Being an auto body guy, I get a lot of questions. The biggest question of them all is, “How long does it take to paint a car?” This question is usually directed to a complete paint job. Of course, this is a loaded question. The length of time, is going to depend on what shape the car was in before starting the project. If it is a collision repair, that can add weeks. A rusted-out job, could be months.
Time Is Money
Let’s just go through a couple of things. When you look at any repair job, you want to view them in stages. If you’re doing a complete paint job with mild body work, that usually takes 40 to 80 hours. Assessing the damage, will be the first stage. This Requires going around, looking at what kind of body work the car will need. However, there is more than just the body work repairs to consider.
When doing the assessment, you have to look at what needs to be removed from the car. Emblems, lights, trim and door handles. If not removed, what are you looking at in masking? All of this takes time and that can add up. Many cars today, require the removal of the front bumper cover to R&R the headlamp assemblies. Most people don’t consider the time consumed with these extra things. The more task added, the longer it will take to paint a car.
The Beginning Stages
The first stage has already been established above. Now onto the second stage, which is color. Before going and pulling the car all apart and sanding on it and such, ensure you are going with the right color. If the car had been previously painted, the question is, was it matched correctly. Now, a decision has to be made. Do you like the color you currently have, or do you want the OEM? To learn more about getting the color code, click HERE.
On the third stage, is the actual disassembly of the car. Disassembly can in tale many hours due to what is involved taking things apart. As mentioned, the front, possibly the rear bumper covers may have to be removed to remove light assemblies. Older car emblems and trim had pins that stuck through the body. Often removal of these items required pulling door panels and interiors apart to remove them. Older cars had chrome bumpers that had to be removed to do the job right.
Fortunately, newer cars don’t do trim and emblems that way, which makes the strip-down time less in that area. Glass trims are more difficult to remove, if they can be at all. So, you will have to consider masking time on those. Any trim that can’t be removed, will have to be masked off for the sanding stage of the car. You don’t want to damage the trims from sanding. All of these details factor in on how long it takes to paint a car.
The Body Work Stages
Once all the components are removed or masked, starts the fourth stage. My method is, to go around the car and mark wherever I find heavy paint chips, peeling and dents. I will work the damaged areas first, one panel at a time. This method makes the job more thorough and detailed. If the car is damage free, then it would require a basic sanding with a sander. You could spend up to 30 hours or more, just in body repairs on a mild full paint job.
Using the paintless dent repair method can be used on some dents. Whereas, the stud weld gun pull method may have to be used on other dents used. A good amount of time can be used with either method. Sanding out paint chips or paint cracks, can also require a lot of time. All of these type repairs will require the surfaces to be primered. Applying primer and sanding, would be the fifth stage. This can also be time consuming as this process could require applying more primer and sanding again.
Drying and curing times of primers also has to be considered. If you are only doing a spot repair in a few places, you can work another area while waiting for the other to dry. However, if you were repairing a car that the clear coat has peeled all over. Applying primer to the entire car at one time would probably be the process. This process would then require you to wait usually to the next day before sanding. Even though, drying times isn’t work time, it still adds to the length of how long it takes to paint a car.
The Painting Stages
Once the primered surface has cured, block sanding will prepare the surface of the car. This is considered the final stage of sanding of the surface. Block sanding is mostly done wet, meaning you wet sand the car. With this method of sanding, it leaves debris and sludge. In order to clean it up properly, washing the car is necessary. After washing, will require drying time, usually to the next day. This completes the sixth stage and adds to the time of how long it takes to paint a car.
Once the car is dry, it has to be prepped. Prepping requires a wipe down of grease and dirt removing solvents. The car also has to be masked off for painting. Once you have the car ready for top coating, it has to be wiped one more time. Sealer has to be applied to the car. Usually this is one medium wet coat, with a 15 minute flash time. Professional sealers do not require any prep, you just apply the paint strait to it. Depending on how large the car is, the whole sealing and painting process can average around 2 to 3 hours. This would be the seventh stage of the process.
Most paints can be buffed 12 hours after application. However, I like to give it at least 24 hours before detailing it. In order to get the best look, color sanding the paint is the best method. After color sanding, then the buffing stage takes place. Most buffing procedures are in three steps, all of which adds up to more hours. A rough cut compound is used to pull all the sanding marks out. The second stage of buffing is to use a milder compound to remove the marks applied by the first compound. The final stage is usually a compound that removes all buffing swirls and leave the paint deep in gloss and luster.
Of course, after all the buffing will come the washing. Washing a car properly takes more time that most would think. Read my article on “How To Wash Your Car Properly.” Although in this case, there are still parts that will need to be put back on the car. So, this would be an initial quick wash off. Once the car has been reassembled, then a complete proper car wash and towel drying would commence. Usually, a clean up of the inside of door jambs, under the truck and hood would need to be done. I always clean the glass inside and out, as well as clean the interior.
So How Long Does It Take To Paint A Car?
Even though everything I went over was at a high level, you can see there are many steps. There is a lot of detail in to painting a car, so the more steps and detail, the more time adds up. Auto body and paint is very hard to calculate time. There is always the unexpected, like reactions. I once did a Ford F150 pickup truck that turned into a reaction nightmare. Everywhere I had sanded through to the factory primer, anything I spayed on top would bubble up like paint stripper. I had to use a waterborne primer as a barrier to allow me to continue the paint job. You can see the finished product HERE.
However, I have done quick jobs for a used car lot dealership, that the jobs took less than 4 hours or less. Watch my video on a quick rear bumper repair, “Peeling Clearcoat on Bumper Repair Quick and Easy.” That repair was around 2 hours, and it is quick jobs like that, where many get the wrong ideas about how long it takes to paint a car. Can an overall complete paint job be done quick and done in around 8 to 12 hours? The answer is yes, but will it last? That would be a big NO!! There are places like Maaco, that can paint your entire car for as low as $300. Just remember the old saying, “you get what you pay for”.
To get a great quality paint job in longevity and looks, you are looking between 40 to 80 hours. The prices on these type jobs can stop your heart. Auto Body Shop hourly rates run from $47 to $215. Most shops will charge a flat rate charge for a complete paint job but you are still looking at a big price. If you got a shop that charges $47 an hour, you are looking at under $4000 in labor and then cost of materials. If you have a car that is worth $1500 tops, you have to decide if your sentimental attachment is worth it.