Preparing My Car For Paint


A lot of what goes into a car's paint job isn't the time spent spraying the paint, but all of the work to the car's body to prepare it for paint.  Spraying, wet sanding, buffing, and waxing are just the last steps of a detailed process that takes HOURS of meticulous cleaning and preparation.

My original idea for painting the car was to prepare the body by scuffing the yellow paint on the car, sanding the chips out, and then applying glazing putty or bondo (if necessary) to damaged areas.  Upon further research of paint preparation, I learned that that way of fixing the problem would look nice for about 6 months, possibly extending to 2 years if the car was garage kept and rarely saw rain.  The problem with this solution is Bondo absorbs water from rain or right out of the air itself, which causes bubbling.    

The trick to a good paint prep is getting all the years of paint and primer off the car, repairing the damaged metal, then seal the metal with a good primer. By good I mean a professionally applied epoxy primer, hopefully with self etching properties.  "Etching" is an auto body term that basically means using an acidic compound to dissolve rust and create a surface on the metal for the primer to adhere to. 

After a little research, I found this seemingly laborious task wasn't too bad, and in the end had me exert about the same effort as it would have taken to sand by hand!  Couple this with the chance to prep the metal under the window seals as well before installing new seals and the windshield/back glass, and I am very satisfied with this course of action.

This section is also in My Car section as it is more of a personal fix.  I did do some research before I tackled the job, but please discuss all practices on preparing your car with a qualified auto body professional.  Also, please refer to the warning on all of my restoration tips.

What Did I Do?

I'm sure it is hard to imagine that stripping a car back to original metal, especially after numerous paint jobs, would be an easy job.  Well, I'm not going to lie, it's not easy, but with the right tools it won't take as long as one would think.  I had my Falcon's body ready in about 3 full days.

The trick is having the right tools for the job:

(The tools of the trade.  Sanding backing pad, 40 grit pads, epoxy paints, and all-metal are but a few)

Above is a few shots of the tools used.  Starting from the left, an 8" sanding pad accepts the 40 grit adhesive sanding disks.  Don't forget your respirator and hearing protection.  The respirator is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY!  Not only will there be a lot of dust created, but very nasty chemicals are in old and new auto paints.

All of the work was done in a garage - I suggest you keep the project indoors, as it minimizes the dust from traveling and keeps the weather and moisture off the car.  Also notice the walkman addition to my hearing protection.  Quick modification to make and will help keep your mind occupied and save your sanity - a lot of busy, tedious hours ahead...

The middle picture shows the just primed fender with the next tool you need, an angle grinder and a great little invention, a plastic paint remover from The Eastwood Company.  This was great for getting into the hard to reach places and curves on the body.  This tool is a disc with an inch long plastic teeth, and really does a nice job, known as a bristle disk.  The third picture is the paints and filler I used.  A note on the filler, it is called All-Metal, and is much better at fighting water absorption than bondo.  I used it VERY sparingly, and made sure it could be seen through the light primer coat I put on the car.  Reasoning behind this is some primers will damage fillers, and the body shop needs to know where the filler is in order to address the area after priming.

Off to work!  The 40 grit pads sound very coarse for this job to some.  The trick is to apply very little pressure on the work.  Follow the old adage "let the tool do the work".  If you find yourself pushing forcefully on the sander, stop, peel off the disc, and stick on a new one.  It's really amazing how fast the job goes once you find the balance between using too many discs and arm strength.

Find a nice work area that allows you to maneuver body parts and that can be swept clean easily.  Starting with the Falcon's front fenders, I used the 40 grit pads for the flatter areas of the fender first, then used the  toothed disc to hit the hard to reach places and clean up sections the pads had problems with.

Once the fenders are done, onto the Falcon's doors.  This was the most tedious part for me, as hardware needed to be removed, glass protected or removed, and a lot more manual work was needed.

Using the same technique as on the Falcon fenders, use the pad and 40 grit discs on the flatter areas of the door, and the plastic toothed disc for the valleys and hard to reach areas.  I then used the toothed disc for the door jamb area of the door, along with 150 grit sandpaper and cleaner.

The part of the Falcon door that is covered with the interior door panel needed extra attention, as the yellow paint job applied to my Falcon was applied over original sealer and paint under the panel.  The use of a good scraper, sand paper, and toothed disc helped clean this area up nicely. 

With the doors, fenders, and hood done, now reassembly can begin to get the car ready for the paint shop.  

Unfortunately, I didn't have access to a compressor or painting setup.  The good news is that my Falcon didn't need to suffer exposure to atmospheric moisture and rot, but the bad news was my pocket book did.  I used the Eastwood Company self etching primer, sold in aerosol cans, to cover the parts with a light mist.  This protects the freshly exposed metal, but adds an extra step to the body shop's job: strip off my primer to spray his own.

The last piece, the front bumper rock guard, is stripped down and lightly dusted with self etching primer.  Notice I didn't cover the hood or trunk lid cleaning.  I did these parts on a different day, but it only took about 4 hours for the outside surface.  The interior facing sides were hand cleaned and sanded.

The rock guard finishes the last of the front and middle of the car.  Now onto the roof and back!

Starting the the top of the car and working down and back, the step ladder goes up, the Chicago Bears get tuned into, and the sanding marathon continues....

  Now it's the Falcon's roof's turn.  This was an amazing archaeological expedition, as I uncovered 6 layers of paint and primer!  With all of this gone, the new paint will be like the original dark green that is under yellow, primer, yellow again, primer, black, and primer in the picture.  With all of these layers, the new paint applied would have adhered to the top layer.  If there was ANY bad adhesion in any of the layers, that area would be prone to crack.  With the Falcon completely stripped, the paint only has to worry about the primer having a bad bond with steel, which is very hard to have, unless incompatible primers or bad metal prepping methods are used.

With the roof done, a new day allows the job to get done.  Starting at the rear roof pillars and working down, the passenger side door jamb area and rocker are first, as the work slowly progresses toward the rear of the car.

When all of the paint has been stripped, the floor is swept, the car tack clothed, and a light dusting of the self etching primer goes on.

From here, the trunk lid is installed and tied down.

Now it's just a matter of vacuuming out all the dust from the interior of the car.

Mike in Chicago