How to Paint a Car Using a Bucket of Rust-Oleum and a Roller (2023)

A few years ago I called a readerKaren wrote for the Car Talk newspaper column, and asked if there was a solution for the peeling paint on his Toyota, which suffered from a condition called "delamination," which is something like a crust on a car. "The paint is coming off and it looks horrible.

Car Talk Response: "Have you heard of Rust-Oleum, Karen?"

It may have been a joke, but I took it as a personal challenge. I had heard of Rust-Oleum and was determined to paint my car with it.

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Or rather, my truck. It's a1979er Chevrolet-Blazerthat I bought from a friend as a winter project a few years ago. It only has 60,000 miles on the odometer, but it survived 35 New England winters as a snowplow truck. To remove the rust, I took an evening course at Assabet Valley Vocational High School, where I replaced a door, inner and outer fenders, rusted running boards, and some rust on the rear end.

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My hope was that I would have time to get it into the school's fancy Devilbiss paint booth, but time ran out before the 12-week class ended. I tried painting it in one of the "I'm going to paint this car for $99.95 Earth" franchise, but quickly found out that the price was much closer to $1000 and that the price was $99.95 Reserved for cars the size of the Cozy Coupe my son used to run in the front yard.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I hadI read a story a long time ago inrace carmagazineon painting a car with Rust-Oleum and a foam roller. I also spent a lot of time reading The $50 Paint Job on,in which he painted a Corvair using the same method.

Here's the ink quality deal circa 1979, when a dope sprayed some black on my jacket: it wasn't there. These trucks rusted as soon as they came in contact with oxygen for two reasons: they were made of steel, which was the quality of hard cheese, and they were painted only on the outside, and even then the primer was visible in places. Entire parts of the inside of the doors, sills and bottoms were never painted.

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So I thought if I put five coats of Rust-Oleum on it, it certainly couldn't be worse than the Chevy painted when Jimmy Carter was still in office. And if it were worse, I could just sand it down and pay Earl Schieb to spray it later.

With that in mind, I headed to Lowe's for supplies.

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I primed the entire truck with one coat of Rust-Oleum Rusty Metal Primer, then a second coat of Rust-Oleum High Performance Primer. Both primers are oil based and wicked. I bought a roller cage and a bunch of 4 inch foam rollers and a ton of these different sized foam brushes to get into the nooks and crannies.

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The beauty of the primer was that I was able to see how the whole process would work later with the top coats. I took my time and managed to apply two coats of primer in one day in my garage.

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So I blocked the truck for the time it took the Egyptians to build the pyramids. Making this surface as smooth as possible will result in a decent finish. The best advice I ever heard was, "when you think you're done sanding, sand for another day." In hindsight, I should have done exactly that, but I got the 600 grit finish and did it with no problem.

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With the primer out of the way, I was ready to roll the paint.

Rust-Oleum Oil-Based Protective Polish is an amazing thing. It's relatively inexpensive, takes a spoon, and is available at any hardware store in the United States. The only caveat is that it only comes in limited colors, and the choice is even more limited on a Sunday morning at Lowe's. However, Gloss Black is available pretty much everywhere, so I was in good shape.

I had some internal debates about whether or not I should thin the paint. After watching more YouTube videos than a 47-year-old man should watch in his entire life, I decided to thin the paint with mineral spirits. Some YouTubers recommended acetone, which also works, but it seemed to "flicker" or dry a little faster than I wanted.

Lowe's has colored measuring cups in the colors aisle, but I wouldn't recommend measuring with the graduations on the side of the cup. Instead, find a specific consistency of color that allows the roller to do its job, then allow the color to flow a bit. Pour some paint into the cup (maybe a pint) and add four capfuls of mineral spirits.

At this point you will want to give the mixture a good stir to ensure that the paint and mineral spirits are well incorporated. I used a plastic scoop, but you could use a paint stick, popsicle stick, your kid's Lincoln Logs, or whatever is available nearby.

Now the most important thing: take the spoon out of the paint and watch it drip. You're looking for a consistency that allows the paint to run off the bucket in a steady stream for about four seconds before turning into a drip. At this consistency, the paint still has enough tension to prevent smearing on vertical surfaces, but it can also smear a bit and remove most of the texture the roller is trying to apply.

This guy's video was very helpful in understanding how to mix the paint:

Just before I started painting, I wiped down the entire truck with a rag and then with mineral spirits (or thinner, if you have a good auto shop nearby) to get the dust and oil off my fingers.

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Then all you had to do was apply the paint. It's going surprisingly well. People warned me that the first layer would look horrible, but honestly, I was shocked at how the first layer looks. I used the foam brushes to get into places that I would have had trouble with a roller. While diluting it, the paint would peel off even with the foam brush.

If you apply multiple coats, you should apply them six hours later. That way you won't have to sand between coats. If you wait any longer, the paint will harden completely and you'll need to sand it down to give subsequent coats something to stick to.

I ended up putting five coats in the truck, which, to be honest, was a lot. I really could have gotten away with two I guess, but I've been experimenting. I sanded the entire truck with 1000-2000 grit sandpaper and buffed it with machine polish last. This was my only extravagance on the entire project and it cost me about $100 at Lowe's. It's worth it because you can also use it to wax any other car.

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The result? Is very good.Visit for a complete photo gallery.It's far from a show truck, but for something that cost me about $200 to paint, it looks terrific. I've ridden it in the rain and a bit of snow last year and the color has held up extremely well. I even painted the bumpers white with Rust-Oleum Appliance White.

If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't paint a truck black because black shows all the imperfections. If it was a white truck, it would look just as good as if it came out of a paint booth.

It took time to get these coats on, but not much longer than it would have taken to spray them. And for the time I spent scrolling, I more than made up for not having to mask too much. I glued the door handles and the windshield gasket and that's it. When I was done and felt safe, I didn't even cover the wheels with a sheet.

Depending on the project, I would repaint a car like that in a heartbeat. Jokes aside, there is a way to paint a car in a home garage for less than half what it would cost to spray paint it at the cheapest body shop.

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