with lots of flat colors and it’s funny you mentioned the honda scene ha! I think if a person has super nice wheels on an import car, they can get away with having super crappy paint.
Posted by Grant Johnson:
I wish I could take a super nice car and put a crappy paint job on it. Like for instance, buy a brand new Saleen Mustang and just paint it in nasty chalkboard spray paint. The car makes the car! This was an interesting article though. I like your style because I’m also not a hillbilly looking to drive around a camouflage 4×4 truck with zero exhaust. “Hey Ma! My name is Cletus!”
Posted by Pete M:
Still trying to decide which one to do on my race car. I’m stuck in between going with oil based paint and a gun or just a flat green?! Ahh the choices were faced with. I put more thought into this decision than what woman I wanted to marry. My priorities are not in order to say the least.
Posted by Jake Brise:
Question regarding the flat white roller job. What kind of paint does a person use? Is this just like wall paint for interiors or what?
Reply from Author:
I would suggest an oil based flat white Jake. Great question though. Wall paint might not last too long hehe. Oh and by the way, walmart sells Rustoleum which is a descent brand and they do sell flat white in cans and jugs.