Picture of Paint Your Car With Rustoleum
Do you have a fun car that you just KNOW will go faster with a brand new paint job?

This method is based on the idea of using a foam paint roller to put many layers of Rustoleum on your car. Except, I used a professional airgun and only 2 coats. The result? Pretty dang good, for the money.


So why Rustoleum? Well, on the internet you can find people who rolled it on, and the cars look pretty good. But most of all, you can get a quart for under $5 at any hardware store, whereas automotive paint can be 20-50 times that much.

I have a neighbor who has a paint shop in his garage, so I got to use his spray gun. You will need a spray gun and air compressor, but if you don't you can still try rolling on the paint.

Other thoughts:

Throughout the project I kept telling myself, "self, if this works'll have to do an Instructable on it," and it worked out, so this is my first instructable.

Note: I'm not liable for....anything. If you ruin your car, my condolences but remember, YOU did it. However you probably won't ruin your car unless you try.
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Step 1: Preparation

Picture of Preparation

First, you'll need some items:

  • A car you're willing to ruin the paint job on
  • 2-4 quarts (depending on size of car) of gloss Rustoleum - color of your choice
  • 4 or more cans of Rustoleum auto primer spray paint
  • 1 quart of acetone
  • 1 can of Bondo (optional)
  • Sand paper - 120, 400, 800 grit (or the closest you can get)
  • Mixing can/bottle/whatever
  • Stir stick
  • Masking tape and paper
  • 4" super-fine foam paint roller (optional)
  • Spray gun - bigger nozzle seems to work better
  • Air compressor - big enough for the spray gun's requirements
  • Dry, well-ventilated area to paint in
  • A bunch of misc. tools - these may include screw drivers, ratchet sets, allen wrenches, a can of liquid wrench
  • 2 gallons of diligence

You'll do well to make sure the primer is Rustoleum, to ensure compatibility (paint can act stupidly if it doens't like the primer). Also, use dark primer if your car color is dark (blue, green, black, etc) and lighter primer if the paint is lighter. This way you won't have to spray on 20 coats to cover it up.

It's also a good idear to handle any bodywork your car needs. If you don't want to do this, get a professional to do it but see if you can have him skip painting it to save money. However, for small dents Bondo (or any number of superior, more expensive fillers) is really quite easy to use. I had to replace a destroyed fender and bondo a big dent on the hood before painting, but it was a lot easier than you'd think.
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davidbarcomb4 months ago

I would like to try this. I'll take the risk

MikeF28 months ago

Don't use rustoleum is does not shine and you have to do a lot more sanding and the spray can are a wast of time

watahyahknow10 months ago

are you realy REALY sure you used acethone as a paintthinner ?

they actually use that stuff as a paintremover (like with nailpolish ) and to thin 2 compound resin (think fiberglass)

the original paint on youre car and rustoleum are oil based and spraying it on youre car mixed with the rustolium even with a primer undercoat will have the same effect on youre old paint as painstripper would , it will start bubbling and you can peel it off in sheets down to bare metal

on the 50 dollar paintjob (the original one on a mopar forum who started the hype ) he thinned with white spirit , the slow drying time and the thin layers made the paint lay verry flat after rollering and the thin layers prevented the thinnergasses to get locked in under the hardened surface of the paint made it realy tough to scratch once all those thin coats where finaly and polished

i agree on the fact that its a lot more work and time than spraying it on though , it will take a lot longer to get truely hard enough so you can wetsand and polish the surface to a mirror finish

anyone who's willing to try the acethone as a paint thinner but want to know for sure , heres a simple test to check :

take a rag , make sure its a white natural fiber (cotton wool) rag as some fabriccollours will allso leach out with accethone and anything based on plastic like dralon will melt

make it wet with acethone and lay it on the car on the old paint and leave it there for a little bit then pick the rag up and dry the surface of the paint

if it dry rag sticks to the surface the paint feels like rubber or you can wipe the paint of to the bare metal dont use it as a paintthinner but use white spirit

i nead help i want to paint my truck 2003 silverado dont mind spending up to 1,500$ i nead some guidness on what paint is the best i want some shine and last atleast 8 years im not sure black or cherry red
lmavish1 year ago
Yeah, rustoleum is absolutely key, great article. If anybody is looking for quality automotive paint products that you can buy right from your computer, check this site out, it's helped me a lot:
Here is a car I helped a friend paint with Valspar spray paint in the can from Lowes.
The color was Cherry (they don't make it any more). The picture was taken one 1/2 year after sitting in the sun. So yes, if you know what you are doing you can spray paint a SMALL car and end up with a show car paint finish. We took the hood off laid it flat and sprayed it by itself which was the key. After it dried for two weeks, we wet sanded with 1000 and buffed with polish.
jr231 year ago
rustoleum is about 10 bucks a quart now 2013
love to see how it held up 6 yrs later
princ3172 years ago
Hey I have a 1999 Chrysler Sebring Convertible JXi and about a year ago I had to get the door replaced. So my car is gold and the one door is white. I am thinking about painting the car myself being that I am in college, I would like to know about how much time was spent on a project like this and about how much money? Also, I don't have access to a paint gun, is it possible to rent something like that or should I stick to the spray cans or rolling?
xxjhansenxx2 years ago
i am on the fence on whether or not i want to spray paint my car or roller paint it. Spray paint requires less sanding and dries faster. Im not completely sure about the benefits and what they are of roller painting verses spray painting besides being more cost effective. However, my real question here is: Is it possible/practical to spray paint the base coat and then roll on the clear coat. I want the base to be black and the clear coat to have specific metal specks in it. Ive decided that i am going to have to roll on the clear coat. With that question aside, i'd also like to know if when applying a clear coat like rustoleum auto body clear coat, would i still want to cut it with mineral spirits to make it easier to apply with the roller? OR would that ruin the clear coat?
All this work- and using soft enamel that is made not for road and auto use- but to paint furniture. You can use real urethane which is far superior and made for autos-- and roll it on if you like, although it is far easier to just borrow or rent a compressor and spray it on.   A quart of decent single stage real auto paint is all of $35. You don't need to apply coat after coat after coat, etc. Far easier, far better paint.
How much coverage would a quart of decent automotive paint be?
Also, would applying multiple basecoats and/or more than one topcoat help prevent fading from sun and salt air (I live near the ocean)?
well, i have already primed most of my car with the rustoleum auto primer. I havent bought the paint yet. Can the urethane be put over the rustoleum primer? and where can i get it? i only have advanced, auto zone and carquest around me. I have a napa near me but every time i drive there, they arent open. weird? I am open for any ideas. but i dont want paint peeling. the rustoleum auto paint is a laquer and according to rustoleum, it gets raelly hard so that was my thinking for the process... regular rustoluem with the hard stuff over it. im an amature at this so i will take any good advice.
I dont have access to a spray gun or a compressor and after buying tons of new parts for my car i dont have the extra cash to start spending on things like that... however, im not sure how much things like that would run me so please dont think i am just trying to count those out as options. I just assume they will cost me more than i have
its better it use spray gun its nice
i dont have access to one or everything it requires to work.
there is a triger for spray cans you could use that
tinker, i dont really know what you mean by that. I had considered getting the clear coat put into spray cans but that is just going to cost a lot and defeats the purpose of not spending so much. ive made my budget a bit higher than 50... more like 250 because of all of the supplies to do it right as far as sanding discs and body filler and primer
i meant that there is,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=917&bih=497&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=9086268114377819105&sa=X&ei=DGqxT6jLGZPTgQfm06iHCw&ved=0CHsQ8wIwAA

that could help with the spraying
yea, but i dont want to use spray cans for the paint... how does this work with regular paint from a can
does anyone have any experience with something like this?
spray paint is going to cost so much as you dont get very much out of a can
yes i thought that might help if you decided to go that that way but rolling it is a better option
yea, i appreciate it. thanks! so does anyone have experience with issues with the rollers or pad things? I took off my hood scoops and spoiler and i got those prepped and i did the first coat with the foam brush and it came out decent and then i did the next layer with the high density roller to see which application looked better to me... The roller looked better, application-wise, but there was bits and pieces of small debris in the paint that i had to buff off.. im not sure what caused that im certain that the roller will get the car done quicker but i dont want to have to keep buffing off the particles of crap that rose to the top.
yea you got to clean really well before you start
neilslade5 years ago
One important aspect missed by people trying the Rustoleum method- is that Rustoleum is obsolete paint technology- non-catalyzed oil base paint: alkyd enamel- abandoned by all automotive makers pre-1970- It has inferior shine, weather resistance, flexibility, it is dramatically inferior in regards to durability to urethane. No current car manufacturer uses this kind of paint on cars- for good reason. For the same price, and less work, and superior results-- use the right stuff, acrylic urethane. Roll it on if you want, the same as Rustoleum, and end up with something far superior. A quart of urethane is $30, first class real automotive paint, made to put on cars that go bump on the road. Be done with the job in ONE DAY, no sanding. The $50 paint myth refuses to die. No big surprise there. Please read: Further-- it is IMPOSSIBLE to accurately and competently gauge "how good" a paint job looks from a single web photo, much less, several of them. A web photo can be extremely misleading on it's own. Do your homework.
Thanks for this information, Neil. I am debating whether or not to roll or spray, and, to use Rustoleum or "genuine" automotive paint, and your response helps in that decision. Another question I have is that besides acrylic urethane, there are acrylic enamel and acrylic lacquer -- what is best? Lastly, what about coverage in terms of deciding the amount of paint to purchase?
I doing a small (compact) wagon (but larger than the car used in your vidoes).
It is like preaching to the short bus crowd.
jpnagle592 years ago
Hey there, another 'old' guy here with advice, or should I say some info that might help.

@neilslade- polyurethane is the way to go, and I think it would work best if you are considering 'hand' painting with a roller or foam applicator.

I installed Vault Doors for a long time, and some of these Vault Doors for the government (Weapons Vaults) and Commercial Doors ( usually not seen by the public In financial/commercial buildings) were painted. I was the guy they chose to go paint, and touch-up these types of vault doors when the customer was excepting the building for occupancy. Often the doors were scratched and 'dented'- as in as much one could 'dent' a 4,000lb to 8,000lb piece of solid steel- it can be done. I've dented more than just one of them during installation- they are heavy!.

Anyway, the factory would paint these doors in polyurethane, and it held up well. At first when I started to go and paint these damaged doors, I would pick up some paint- Rustoleum, or whatever brand was available to me, and have it matched to the color I needed. The finish would not suit me, and if the door was not really, really clean before painting, problems would occur, and all most always the dreaded 'orange peel' would occur.

Now for those wanting to hand paint their car, I would choose a polyurethane over anything else, because when put on with a 4" roller, very fine, it will dry quicker, and more smooth than an enamel paint. Like mentioned before by others, humidity should be low when doing this, but it is not as critical as with an enamel paint. The surface needs to be really, really clean to avoid 'flaking' after the paint hardens, which occurs fast. If a person were to put 1-3 coats of poly on a car, let the first coat dry, and any more layers put on should be applied as fast as possible to prevent softening of the previous coat. When your feeling a 'tacky feeling' when applying another coat over an already painted coat of poly, your not moving fast enough.

Lacquer paint should be treated the same way- always wear some sort of breathing protection with all these paints- not good for the body and the nose! I went out and did a door when the people were already in the building- the smell gets to them.

When spray painting, apply the 1st coat in one direction, and the second coats in the opposite direction, works better that way.

As far as those little spray can 'trigger' attachments that fit on the top of spray paint cans, @xxjhansenxx, I find I have a more sensitive feel for the painting without them and using my finger on the spray tip of the can of paint.

Just thought I might help a little with this...James
Mudking2 years ago
Hey, i have a 2001 lifted ford ranger i off road with it a little and the paint has been beaten up a little bit i want to repaint it from its original white to a blue but i dont want the paint to wear off when i wash it after the mudhole
I did this method and would have not learned to paint otherwise. I am proficient enough at this to post. 8:4:1 ratio - paint, acetone, hardener (Valspar from Tractor Supply, available other places on the web) Will try 5 parts acetone on next job. No primer used, paint looks ok still after a year. I believe I saved over $10,000 doing myself (bus) - Had paint tinted on universal paint machine and just did a second bus and it looks GREAT, 2.5 gallons of Rustoleum used. I will paint my older classic cars in this method as the paint isn't really shiny enough for new types of paint. Will have to try a clear over the top as everything I have been warned about kept me from doing this YEARS ago. No Primer, painted over different collors and bare metal. I think the hardener is key but if you can't get any, try 8:5 and see for yourself, just leave in sun for the rest of the day. It works, and it really is that cheap. Just see for yourself, I used $15 HVLP gun from Harbor Freight - painted a fender a year and a half ago as a test and it still looks good, no protection, no hardener.
tsbrewers6 years ago
" I highly recommend you read the original source of this method (which inspired this entire project) here:"

Just thought I would correct this, here is the link to the original place this cult got started,and is actual referenced in the above page. martin tibensky on

But it was popularized here, so who cares.
hjenkins33 years ago
What are your thoughts on using a can of rustoleum spray paint--- NOT a professional spray gun--- instead of can of paint and brushes?
Just recently rolled this van.... Its my dirtbike hauler, so no expensive paint job required!
dodge van 1.JPG
Nicely done. That's a good looking van.
Spray paint will not hold up anywhere near as well as spraying it or rolling it. Ive done both, and they both work fine.
W spray cans you must remember, they use alot of thinner in those so they sray out of a can effectively. You would have to multiply your coats by 10 to get the same coverage, thickness as well as keeping a good blend. It is very hard to overlap, w/o overspraying w a small can like that....just doesn t do the job.
m2mps hjenkins33 years ago
The problem with using a spray can is that the film build (how thick the paint is) is not very thick and the thicker the paint coating the better the protection, also the primer needs to be good to give good adhesion to the metal try here for a good range of paints
DrSimons (author)  hjenkins33 years ago
It might work for small areas, but doing a whole car would use a LOT of spray paint cans so it would probably be a lot more expensive. Also you should be VERY good with a spray's not very easy to get a good finish, there are always lumps or blotchy areas, especially with glossy paint. Good luck though.
I was considering doing this for my motorcycle. The surface area of the fairings is nothing compared to that of a car, so a can of spray or two could do the job.

I've done light coats of spray before with cans, and even have an air brush but it is no where near the quality required to run rustoleum through it. The fairings on my bike are removable and all made of fiberglass.. going to give it a try, I think :)
drk1t7 years ago
When I was in college, years and years ago, I was painting the trim on the rent house with some dutch boy oil base house paint. It was covering the old stuff pretty well and looked pretty good, I had an old pickup and tried a spot on it, looked good enough for the girls I chased. So I did the rest of the pickup. Looked just pretty good and lasted till long after I was out of college. I wouldn't suggest painting a late model car this way to change the color but what the heck, and old vehicle? Dark colors are the way to go, hides a lot of defects. Also there are farm stores that sell implement enamel. Cheap and gets the job done. I've painted cars one fender at a time, bondo and sand and tape and mask and paint it, do the next section next week or next month whenever the mood hits. Takes a little longer but it's a lot easier to do a smaller section at a time. As you might guess I really don't care what others think about most of the things I do or don't do. What works for me works for me.
neilslade drk1t6 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
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