Painting your valve cover is a fun and artistic way to express yourself through your vehicle and really make the engine bay pop. People do it for fun and to improve their cars, and with a little instruction in an hour or two you can do your own! If you don’t know, the valve cover is the aluminum plate on top of the motor head. The spark plug wires go into the valve cover, and it is used to keep dirt from entering the motor and oil from flying out of it. They can be plain or come with some kind of logo like “Ford Company” or “Honda Motor Co.” that you may want to keep.
Above is an engine bay with painted valve cover and other components to make it stand out.
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Step 1: Materials
The first step is to gather all the materials you will need to prep and paint it. Most can be found at an auto parts or hardware store. You will need:
a socket kit,
aerosol paint stripper,
a grill brush,
a water hose,
engine enamel spray paint in your chosen color,
heavy gloss spray paint,
super fine sand paper,
and a piece of 2x4.
Once you have all the materials it’s time to get started.
Step 2: Removing the Valve Cover
To start off you’re going to need to get the valve cover off the car so you can work on it. For this you need to get the socket set out and figure out what size the bolts are holding it to the motor. There are usually 6 to 8 bolts in the corners and edges of the cover, each with rubber grommets under them. Gather the bolts and grommets and put them in a safe place for when you put the cover back on, they are very important. Next unplug the spark plug lines by pulling them out one by one, carefully noting the order and which line went where and set them off to the side. It is important you know which line went to which plug hole, or your car won’t run. Now your valve cover is completely unattached; carefully lift it straight off the motor and set it to the side on the paper towels. The valve cover gasket (a piece of rubber around the base of the cover) can be placed back on the motor until it’s time to put the cover back.
Above is pictured a valve train, the internals of the motor head, after the valve cover has been removed.
Step 3: Prepping the Valve Cover
Now it is time to prep the valve cover and get off all the old paint to leave it clean for you to paint it how you want. Make sure the cover is in a safe place preferably outside as you need good ventilation when using the paint stripper and you don’t want to accidently spray it on something important. When you have picked out a good spot, shake up the can and then begin spraying down the surface of the cover, being mindful to get all the corners and crevices. Once it’s sprayed down wait a few minutes while it eats away the paint. When it’s ready, take the garden hose and spray off the paint stripper from the surface. You don’t want to get any paint stripper on your hands, it burns the skin. Once it’s all off you can take your grill brush and start scrubbing away any more paint that the stripper peeled or weakened. When you’re done, give it another rinse and if there are any spots of paint leftover repeat the process again until its paint free.
Above is pictured a valve cover that has been completely stripped of paint, leaving an unpolished aluminum surface.
Step 4: Painting the Valve Cover
Once all the paint has been removed from the cover you must dry off all the water from rinsing so that you can begin painting. When the cover is sufficiently dry, get the can of engine enamel paint in the color you selected. It is important you use engine enamel and not regular spray paint, as the cover can reach temperatures over 200 degrees Fahrenheit Shake the can well and take off the top. To paint the cover, use even back and forth motions holding the can evenly 8-12 inches from the cover and traveling past the edge of it each time. Stand at different angles to the cover in order to get all sides and all edges. This may take 2-5 coats until you are satisfied with the coverage and look of the cover. Lighter colors cover less and take more coats. Once the cover is covered to your satisfaction, allow it to dry at least 15 minutes till it is dry to the touch.
Above is a picture of someone painting their cover with white aerosol paint.
Step 5: Curing (optional) and Gloss Coating the Valve Cover
At this point you have the option of fire curing the cover. This has the benefits of forming a strong bond between the paint and the cover, adding a glossy sheen to the paint, and making sure any water that may be remaining in the cover is cooked out, but this step is not necessary. Some people bake their painted covers in an oven, but this will ruin the oven and permanently make it unusable for food. To cure it set it near a fire but not directly on it, about 2 feet away is good. Be careful while handling the extremely hot cover and be careful not to allow ash or debris to land on it. Once the cover has been allowed to dry or after it has been fire cured, it is time to add the gloss coat. This will protect the paint as well as giving it a mirror shine. Just as when you painted before, shake the can and then paint with left and right motions holding the can 8-12 inches away. This part should take less coats than the original paint, about 2-3 should be good. Allow the gloss to dry about 15 minutes. Now your cover is completely painted and ready to be put back on the motor!
Above is a cover that has been painted red and then given a good gloss coat to give it that reflective shine.
Step 6: Putting the Valve Cover Back On
Collect all the bolts and grommets you took off before. Place the cover carefully back on the motor, being mindful to line the gasket up perfectly with the valve. This ensures that no oil can leak out of your motor. Once the valve cover is in place, replace the grommets and bolts on their screws and tighten them up with your sockets. Now plug the spark plug lines back into the proper holes in the same order you unplugged them. At this point your car is ready to go, and your new cover should look good sitting in there bright and shiny.
Above is a painted cover after it has been placed back on the motor, with all the spark plug lines and bolts replaced properly.
Step 7: Polishing the Logo
The final step is also optional, but a lot of people like to do it for an added touch. If there is any logo on the cover you wish to make stand out, you can use the sand paper and piece of 2x4 to carefully sand off the paint so that what is left is polished aluminum, which is attractive to most people. To do this, you must wrap the sand paper around the piece of 2x4 so that when you sand you have a completely flat surface to rub the letters or logo and you don’t accidently hit anything you don’t want to. This step can be very tedious, it may take a good 10-20 minutes of sanding to get the paint off and produce a nice clean polished shine, but once it’s done it looks great. Be careful while you’re sanding, use the same back and forth motion so that the grain of the polish is all in the same direction. Every minute or so pause and blow off the powder of paint and metal you’re sanding off.
Above are pictured a red valve cover before the letters were sanded, and below it a black valve cover with the letters sanded and polished for contrast.
Step 8: Enjoy!
When you’re done wipe off the logo and valve cover, step back and take a good look at your engine bay. Your valve cover is complete, and should really stand out and look great! Now you have an engine bay worth showing to people.
Above is a completed valve cover.