What Goes into Painting a Car?
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What Goes into Painting a Car?

Anyone can paint a house, so why can’t anyone paint a car? It takes multiple layers of coating applied in specific conditions to get the shine and durability you expect from your vehicle, and that requires professional expertise and specialized equipment. Here’s what it takes to get your car’s paint looking like new again.

Cleaning, Masking and Part Removal

Before any work can begin, the car needs to be clean. The vehicle is thoroughly washed and degreased to keep sanding pads from clogging up and paint from dripping and fish-eyeing.¬†Spray application leaves the fine coating needed to get a good finish, but it’s not very precise. If a part doesn’t need to be painted, it needs to be covered to protect it from overspray during the painting process. Tape and sheets of paper are applied over areas that need to be protected, while some parts, like the tail light housings, may be removed from the car entirely to protect them.


What’s the difference between a bad paint job and a great one? Sanding. To get a good finish, every layer needs to be smooth and blemish free. This starts by removing the layers of paint on the parts to create a fresh surface for the coatings to attach to. Cheap paint jobs will end sanding here, but a quality paint job requires sanding and finishing throughout the process to ensure every layer is flat to get a quality finish.

Fixing the Body Panels

Rust needs to be removed before painting, or it will eventually bubble up beneath the paint. Rusted spots are cut away and fresh sheet metal is welded in. After some body work and sanding, the new metal blends in seamlessly with the original panel. Small dents also need to be removed. In the past, these would be covered with a layer of filler, but paintless dent repair techniques can remove even minor imperfections to get the panel back into shape.

When replacing a body panel, the new piece is test-fitted to make any adjustments to get the right fit. Doing this now means there’s less chance of scratching the paint when the panel is installed.


Paint won’t stick directly to plastic or metal, so a primer needs to be applied that will adhere to both the part and the paint. Primers have several formulations designs to work with different materials. That means a plastic part and a steel part may have different primers, but they’ll both be able to use the same paint, resulting in a uniform finish across the body.

Paint Matching

When painting a single panel, the paint needs to be carefully matched to blend in with the rest of the vehicle, which has faded due to age. The painter will start with the original factory color and fine tune it through multiple mixes to get a perfect match for the rest of the car.


The car can now go into the paint booth where the painter applies multiple thin layers to build up a base coat. What’s in the paint gun isn’t just paint: it’s a mixture of paint, thinner, hardener and catalyst, blended to work best with the paint booth conditions. If the blend isn’t perfect, the paint will have a rough texture that will need to be sanded back.

Clear Coating

Modern paint systems use a thin color coat followed by a thick clear coat. This clear coat can be blended for maximum toughness and UV resistance, and if it gets damaged, the surface may be able to be polished away to return the paint to its original appearance. It also allows the color coat to be softer so it doesn’t crack with age like earlier lacquer paints did.


Most of the catalyst evaporated off in the paint booth, but once the car is painted, it needs time to completely cure. The painted vehicle or part is placed in a heated booth to accelerate this process.


Getting a good shine is a matter of replacing large scratches with smaller ones. This starts with wet sanding with fine grit sandpaper, then polishing, and finally sealing to fill in the microscopic scratches. The end result is a smooth finish with a deep shine.

Get the Job Done Right at Merton Auto Body

When you want a top-quality paint job for your vehicle, bring your car to Merton Auto Body. We’re an I-CAR Gold Class certified shop with ASE certified technicians, and we use the Spies Hecker Paint System, which is the same paint used by many vehicle manufacturers. We have an appraiser on staff to help with insurance claims, and we can also do custom paint and pinstriping work.


Book your appointment now!

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