Piston Slap: Straight talk on flat paint jobs
Hagerty Community member snailish writes:
Good day Sajeev,
Paint formulas have changed and availability varies by area due to legislation, making internet information hard to follow on this topic. What I am interested in discussing is flat paint jobs for a car, but not just a spray can of Rust-Oleum to do a headlight bucket. Let’s say I want to paint my car a color that isn’t flat black or white. Maybe I want to take short cuts because it is a Model A jalopy or a military-inspired bush truck. You could spell it out something like this (No, you get all the credit for this. – SM) in order of complexity and cost:
- Spray cans at hardware stores: Alkyd-based paints don’t sand well, so you will be using paint stripper if you want to paint the part “properly” later. Results over large panels can be uneven. (Fades in sun, but you wanted flat anyways, right?)
- Rust-Oleum by the gallon: Can be thinned with darn near anything, and the folks at my local hardware store say they can tint their house brand of rust/metal paint. And it can be applied with a brush if you want that original 1908 Oldsmobile look.
- Tractor paint: Thins like Rust-Oleum, but you use hardener. Circa 2011, the internet is all over this option in various car forums.
- Automotive paint systems: Like any other color, but you add flattener. However the cost is the same or more as other modern options (maybe cheaper than two-stage with clear).
- Are there other options I am not aware of?
Obviously you’d have to add the safety disclaimer about PPE, as most paints are very bad to breathe in any quantity. No matter. I guess I want to know what you can tell me about flat paint options for the do-it-yourselfer, circa 2023? I just wanted to provide detail to give context.
Did you ever provide great context, @snailish! Thank you for laying it all out, as there are many options to getting a flat paint job. All are valid, depending on the owner’s tastes and budget: I won’t knock someone for putting tractor paint on a vehicle, that’s for sure. I think the flat paint job options you list are a function of personal ability and accessibility, much like how I suggested zip codes change the answer to your last question. That’s because where you live defines what you can afford, the size of your workspace, and the amount of tools/equipment you can collect. So let me take your bullet points and apply each to specific situations:
- Spray cans at hardware stores: This is easy, cheap, and can be done just about anywhere. I’ve seen impressive rattle can paint jobs over the years as a judge in the 24 Hours of Lemons, so I will recommend this to most people, especially newbies to the painting game.
- Rust-oleum by the gallon: If you have access to equipment like spray guns, a compressed air tank, etc., and the skills to make it work, this is potentially a huge upgrade over the aerosol cans.
- Tractor paint: Provided you have the equipment mentioned in #2, this stuff might be better for the rough work experienced by race cars, off-road vehicles, etc. And if you live near a Tractor Supply Co. and their credit card is appealing for other reasons, well, you go right ahead and get tractor paint to reach your purchasing goals.
- Automotive paint systems: If you’ve advanced your career/hobby to the point where spending a few grand on a paint job isn’t a big deal, this still can’t be beat.
- Other options: Vinyl wrap it. It’s affordable, requires modest body prep, and is safe for your lungs. The learning curve looks pretty shallow, and there are plenty of flat-toned vinyls out there.
For me, I think the vast majority of flat paint jobs should be performed using 1, 2, or 4. But learning vinyl wrapping looks like a trade on par with laying down pinstripes and airbrushing custom flames, making for a good side hustle these days. But again, it all depends on the person paying for the privilege of this paint job.
My preferred method? Scuffing the paint a bit and doing Option #1 from the list. That will work for many applications, short of the fancy pants, late model cars like the Ford GT above.
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