Paint your own car for under $200 (or how I learned to love Rustoleum)

Picture of Paint your own car for under $200 (or how I learned to love Rustoleum)
I have a 1971 VW Westfalia camper bus. It was in bad need of a paint job when I got it. Someone had painted it with what I believe to be house paint. No bueno :( I decided I had to take care of it. I figured I would do it cheaply, but I wanted it to not be an embarassment either. The reason I was so interested in d.i.y. and cheap is because I want to take it camping but not stress about scratches etc. I wasnt shooting for show-quality paint here.

After some googling I came across 2 really good articles on painting your own vehicle with "Rustoleum", so I figured I was game. The two sites are:

The $50 Paint Job 
A Cheapskate’s Paint Job 

I used the $50 paint job for reference and Cheapskate's for moral support.

Please keep in mind this did NOT cost $50. It ended up costing me about $175, and 2-3 weeks of "spare time". I wanted to do a 2-tone paint job, so my time investment was doubled.

Apologies, but I did not track individual material costs closely, only the total.


Two quarts of Glossy white Rustoleum
Two quarts of  Sunset red Rustoleum
4-6 high density foam rollers and handles
4-6 touch up brushes
2-4 paint tray inserts
1 gallon of mineral spirits.
A few tarps or drop-cloths
A small container to put brushes in
Automotive masking tape
Orbital Sander (or by hand if you're a masochist)
60-grit wet/dry sand-paper
80-grit wet/dry sand-paper
100-grit wet/dry sand-paper
220-grit wet/dry sand-paper
800-grit wet/dry sand-paper
Dust Mask
2 Tack cloths
10-12 paint stir sticks
Spray bottle
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Good job! you might wanna change the symbol in front of your car thought... It's kind of misleading...

Not misleading at all. A german emblem on a german bus....nothing wrong with it. I certainly was not mislead when I seen it.

It's not a german emblem. It is very specifically the symbol for the Nazi party.

Who do you think invented the Volkswagon?

RobDibble2 months ago

Interesting, only one comment on here about the eagle symbol for the Nazi party on the front of the car? No, it's not a generic German symbol.

You are forgetting the important part, a swastika bro.

hirod3 (author)  doug.kerstetter22 days ago

Yeah Rob, get you some of that bruh.

nhankins32 months ago
This may be a very late comment on a post like this but please reply if possible, I have a 1996 Dodge Ram and I'd like to reprint but I'm on a budget, may you please help with the specific type of paint to look for? There is like several different types of paints. Do I want the acrylic finish or te gloss stuff you have? When i was doing research, I never saw gloss that isn't black or white? So please reply to this post as soon as you can. I think that the paint job is very cool!
Re paint*
nhagy9 months ago
What kind of paint ?
Interior? exterior ?
farmsteader2 years ago
That is Great, i wonder if spraying or applying a simple clear coat would really liven up the paint shine. All these paint shops want 1500 + and i started painting with Rustoleum on our ol' 95' Caravan to keep the bad original paint which these are known for , from rusting through. It works and looks a hell of a lot better. Thanks for sharing this, it will help us and many others save money!
tioshrek2 years ago
excellent!!! dont have to be rich to make it rigth!! I mean... if you know how to doit and have the time... always is fun to make it DIY
Is the title a play on Dr. Strangelove?
hirod3 (author)  frisbeechamp19832 years ago
yes :)
ka1dza2 years ago
If I drank 15 beers I wouldn't be able to get anything done!!! LOL. I'm cheap drunk.

Nice job on the Westy. I' in the process of restoring mine.

hirod3 (author)  ka1dza2 years ago
Thanks bob! I spread those beers out :-)
tinker2343 years ago
i read mneral spirts gets rid of the paint faster
great job...but...whats with the rusty bumper? All that work and u left the easiest piece unpainted?am I seeing things?
I saw that to. Totally need to take that off, sand it down to bare, and then drop the cash to get it re-chromed. would look so good, you'd slap your momma.
hirod3 (author)  jarikcbol3 years ago
LOL! You're right! I stated in the article that I left it that way on purpose. Since this paint job, I've been romping this thing in the desert, and it gets plenty dinged. Not just the bumper but the paint too. That's why I painted it this way instead of a show-quality paint job. You're right though, it would be amazing all cherried out :)

But what fun is that?
danzo3213 years ago
Main suggestion would be, as soon as a spot is sanded to bare metal, hit it with spraycan of primer. Not sure you saved much not buying Rustoleum in spraycans anyway. Wetsanding.. normally you go in more gradual steps and they should go pretty fast. My own experience? prepping a Fiat Spyder which was then quickly sprayed and baked by a shop.
hirod3 (author)  danzo3213 years ago
Thanks for the tips!
SIRJAMES093 years ago
personally, I would have spent the $1200 -$3000 it would have taken to do it right the first time...

This is NOT just a camper van, this is a classic!! and it is more than worthy of a real paint job...a cheapy paint job is what you do to a chevy Nova...or a ford escort wagon....but that's just me.

Once a hippie always a hippie....and this is a hippie's van.

I would love to have one of these!! It would be babied like crazy!!

But I have to say that even if you did things the cheap way, your basics were good...
hirod3 (author)  SIRJAMES093 years ago
Thanks for the feedback! :) I sort of alluded to my reasons for this paint-job in the article (aside from cost). I have 3 young children. One way that we like to get away is to go camping. I'm not sure if you've ever been camping in the desert, but I've picked up plenty of Arizona Pinstriping. Given the cost and ease of the paint-job, I have no qualms whatsoever about romping my bus through the desert on an adventure. 

I'm a VW enthusiast, and have had many Type 1s (and a couple of show trophies to go with them), but I don't regret the day I gave up my gorgeous 1961 Type 1 for this bus. I would trade all the good times I had in that bug for the first 5 minutes in the bus with the kids :)

We plan on having many more adventures in the bus for many more years :)

Thanks again for the feedback Sir James!
any time Sir, Any time.

I started drooling when I saw your

I went camping in the desert 1 time....let's just say it was a learning experience & leave it at that.

Spent 10 days in the hospital after that trip. :(

When I go camping, I head for the forest, that is where I feel at home. I know how to survive in the forest, get me in the desert & I'm not worth spit....
same here that car is a classic but it is in the dessert so evantully it will need to be fixed my sister wants the same car so its nice to know that i can do that if she gets one
pfred2 hirod33 years ago
You know, there are some automotive finishes that are so tough you can literally spray a piece of aluminum foil, crumple it up, then smooth it out, and it is undamaged.

Cost and ease? You spent how long to do it? A good spray job you spray and walk away.
Wow, I had to go back and re-read that you did that with a roller!?!? I can't believe how well that turned out.

But you could save yourself a ton of time if you buy a cheap paint sprayer. I think mine was 50 bucks from one of those cheap tool catalogs. Then you could do this in a weekend rather than three weeks, a LOT less buffing too.
ravyn573 years ago
wow been wondering what to do about getting my 68 bug and 67 bus painted. ive wanted to paint my bus w a hippy flair now i know thanks for the info ill post pics when im done :-}
Palanthas3 years ago
Considering doing this with my old truck... Looks great! Kinda thinking the same idea as $50's car with the stripe... We'll see if it happens or not.

Thanks for posting!
stoneyone3 years ago
im sorry man but if i was going waste time sanding it down that well i would have used spray cans or went to tractor supply and got a gallon of paint and used a spray gun i painted my truck for $75 bucks with tractor paint and it looks great but thats just me it seems like a lot of sanding work just to roll it on again im sorry if i seem rude dude.
n1zw3 years ago
I think the paint looks awesome besides saving you some time and major money. I have 1993 Chevy Astro Van that I am planning on doing something very similar too. Living on a fixed income and having most of the tools for sanding, cutting and riveting nee metal where needed It would most certainly save money and I would enjoy doing my self. Great Job.
ezagent3 years ago
This is a hoopty paint job, something I specialize in, making an old vehicle presentable. I use cans of spray paint with an accessory trigger handle to prevent hand cramping, emery cloth to roughen up the surface of the paint, masking tape and rolls of brown kraft paper available in the painting section of Home Depot.

Texturized paint is one of my favorites. I address dings and dents, but not with bondo, I camoflage or enhance to turn the damage into an artistic feature. Rustoleum has a black spray paint called Rust Converter, that's my biggest prep step.

Where your job literally took days, I can mask off large sections, prep with a quick sand to roughen the paint, put down rust converter where necessary, spray, add design and be done well before the sun goes down.

On top of the sprayed paint I've done designs with templates cut from manila folders. One design on an old van was a template cut into the shape of a tapering rectangle to resemble a flag repeated in a tapering pattern. I hope you can imagine it.

If the image uploaded successfully you'll see that I like white roofs and racing stripes. Craft stores sell stick on doodads like stars and colorful artistic designs in plastic and foam that can be used to turn dings and dents into features. If I do a design on one side I generally replicate on the other for symmetry.
profpat3 years ago
i like it, very instructable! great savings on the color job!
Exocetid3 years ago
It was a great delight to me to see your Instructable.

Thank god the spirit of the 60's is still alive and well!!!

You did a great job and it looks good (well, I would have preferred a psychedelic motif, but you have to live with it!).
hirod3 (author)  Exocetid3 years ago
Thanks :)
LancasterPA3 years ago
Great read. I did the prep work on my Vega about 30 years ago then took the car to a car wash to get off all the red dust from the old paint. When I got out of the car wash the owner was yelling because all his brushes and hanging cloths turned red. I also used some steel wool that was on the car too. I was an idiot kid then. After the prep and car wash I took my car to Earl Scheib for a $29 professional paint job. Guess they don't have those $29 paint jobs anymore. It cost me around $600 just to have my motorcycle trailer (pull behind the bike) painted a few years ago. Again, great job on the instructable.
hirod3 (author)  LancasterPA3 years ago
gagiguja3 years ago
U CAN DO IT BETTERR I dont like because u did not finish ur job. Price for ur job is funny because u must know that price of that kind of job is varable because someone will take some paint which is 150 Us$ and someone will take paint of 10$
but u must to do it better i belive i can do it
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