December 2, 2023

Can a DIY-er paint a car themselves? Why does a small scratch cost so much to repair?

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When John Turner was 15, he bought his first car, a dilapidated 1966 Ford truck. He winces to tell the tale now, but his 15-year-old self decided to paint that truck black.

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The truck was riddled with rust and, suffice it to say, professional levels of care were not taken. It was Turner’s first experience with the unforgiving nature of automotive paint and the importance of paint preparation.

He’s come a long way from slapping paint onto a rusty Ford and today is the general manager of SATA Canada. We spoke with him to answer all the questions us civilians have about automotive paint and body repair.

Automotive Paint Explained

For the uninitiated, SATA is a German manufacturer of paint guns and painting equipment, largely for professional and commercial uses. Its Vaughan, Ontario facility is an office and warehouse, but also a training centre.

“SATA Canada has been approved as a private college by the Ontario government,” says Turner. He says the course will allow “somebody who hasn’t painted before to learn the art and trade of being an automotive painter.” He also stresses the importance of meticulous preparation work before a paint job. “Preparation is key to any and all paint jobs,” he says.

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As an example, he explains the problems a simple protruding door handle might pose. The handle must be removed to paint a door effectively, as you can’t properly sand right up to the edge of the handle. The door handle, mirrors, and pretty much every piece of trim must come off a vehicle if it is going to be painted the right way. “The work you do under the paint is a mirror reflection of the finished product when the paint is on,” he summarizes.

Are you thinking of painting a car yourself? It’s harder than it looks! “Yes, you can do a paint job at home,” he says, but warns “you will not get the [same] result, typically, that you would get at a quality body shop.” Mostly he says this is due to the lack of gear one would reasonably have at home, and the lack of proper training to know all the little nuances that make a paint job really last.

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Among the challenges facing the enterprising DIY painter would be adequate ventilation, personal protection from the harmful sprays and chemicals, and lack of proper channels to dispose of those chemicals after the paint work is done.

If you’re paying someone else to do the job, it can be tricky to pick the right shop. How do you know if the shop you’ve chosen is a good one? Turner says one easy way to tell is whether or not the shop is clean and well-lit. If the work areas are dark and unorganized, it reflects the care and detail likely taken – or not taken – in their work.

Automotive Paint Explained

Lastly we talked to Turner about why some seemingly simple repaints like a scratched bumper can cost thousands of dollars. “The materials themselves are very expensive,” he explains. The supplies on a job like that can be $500 by themselves, and then you have to add in the labour costs of masking the paint area and prepping the paint area to be perfectly smooth. Those costs can add up in a hurry!

Speaking to Turner, it’s very apparent how deeply he cares about his craft, and that he’s perfectly suited to teach others about the intricacies of automotive paint. Today he owns a car with a wild colour-shifting paint; he also painstakingly matched that colour during a bumper repair. He’s certainly come a long way from spray-painting that rusty Ford.


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