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Eight Steps to Prepping the Surface
of Your Car before Painting

When it comes to painting a car, experts agree — it’s all in the preparation. Whether you are repairing a dent or re-spraying the entire car, prepping the car is just as important as applying the paint. Painting pros will tell you that prepping plays a considerable role in the quality of the result.

The time it takes to prep may vary, depending on the surface condition of the car and how much of the car needs to be repainted, but the steps involved are pretty much the same. Here is a checklist of steps to follow when preparing your car for the actual paint job:


Your first step in prepping involves removing all non-painted parts, such as antennas, emblems, door handles, or any other items that are not a part of your paint plan. Tape around things like windows, but avoid taping around door handles and bumpers. For a better-looking paint job, those should be removed.

Wash your car

Wash every part of the car thoroughly. Use soap made for cars, (not dish soap) to get rid of the dirt and dust. It’s important to remove all layers of debris on the surface before you paint the car. Then, before beginning the paint job, let your car dry completely.

Wipe the surface

Wipe the surface clean using a grease and wax remover. Use one lint-free cloth for wiping the remover (one small section at a time), and another clean, lint-free cloth to wipe off the remover before it dries.

Check the surface quality

Examine the vehicle surface for flaws that will need extra prepping attention, including things like dents, scratches, or rock chips. Unless you are planning on sanding the car down to bare metal, these flaws will have to be sanded until the edges are feathered and smooth enough so you no longer can feel any flaws with your hand.

You also want to examine the old paint. If it is peeling or cracked, then you will need to strip it completely.


Next, strip away the clear coat, the topcoat, and the base coat by sanding. Use a power sander, moving in a circular motion, to save time. Power sanders will not be able to reach every nook and corner of the surface, so those areas will require sanding by hand. If the existing paint is in good shape, a light sanding with a fine Scotch-Brite pad (500-grit) should be enough.

If your car has body filler or new panels, those areas will require block sanding with a minimum of 220-grit, 320-grit being optimal. While the goal is to achieve a hand-smooth surface, the best final paint job result will always require sanding until the surface is reduced to bare metal.

Remove all rust

Rust is the enemy of any paint job, and, unless you remove it all, it will continue eating into the metal of your car. Light surface rust can be sanded, but don’t fill rust holes with body filler. Heavy rust will require completely replacing the metal.

Wipe the surface again

Wipe the surface again. Use a fresh rag and paint thinner to clean the surface of the car. Remove the sanding dust and oils from hand prints.


Priming your car can require applying several primer coats. Large panels of bare metal will need etching or epoxy primer. For filling, sand scratches use a heavier primer developed to go on a little thicker. Price your car with a thin coat, block sand, then prime again. Allow twenty minutes to an hour between coats. After each application, look for high and low spots on the surface that may need to be smoothed out.

The last step before painting is applying a sealer, which locks in the primer and provides a uniform coat for the paint. The sealer does not need sanding.

Follow these eight prepping steps, and you’re on the way to achieving a beautiful paint finish on your car.