Guide to Car Painting: Standard and Custom Paintjobs for Cars

Paint is essentially a mixture of binders, resins and pigments. It’s the pigments that give the paint its colour and the rest to bind it all together. The usual paint on a production car is what is termed one Pac, which uses a basecoat and a clear coat together. The term Pac, or Pak, or PK, comes from the German words for paint components.

That’s why the most often used aftermarket paint is called two Pac – it is a base colour plus a clear coat that goes on top.

House of Kolor

Then there are the really serious paints, such as the House of Kolor, which has hundreds of different finishes that can be layered in any order or way to achieve a unique appearance.

Here’s an example of how serious it gets - paint experts measure paint thickness in microns. On a standard everyday car this can be between 90 to 110 microns. Some House of Kolor multilayer paint jobs are in the 500 to 600 micron range. This costs a lot of money, because all the materials and products are the best available. They have to be, as the more basic paints cannot handle being layered too much before delaminating and cracking in the sunlight.

Cracked Clearcoat

Some standard paint finishes fade out in a few years, either because the clear coat wasn’t suited to a countries weather conditions, or too much cutting polish has removed too much or all of the clear coat.

Spray Painting a Car

Paint is applied to a car’s panels through a spray gun, and these have to be set up exactly right for the best effect. Everything from air pressure to the spray heads used is important, especially if it is metal flaked paint, which requires a much larger spray head to actually let the flakes through.

But even after paint has been applied, the paint is still not finished. It’s cured and attached to the car properly, but it’s not actually dry. It takes between 30 and 60 days for the solvents in the paint to evaporate through the paint and dry properly. That’s why wax must not be applied to fresh paint for 60 days, or else the car could end up with soft paint, even years after it has been applied.

To maintain a paintjob the least aggressive method should be used first to repair scratches and swirls in the paint, and only if that doesn’t work to move up a step.

The best way to keep paint in good condition is to frequently use a detailing solution and a microfibre cloth to remove dust that accumulates on the car.

Identifying a Car's Original Paint Color: Determining the Paint Code for Automotive Touch Ups

Each of these colors has been assigned a color code and is very difficult to match without the code. When a consumer wants to get his car painted or touch up paint for the car, he must first find this color code for his vehicle.

The Car's Identification Sticker

Each car comes from the manufacturer with an information sticker that explains a large number of details about the car. This sticker (or metal plate) is completely different from the VIN tag. Very often this sticker is located somewhere easy to access like the inside of the driver's door panel, but depending on the manufacturer and the year that it was made, this sticker could be in a variety of locations such as the trunk, under the hood or in a door jam and occasionally in the glove box.

Automotive paint dealers try to keep up with the locations for these stickers and some of these can be accessed online by car owners that are having difficulty finding their sticker.

Finding the Paint Code on the Information Sticker

At the bottom left side of the sticker just under the bar code there is usually a line that reads "Exterior Paint Colors" and some letters, numbers or a combination of them just above it.

This is the paint code. This is the exact color that the car was painted during it's original build at the manufacturer. As long as the car has not been painted a different color after it's manufacture, this should be the matching color.

What to do With the Paint Code Number

The color code can now be used to buy paint that will match the original paint job. This code can be taken to an automotive paint store and presented to the counter-person or technician to purchase paint, or taken to a body shop for paint matching.

Years, Sun, Weather and Repainting

It should be noted that over the years, paint can fade in the sun and rain so painting a small area with a a tube of new touch-up paint, even if the code is correct, may not exactly match the vehicle. Once the paint has started to fade, the only way to truly fix a scratch and have the paint match would be to have a skilled paint technician repaint part of the car. On occasion these professional may be able to touch up a small area and make the paint color blend in. The other option is to have the entire car repainted.

If the sticker cannot be located, there are websites that are devoted to automotive paint and they provide search options for matching paint based on year, make and model of the vehicle. Using this site can help when a sticker search has been exhausted.

How to Build a Hot Rod or Custom Car

Hot rod guys know that there’s nothing quite like rolling down the road in a vehicle that you built with your own two hands. Even loaded with patina and matte black paint, hot rods and custom cars elicit looks of envy for not only those driving them, but for the “cool factor” that seems to drip from every weld.

If your dream has always been to build a Hot Rod or custom car, but you're a bit financially strapped, you should know that there are plenty of project Hot Rods and custom cars out there that aren't necessarily very expensive.

A ’27 T-bucket or ’31 model A, might put you into the expensive realm of custom car building, but there is also a lot of aftermarket support for early projects like these than some current model vehicles. In fact, you can easily build a Hot Rod T-bucket with an all-new chassis, four-cylinder engine, and fiberglass body for less than it would cost to buy your daughter that little sports car she's been wanting.

Checking out Hot Rod magazine or even Lowrider for the custom cars will generally leave anyone looking to break into this hobby with the distinct feeling that there just isn't quite enough cash flow coming in. At first, building your Hot rod or custom car can make you feel completely overwhelmed. There are as many magazines covering the different aspects of building a hot rod in reality, as there are actual vehicles in the local classifieds in need of restoration or hot rodding.

Feeling overwhelmed is all part of the hobby, though, and generally all it takes to get over is the first little success. Fitting the engine into the hot rod frame usually does the trick. The first thing you'll need to do to get your hot rod or custom car project off the ground is choose which project you'd like to take on.

A hot rod can be a custom car, but a custom car isn't always a hot rod, if you catch my drift. Usually the best place to start is in Hot Rod Magazine, or Street Rodder. The back pages of these publications give you a chance to choose from a variety of frames, bodies, and styles of build. It's up to you to decide what make of vehicle you're going to use.

You're going to have to choose next what kind of vehicle you want to hot rod or customize. convertibles, pickups, ratrods, or coupes can all offer a host of choices in how to proceed, and can all be hot rods and all can be custom cars. Chances are, even though this is a budget hot rod project, it will be one of the most expensive things you’ve ever done, (There really isn't a cheap way to build a hot rod or custom car. Sorry.)

Also know that in a lot of cases, you're not going to be able to build this thing yourself, sell it, and make a huge profit. That's only for the guys who can fabricate parts for their custom car or hot rod themselves. Make sure that you won't mind driving it around for the next ten years or so. Besides, chances are your wife will hate it (or you) until the thing fires up for the first time and you can take her for a ride.

For your first Hot Rod or custom car project, don't be afraid of paint. It won't bite you. If you really like the look of suede paint on a car, go for it. Go to your local auto parts store, and buy four or five cans of rattle bomb flat black. Trust me, it'll look great (for at least two or three weeks).

Thing is, you can keep a few cans of the stuff around for touch-ups now and then, too. Paint the car with the rattle bomb, but don't forget to prep the hot rod's surfaces first. Mask off the windows, use a scratch pad on the existing paint, and repair any rust spots before you paint. Flat black looks cool on a Hot Rod, but it also shows off every possible imperfection in the surface of the metal. Do yourself a favor and take care of the hot rod or custom car bodywork first.

Whatever your decision, remember that you’ve got a world of decisions ahead of you, and if you take them slowly and be sure you feel good about all of them, you’ll enjoy your new hot rod or custom car more than you can imagine.