Introduction: 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.

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: Remove Trim

Look at your car. Especially in the door jams. Imagine masking all those little parts off, one by one....sound like fun? No. Remove them (this may be a long process, but most trim comes off pretty easily with the right tools).

What exactly should you remove?

  • Hood, trunk, gas tank lid (if removable) - these are a lot easier to paint separately
  • Rubber gaskets/trim
  • Lights
  • Reflectors
  • License plates
  • Door latching stuff
  • Pretty much anything that goes over a painted surface, that you can remove safely

Stash all the parts somewhere they won't get lost, stolen, rained on, etc. A nice empty work table is great, then you can lay them out in an organized way - i.e. NOT like this:

Step 3: Sand!

Sanding the car before painting it is like...opening a bank account before making a deposit. Ya just gotta do it. First, use strong soap, wax and grease remover, or whatever you have lying around to clean the heck out of the paint. Then sand it with 300 or 400 grit paper.

For difficult areas, you may want to get some abrasive foam or scouring material that conforms better than regular sand paper. The point is to completely eliminate the shininess of the finish, and get past the clear coat. You don't want to sand down to bare metal, there's no point.

Step 4: Bondo!

In case you do have some dents you'd like to make go away, it's nice and easy. Ask yourself: is this dent really big, like over an inch deep and 6 inches wide? If so, get a dent puller or something ( not my area of expertise ).

For small dents, sand 2 inches all around the dent down to bare metal (use really rough sandpaper, maybe 120 grit). Make sure the metal part is really rough. Then get a can of Bondo - you can find it everywhere - and mix it up on a clean, non-porous surface. Slap it on the dent, cover the whole area past flush.

Try not to get bubbles mixed in, these look terrible. Then you sand the Bondo back down to flush, using really big sanding strokes to make it even with the whole surface. Use progressively finer sand paper to get a nice smooth end product. You shouldn't be able to feel where the Bondo blends into the car.

Step 5: Mask!

You don't want to paint your window now do you? No...that wouldn't be very smart. But never fear, masking tape is here! You'll need painters tape (blue) or extra strong auto masking tape (green) to cover all the areas that are already the right color.

Some things to mask:

  • Windshield
  • Side windows
  • Rear window
  • Mirrors
  • Rubber gaskets that you weren't able to remove in step 2
  • Door handles
  • The inside of the car (you'll have the doors open when you paint)
  • Tail pipe
  • Engine bay
  • Radiator (believe me, it looks quite retarded if paint gets on there when you paint the front of the car)
  • Tires
  • Any important-looking labels inside the door that have important car information

Again, things like tail lights, head lights, rubber gaskets, car logos, etc should really be removed before you paint, or it will end up looking like a noob did it with finger paint.

For big areas use quality masking paper or cardboard, and garbage bags work well for tires.

The quality of the mask job is immeasurably important. If you do super crisp accurate masking, your paint job will look like the car was always that color. Spend as much time on this step as possible.

Step 6: Prime!

You put primer on the car so the regular paint stays on. Pretty straight forward. I used spray paint, since this doesn't really affect the final finish. Rustoleum makes "automotive primer" so I figured that was appropriate. I'm not qualified to give any advice on spraying, other than do it outside and wear a mask so you don't get cancer.

Prepare the surface

Use some tack cloth and clean off all the loose paint and dust on the car.


The coat doesn't need to be thick, but it has to cover everything. Spray it on, have fun.
Let the stuff dry...maybe an hour or 2 before you paint a second coat (if it needs it). Let it dry for a day or two.

Sand it!

According to my professional car painter neighbor, you should sand the primer before painting on the top coat. Since fresh primer is extremely "soft", you can use 800 or so grit and get a really smooth surface. Be very careful not to sand through the primer though, or you'll have to spray on some more.

Step 7: Paint!!!

This is the big showdown. You'll have spent many hours preparing by now, and this is the moment you've all been waiting for! If you want to try rolling on the Rustoleum, be my guest. People have had success with that in the past, but I have a feeling that doing the door jams would be hell and half compared to spraying it on.

You may want to re-mask everything, because dust and paint on the used masking paper can find its way onto your new finish. And remember to clean off all dust on the car by hitting it with compressed air or using tack cloth.

For rolling on paint:

Get a foam paint roller - 4" wide should do, and make sure it's as fine as possible. This creates a very smooth finish if the paint is thin enough.

Mix acetone into the rustoleum in a mixing can. I've read that you want something around the consistency of water, which means a LOT of acetone. You'll probably need more than 1 quart to do the whole car. When mixing paint, stir it with a stick, DON'T shake it or bubbles will happen.

Note: This method requires a lot more patience than spraying, as you're supposed to do 8 or 10 coats, sanding in between each one if orange peel starts happening. I highly reccomend you read the original source of this method (which inspired this entire project) here:

For spraying it on:

To spray on paint, mix a little acetone into the paint. The can recommends no more than 5%, but don't worry about that since the thinner the paint, the smoother it goes on. However, it is also more likely to run on vertical surfaces so be careful.

This process is somewhat risky, but has great potential. Hard to get areas like door jams, cracks, etc will look amazing when the paint is sprayed on. On the other hand, the entire car may turn out looking like an orange. If that happens, you probably need to mix in more acetone.

If you get lots of orange peel, fish eyes, or other demonic paint problems, you can always sand them away and try again, and in hard to get to areas it won't matter anyway. Spraying on multiple coats also makes for a smoother finish. Wait a few hours between coats to allow drying.

Leave the paint to dry peacefully for at least a few days. I let my car sit in a dry garage for over a week before putting any of the trim back.

Step 8: Finish the Job

After your paint is nice and dry (it should be invulnerable to you pressing your fingernail into it), you can put all the trim back on. Admire your work, and make sure not to scratch it! I did while carrying the hood, and got rather upset.


There were a few flaws in the paint, such as the occasional fish eye or scratch (a cat decided to use the door as a scratching post, god I hate cats) but overall looked excellent. I plan on putting two 6-inch white stripes down the car later, which I will probably use Rustoleum spray paint to do.

All in all this was very fun, very experimental, but also quite satisfying. The trick is to have a positive attitude about it...since you don't know it's going to turn out well, you have to just assume it will. If the finish looks bad, sand it and try again. The forces of good will prevail.

Step 9: Long-Term Results

After almost 2 years, I have finally washed the car for the first time! Lots of people have been asking for new pictures of the car, so on America's birthday I washed off a thick layer of dust to find looks as good as new! When compared to the original photos, the paint looks as bright, shiny and clean as ever.

For a while I kept the car under a UV-shielded car cover, and for the last 6 months it's been under a carport, to minimize the UV exposure (a good practice for regular automotive paint too). Note that there are a few one or two locations the paint has cracked from impacts, but more noticeably there are a few spots where bird droppings dissolved the paint. This happened because I neglected to wash off said droppings for several weeks. I will probably touch up these spots with the spray-paint version of Rustoleum.

Anyway....below are the photos, which speak for themselves! They are not altered in any way besides resizing and blurring the plates. Also, it was much sunnier out (July at 2:00 vs December at 5:00) when I took the new pics, so the color doesn't look exactly the same as the old ones.