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Cost of Painting Your Car

Jesse McGraw

Even when you love your car sometimes the style can start to feel stale. Painting your car can give it a whole new attitude, but how much does it cost and what other options are there?

So, You Want to Paint Your Car?

Cars can be a great source of self-expression. As soon as you drive off the dealership lot, thoughts of upgrades, modifications, and accessories fill your head. One of the best ways to truly make a car personal and “one-of-a-kind” is to stray from its original OEM paint and try a color or pattern that suits your personality better. Here are a few different ways to paint your car, plus some less permanent solutions too!

The Cheap and Dirty Method

So, your 2003 Honda Civic is a little rusty and that bland Honda factory silver just is not your style. Thankfully, there are a couple price-conscious options to try. Keep in mind, results will vary based on your personal artistic skillset.


Ah yes, the classic rattlecan paint job; the preferred method for teenage beater cars like the Pontiac Grand Prix and demolition derby entrants. The first word of warning is this: if you use a rattlecan to paint your car, everyone will know you used a rattlecan to paint your car. Does that mean using spray paint is necessarily a bad thing? No, but execution is everything, and if you’re artistically inclined you can make a car’s spray paint job look professionally done and even add more custom flare. I just wouldn’t recommend spray painting anything new like a 2020 Ford Mustang, but I guess that’s up to you.

1989 Honda Civic ED7 Hatchback camo rattlecan paint job - 89-ED7 on honda-tech.com
1989 Honda Civic ED7 Hatchback camo rattlecan paint job - 89-ED7 on honda-tech.com

A rattlecan paint job will cost you under $100. This estimate depends on how nice you want your car to look and how much work you’re willing to do. Here’s are the steps of a DIY rattlecan paint job:

  1. Park in a well ventilated and covered area
  2. Sand the car to remove old paint and rust
  3. Patch any holes with body filler
  4. Wipe down the body to help remove dust
  5. Tape down and cover any windows or areas you don’t intend to paint
  6. Apply your primer (about 3 coats in 15-minute intervals)
  7. Smooth out the dried primer areas with 1200 grit sandpaper
  8. Clean the area with water to keep it clear of imperfections
  9. Spray paint the car with even, consistent, strokes about 10 inches away from the body
  10. Continue spraying evenly around the car taking 10 minutes in between coats
  11. If you want to protect the paintjob, add a clear coat using the same technique as before

Paint Sprayers

A more refined version of the DIY paintjob is utilizing a paint sprayer. They’re the preferred way to go when it comes to restoring old cars at home. I’ve seen everything from a ‘79 Chevrolet Camaro to a ‘57 Dodge D100 sprayed in the owner’s garage. Paint sprayers, or paint guns, are an air-based paint application device. They allow the user to apply an even coat of paint with little effort and allow you to fine tune application. Plus, you have options for cheaper electric paint guns or more expensive air compressor-based spray gun.

Painting car with a gravity fed pneumatic paint sprayer
Painting car with a gravity fed pneumatic paint sprayer

Electric paint guns can run you as little as $50, not including paint. Although, you’ll have better consistency and variable tuning with a compressor-based spray gun, the price will go up dramatically. Just the spray gun alone starts at around $20 and a good enough air compressor starts at $70. If you’re really going to get into painting cars as a hobby, don’t skimp on the hardware. Do some extra research on which setup is right for you and go from there.

Or Leave It to the Professionals

Want a new paint job for your car but don’t have the “expertise” for a DIY attempt? Don’t worry, there are plenty of car painting professionals around the US ready to help turn your dream into reality. Car painting professionals have years of experience under their belts and all the resources available to give your car a chef’s kiss paintjob. The only issue is the “Pick Two” conundrum. You can have your car painted cheap and fast, but not well. Or you can get it painted well and cheap, but it’s not going to be fast. Then you can get it painted well and fast, but… I think you see where I’m going here. Here’s a couple of examples of what you can expect at different price ranges when shopping painting services.

$300 to $1000

At this price range, you’ll be looking at smaller body shops. There’ll be minimal prep work, probably just one color, and it’ll only be sprayed in places that can be seen. Basically, you’ll get a newly painted car quickly and at an affordable rate. What you sacrifice are thoroughness, like spots under the hood or in the door frames will show the old color still, and overall quality. A good example I’ve found is What Monsters Do’s BMW E30 318i $1000 paintjob he posted on Youtube:

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$1000 to $4000

This is where the quality paintjobs begin. Proper sanding, rust removal, body patch work, multiple layers, inspected surfaces, clear coats, and no spots of old paint. This is the way to go if you want a great paint job, it’s just going to cost more and take longer to complete.

Painting a minivan in a paint booth - burkholdertrucksales.com
Painting a minivan in a paint booth - burkholdertrucksales.com

$4000 Plus (Emphasis on Plus)

If you’re willing to go big on your car investment, check out some of the high-end professional paint shops around the US. They can make your dream a reality. From airbrushed murals to painstaking pin striping, they’ll get you the look you want. But the options don’t stop there, your paint can be pearlescent, glitter, metallic, matte; the only limit is your imagination (and your budget).

Depending on the options you choose, the wait time on your car could be a month or more. However, if you’re fine with just a single color the whole process can be a lot quicker. Some of the best shops bake the paintjobs in an industrial oven which helps the paint to dry and cure much more quickly than cheaper shops who simply air dry. Just be sure to get your estimate beforehand, custom paintjobs in one of these shops can easily reach into the $20,000 range.

Separated painted body parts baking in a paint booth - AMMO NYC on Youtube
Separated painted body parts baking in a paint booth - AMMO NYC on Youtube

More Temporary Options

Even after weighing all the options, you’re still unsure if you want to permanently change your paint? Well, there’s two more options to consider and the best part is they are easy to change on a whim.


Plasti-Dip is spray paint but with a rubberized compound. A lot of people use it to repaint their rims or bits of trim, but you can do the whole car if you’d like. The only prep you need to do is a quick wipe down to remove some dirt and dust, cover surfaces that aren’t supposed to be painted, and then just spray. If you’re ready to go back to the original in a couple months, just peel it off and it’s gone! Plasti-Dip is available at $5.82 per can and can be bought in bulk too, making it a perfect alternative for the DIY fans.

Vinyl Wrap

Another great way to change your car’s appearance is by applying a vinyl wrap. Vinyl wraps come in thousands of different combinations of colors, designs, and lusters. They’re a thin adhesive roll of vinyl that can be heat treated to adhere to different materials and surfaces but are easily peeled away in the event you want a change. Vinyl wraps are commonly used for advertising and racing designs on cars due to their immense complexity that painting just can’t recreate.

An Audi R8 and Lexus NX with custom vinyl wraps - sciencecentre.3mcanada.ca
An Audi R8 and Lexus NX with custom vinyl wraps - sciencecentre.3mcanada.ca

Now, you can go out and purchase a roll of vinyl wrap yourself for around $120 and heat treat it with a hair dryer… But end results are going to be based on your skill level and you’ll need more than one roll for the entire car. That’s why it’s best to just go to the professionals on this one. A single-color complete vinyl wrap can range from $2000 to $5000. Although, another great thing about vinyl shops is the customization. Adding logos, patterns, or any other custom flare you like is easy. Just be ready to pay upwards of $10,000 for this kind of custom work.

Mclaren 720S with color changing vinyl wrap - atlantacustomwraps.com
Mclaren 720S with color changing vinyl wrap - atlantacustomwraps.com

Ready to Change It Up?

We’ve laid out a couple different options at different price points. You can keep it cheap and do it yourself with rattlecans, spray guns, or Plasti-Dip. Or you can also hand it off to the professionals for a reasonable price to be painted or vinyl wrapped. Whichever way you choose, just make sure you’ll be happy with the results. It’s your car and a new paint job will let everyone know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have box full a spray cans and a project to take care of in my driveway (don’t tell my wife).

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Jesse McGraw
Jesse McGraw

Jesse's life-long car obsession began when he started collecting Hot Wheels as a child. He’s constantly keeping up with the latest car news and diving deep into automotive history. His automotive journey began with a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, only recently replaced by an impeccable 2014 Kia Soul. You can find him modifying and racing cars in video games when he’s not playing paintball or writing about cars.

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1 Comment

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    Anonymous March 4, 2021

    I have a 1990 mazda mitia the paint is awful peeling what is the best way to get it off and what to do before paintiing


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