Paint Your Car Yourself – With a Roller

I’ve been a subscriber to Hot Rod for a very long time (my interest in cars is a rainbow of many colors, don’t you know) and I always enjoy taking a walk through the literary equivalent of Muscle Beach every month. Lots and lots of go-fast stuff.

This month’s issue has an article titled “The $99 Paint Job” by Christopher Campbell. It is investigative journalism from a practical standpoint, and I’m not being facetious when I type that. In the article they attempt to replicate the claims that have been passed around for years that you can paint your car with a roller, yourself, and get a good-quality paint job using regular Rust-Oleum exterior enamel paint. Incredible as it may seem, that’s the story.

I’ve heard about this for years, and as the writer notes, it’s taken on the reputation of a kind of urban legend. Some guys on have actually posted the results of the paint jobs they did with enamel and a roller, and so Mr. Campbell decided to see if the legend was true. The article is excellent, with lots of accompanying photos and step-by-step delineation of the process, which is a bit more detailed than just rolling the paint on to the car. It is a labor-intensive job, but you can’t beat the price, that’s for sure.

The end result, according to Mr. Campbell, was astounding considering the materials and application method. It’s not a paint job you would want on any car worth real money, says Campbell, but was a better-quality job than most quickie paint job places give you. Its really amazing, to tell you the truth.

If you want the whole story, you’ll have to buy or borrow a print copy of the July issue of Hot Rod, because it’s not available online.

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at .

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  1. nice blog

  2. Very weird. It just doesn’t seem possible you could get a good paint job this way. I wish the article was available online so I could see everything they did at Hot Rod. I’m not a subscriber to the magazine, so I guess I’ll never know how it works. It would have been nice if you would have just reprinted the article on this site w/ all the photos so that all of us could read it. Would have been better for your readers instead if just telling them about an article that they can’t read unless they go to a newsstand and spend their money to buy a copy of Hot Rod. What kind of customer service is that, where you have to spend time and money getting something when you could have given it to us for free?

  3. Anonymous – It’s illegal to just copy articles that belong to someone else and that are protected by copyright law. I realize people do it on the internet, but its still against the law. If you want to read the article in Hot Rod, you’ll have to buy a copy of the July issue. If you’re looking for something online, you can try the Moparts site – they have a whole thread about this type of paint job.

  4. I’m not a subscriber to the magazine, so I guess I’ll never know how it works.

    Have you heard of a Barnes & Noble or other magazine retailer?

    It would have been nice if you would have just reprinted the article on this site w/ all the photos so that all of us could read it. Would have been better for your readers instead if just telling them about an article that they can’t read unless they go to a newsstand and spend their money to buy a copy of Hot Rod.

    It would be nice if you get off your ass, spend a couple bucks, and buy the damn magazine. Better yet, you don’t even need to BUY the mag! Just page through it at the store! There’s your freebie!

  5. “What kind of customer service is that, where you have to spend time and money getting something when you could have given it to us for free?”

    Unless you’re paying something for this site, you’re not a customer. You have a pretty big sense of self-entitlement, I think.

  6. My gosh, how good can the paint job be? I’m not saying Hot Rod is wrong, but if you had a nice car, would you paint it with Rustoleum enamal?

  7. FYI, the link to the site where they discuss painting a car with rollers is

    I’d never do it on a car I cared about, but the results are really great looking in the thread above, if done right.

  8. I saw this in Hot Rod too – the results are pretty surprising. If someone had told me about this, I would have just assumed this was just a story about a friend of a friend who did it, etc. But, the results are there, the magazine describes it a geat 5/5 job. You know, looks perfect from 5 feet away if the car is going 5 MPH. Not perfect when you get closer when the car isn’t moving, but still pretty good. Not too many colors to pick from though – just whatever Rust-Oleum has in their paint catalog.

  9. There is no verification if this posts or not in the comment form– my apologies if this is posting more than once- Neil

    I’ve written a long commentary and article about this method– I don’t believe its anywhere near what its cracked up to be

    I call it “The $50 Dollar Paint Job MYTH”


    You can paint your car properly with the highest quality urethane paint, and do ZERO sanding, do it in a day, and do it also for about $50.

    Surprise Surprise Surprise 🙂

    I painted my honda the day before yesterday, properly, easily, and spent not much more than $50 for the paint, and the paint job will last decades, and looks perfect.

    Here is the text of the article:

    NEW: “The Paint Your Car For $50 Paint Job Myth”

    Paint your car for $50 fifty dollars? Is this possible? REALLY paint a car for $50 fifty bucks?

    First of all- You can properly spray your car, as shown on this web site and on the DVD and online download- for not much more than $50 dollars to begin with. Here’s how-

    1) Paint the car the same or similar color.

    2) Borrow an HVLP gun and compressor.

    3) Buy the paint. Your cost? $31 for a quart of great quality single stage urethane paint. $13 for activator (hardener) $10 for reducer (thinner). Okay guys, get out your calculator. Uh, $55. If you decide to do a radically different color, you may need a little more paint.

    4) Do it in a parking lot or your driveway, a car port, or your garage. Yes it can easily be done this way, in any of these places as I demonstrate.

    5) Spend a FRACTION of the time with this method. Paint the whole car, 3-5 coats in less than 75 minutes. Better results, Better paint. No sanding and polishing necessary.

    6) Big DUH.

    If you don’t have an HVLP gun or compressor, you can rent one for not much, buy one at a garage sale, or frankly, just ask around until you do find one you can borrow– this is going to take far less time than following the method of “Amazing $50 Paint Job” craze that is sweeping the internet. Does the word LEMMINGS mean anything to you?

    The current craze for the Wondrous Miracle $50 Paint Job is to use a paint like Rustoleum, thin it down like mad, and put on from 6-10 coats and sand and polish and sand and polish till the cows come home. Way way WAYYYYYYY more work, and way inferior paint durability.

    Let’s examine this with a working brain….

    Today someone forwarded a link to a page claiming a “Paint Your Car for $50” paint job, and I’m happy to share it with you

    What the page doesn’t tell you is the WHOLE STORY which can be found here

    I think if this was really a practical and easy method it would already be very well known, but the fact is, it has some inherent problems. It harkens back to the days of applying lacquer and spending your precious youth (or old age) sanding and polishing. At least lacquer is good and durable paint.

    Yes, you can also grow all the food you eat for pennies, if you have all the time and energy in the world. But, I for one, do not.

    I once did indeed paint my Datsun station wagon with blue rolled on tractor high gloss enamel.

    It did NOT look like either like the Corvair (keep reading) or my Lotus, or even my Honda.

    To summarize, here are the problems-

    1) The paint must be EXTREMELY thinned down in order to dry within a day to sand. Rustoleum will NOT dry sufficiently without thinning for a VERY extended period of time, weeks and weeks. Anyone who has every tried to sand enamel out of the can will know that for the most part it is impossible.

    2) Thinned paint applied with a brush will likely (almost certainly) run and drip on vertical surfaces. Oops! Sorry, I thought you cared about that. Never mind.

    3) Many coats are required with 6-8 hours drying time between each coat. In the project above, the painter used 6 coats— that’s three days — not counting the SANDING and SANDING and SANDING. And rolling paint on a car SIX TIMES. Many people report having to put on 8 to 10 coats before the color actually finally covers the car sufficiently. Let’s see, two coats a day, for 10 coats, that’s five days……….I quote from the page itself:

    “…Six coats was very complete coverage, with plenty of paint thickness to wet sand out any orange peel. Shot of the hood, sanded smooth. Other have reported applying 7, 8, sometimes 10 coats before complete coverage….”

    Now, when you spray on urethane, unless you are going for a hand rubbed finish, you don’t have to sand at all. This is how most factories do it– spray paint applied correctly does not need sanding. You can do this, but it adds significant labor– for example, I did this on my LOTUS. My arms went numb, and it looked amazing. But I did not do this on my HONDA. You decide. With roll on Rustoleum, you will have to Sand.

    And Sand

    And Sand

    And Sand

    And Polish

    And Polish

    And Polish

    And Sand


    Get the picture?

    If you do two stage painting as I illustrate, (separate color then cover with clear) Urethane color covers in 3 coats absolutely. Period. It will ALL be totally dry in an hour. You then put on the clear coats. They will also be dry in an hour. In two hours you have an EXTREMELY shiny car with tough as nails, the best paint you can buy, and it doesn’t cost much.

    If you use single stage urethane (color and shine combined in one formula), depending on the existing color, you may need more than 3 coats, if its the same color, that should do it.

    No sanding.

    What is your time worth?

  10. One caveat to HVLP spraying– practice a bit on something unimportant, as if you put the paint on too thick it will run, if you put it on too thin and myst, it won’t be smooth– so there is a nice in between application where it goes on smooth and level without running. Practice on a nice verticle surface till you are confident you can do this on your car without issue. If it does run, however, urethane does allow you to finish sand and correct your errors without much trouble. Please also wear a good mask, these are powerful chemicals- and why the paint is so durable and permanent.
    Neil Slade

  11. I cannot see me doing this with any car worth real money, and if it’s not worth real money, then I probably wouldn’t spend the money or time to get it painted, I would just drive it onto the ground.

  12. Amazing. You’d have to really be short of money to do something like this.

  13. A year and a half later, this article still draws a lot of traffic off the web in general, and Google search results in particular.

    Frankly, I had no idea there was such a high level of interest in this subject. Who would have thought that such a post that could be best be described as covering a quirky aspect of DIY auto repair would generate such interest?

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