How to Paint a Car by Yourself

by Richard Rowe

Painting a car at home isn't impossible; but it is rather difficult and labor intensive if you want it to come out good. Anyone can pick up a can of $1 spray paint and spend 30 minutes hosing down a vehicle body, but it takes a great deal of patience and no small amount of skill and practice to create something you can be proud of. Unfortunately, consumers can no longer legally purchase the automotive-grade, volatile organic compound-containing paints that manufacturers use to paint cars. However, that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of modern paint technology to do 95 percent of the work and end up with something truly unique.


Sand all of the auto body panels with 400-grit sandpaper, just enough to knock the gloss off of your vehicle's paint. Glossy paint will kill paint adhesion, so make sure that the car is completely "flat" before proceeding. Wash the car down using only water and allow it to air-dry. Wipe the body panels down with rubbing alcohol on a lint-free rag, and do not touch the body panels afterward. You may wish to don a pair of latex gloves to keep the oils from your fingers from sinking onto the paint.


Mask off everything that you don't want paint on, including the head and tail-light lenses, turn signal lenses, windows, wheels and any trim that you've opted not to remove. With the approach used for this article, you might consider just removing all of the car's badging and trim. It won't look right under the MirraChrome paint, and it'll increase the odds of runs and drips. Wipe the car down again with alcohol.


Mix the MirraChrome-supplied Jet Black base coat according to the package directions, in accordance with the current temperature and humidity. Set the HVLP gun to its widest aperture setting and set the gun mixture to rich and wet (relatively little air). Start spraying the car in light, overlapping strokes. The idea here is to just obscure the base color, so you don't need to lay it on like you're painting a piano. Two coats should do it for dark colors, three for lighter colors.


Allow the paint 6 to 8 hours of drying time -- longer if it's cold or humid out. Overnight would be best, but you don't have to wait for the Jet Black base-coat to fully "gas out" like you would a standard automotive paint.


Clean your spray gun, removing all traces of black paint. Drop the spray pressure to about 20 psi, and change the mixture to a lean, dry setting (more air). MirraChrome goes on very dry -- more of a "dusting" than a true coat of paint. Once you've got the gun set up, stand about a 12 inches further back than you did with the basecoat and begin with a quick, dry stroke of the gun. Again, the technique here is to "dust" the paint on in multiple, dry coats.


Continue dusting on the coats of MirraChrome. This paint goes on nearly transparent, so you'll likely need at least three of four very thin coats. Allow the MirraChrome at least 30 minutes to dry in a warm, dry environment. Wipe the paint down with a soft, lint-free cloth, but don't remove your masking yet.


  • check You've got a couple of options at this point. You can apply the supplied MirraClear and Alsa Speed Clear paint yourself and enjoy blinding every squirrel in the block, or you can take it to a body shop and have them apply a tinted clear-coat over it. You've already done all of the the prep and masking, so even a really good tinted clear-coat shouldn't run you more than a couple of hundred dollars. More likely, less than a hundred. The up-shot here is that multiple tinted clear-coats will give your car an absolutely eye-searing kandy-metallic finish, something nearly impossible to accomplish without using a mirrored base coat first. The down side is that tinted clears are finicky, transparent and easy to mess up. Make sure that your body-shop of choice has experience in applying tinted clears and kandies, or they'll end up leaving stripes all over your car's body.
  • check You could opt to spray the car with primer before using the black, but highly reflective paint is very forgiving of surface flaws and tiny scratches. If anything, some 400-grit swirl marks could stand to give your chrome paint job a bit of sparkle.


  • close Don't get to close or the paint will run! Its is better to have to do more layers than to have to do it over!
  • close Make sure to securely mask your windows and mirrors, or you will have a great time trying to remove paint from places you didn't want it!

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About the Author

Richard Rowe has been writing professionally since 2007, specializing in automotive topics. He has worked as a tractor-trailer driver and mechanic, a rigger at a fire engine factory and as a race-car driver and builder. Rowe studied engineering, philosophy and American literature at Central Florida Community College.

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