One of the biggest expenses we incur while fixing up our cars is the paint job. As the cars we love get older and older, it's just hard to find one to restore that doesn't need a significant amount of body repair. If you live in the rustbelt or certain coastal areas, your car may even need to have all or most of the sheetmetal replaced or repaired, which involves hours of labor and significant cost. While it would be nice to just drop the car off and write a check for a new paint job, the fact is most of us are on a tight budget and simply can't afford to do that. Even if we can afford to have a shop perform the work, we want to make sure the body shop we're using has all the tools and equipment to repair our car properly.

The decision about whether to attempt body and paint work yourself is a tough one. If you're like us, you have more time than money, so you may be tempted to perform the bodywork on your car yourself. Be warned, however, that bodywork can be an arduous and frustrating task. Replacing sheetmetal is dirty work and involves hours of drilling, grinding, and welding . . . and that's just the beginning. After the sheetmetal repairs comes the hammer and dolly, then the body filler, then hours and hours of priming and block sanding to make the panels straight enough for paint. If you get bored easily, the repetitive process of straightening body panels can drive you crazy, but if you're patient, the actual physical process of performing bodywork isn't too tough.

There is, however, a certain touch that's required to get panels super-straight. Experienced body shop personnel will tell you that you can't tell if a panel is straight by simply looking at it . . . it has to be felt. This "feel" for straightness isn't something that comes naturally to most people; it has to be learned. Some people, this author included, simply never acquire the feel that tells them a body panel is straight, so we have to leave that part of the process to a professional.

But even if you can't get the panels razor-straight yourself, you can still save money by performing some of the bodywork at home. If you can drill, grind, and weld, you can replace sheetmetal panels, and roughing in the panel with filler and block sanding isn't too tough either. As for the actual paint job, however, be careful if you don't have a paint booth at your house.

We have seen some great paint jobs on cars that were restored by owners in their own garages, but then we've also seen some pretty crappy ones. The outcome of a paint job is dependent on a lot of variables, so unless you're pretty comfortable performing bodywork, prepping, and painting, or don't mind spending the money and time to re-do things as you learn, you might want to leave it to a professional shop. If you really are into performing bodywork yourself and don't want to screw things up, consider taking a class at a community college or tech school to learn the basics. There are also books available that can be very instructive, but in the end, there's nothing like experience.

Whether you have the knowledge and experience to perform bodywork or you simply want to learn as you go, you'll definitely need the right tools. If you plan to have a body shop complete the work, knowing they have the proper equipment is a step in the right direction when it comes to picking a shop. The basic body shop tools are fairly minimal as you can get away with a sanding block, some sandpaper, and cheap paint, but like anything else, the sky's the limit if you want to fill your shop with specialized tools to make the job easier. The bottom line, however, is time. If you don't have the best tools, you'll spend more time to accomplish a certain task; with better tools, less time is required. Regardless of tools, however, bodywork is labor intensive, frustrating, and trying to hurry only makes it worse. So if you're going to do it yourself, you'll want to give yourself a realistic timeframe, and you'll need to invest in at least some of the equipment we'll discuss in this article.

Prep and Paint
Once the body panels are straight, it's time to seal the body in catalyzed primer, prepare the car for paint, and finally, paint the car. Again, there are some specialized tools needed to perform these tasks: a paint gun, masking tape, and paper. A paint booth is also nice, but most of us don't have one at our home shop. While a paint booth is a great way to reduce overspray and provides a clean environment to paint in, we've also seen some nice paint jobs that were performed outside, or in improvised paint booths made from plastic sheeting and 2x4 boards. Experienced painters will tell you, however, that it's not the booth so much as the way the paint is applied that determines the quality of a paint job, and experience is the key. If you aren't sure about painting your car yourself, you can always perform the bodywork and then pay a paint shop to shoot the car.

SOURCE
Dake
Grand Haven
MI
8-00/-937-3253
dakecorp.com
Sharpe Manufacturing
Minneapolis
MN
8-00/-742-7731
sharpe1.com
JD's Paint And Body Shop
Mulberry
Fl
8-63/-425-0601
Snap-On
Kenosha
WI
8-77/-762-7662
snapon.com
Lincoln Electric
Cleveland
OH
2-16/-481-8100
lincolnelectric.com
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