How Much Paint You Need to Paint Your Car: A Detailed Guide

At some point in time, most of us will need to fix paint imperfections on our cars caused by one of an endless list of possible reasons.

In some cases, a simple fix for a few spots will get the job done just fine. On the other hand, the only option in other, more severe cases is to get a complete respray for the vehicle.

Of course, there are plenty of spray shops that will do this for you. However, what if you want to paint your car yourself?

A man working on painting a red car

Whether you’ve got some time on your hands to spare or are simply on a tight budget and looking to save on whatever cost to paint whenever you can, you can definitely do this on your own if you wanted to.

In this article, we go through how to work out how much paint to paint your car, as well as some extra information on the exact type of paint you’ll need.

The Kind of Paint You Need

The regular kind of paint that you use to cover the walls in your home is not going to work for your car. So, if you have any left over, don’t even think about trying to put it on your vehicle.

If cars could talk, they’d be giving you verbal abuse if you were to ever consider doing this!

Canned Paint vs. Spray Cans

Stick to a color that’s specifically made for automobiles.

We don’t recommend that you go for colors that come in ready to spray paint cans. This is purely down to the number of cans you’d need to get the job done correctly. For a single coat, you’re looking at up to 40 cans!

Spray cans are better suited for styling, decal work and touching up the paintwork. Besides, using sprayable material with a spray gun won’t give you an even paint job.

So, this narrows your search down to canned paint.

Metallic vs. Other Colors

Another thing to be mindful of is whether or not you want a metallic shade. Metallic colors don’t really cover as well as others, nor do they achieve that even finish we all strive for.

Just in case the thought has crossed your mind, you should most definitely avoid plastic shades. You can use them on your car, but only the interior. A plastic base and the metallic outside of your vehicle are not a good mix at all.

By far the most popular vehicle varnishes tend to be either enamel paint or acrylic paint.

How Much Paint Do I Need to Paint My Car?

So, now that we’ve shortened our choices down to canned enamel or acrylic paint, you should go ahead and choose your color.

But WAIT! Stop, press! Before you get to that, how do you know how much paint you need to paint your car?

It’s not really ideal to buy a bulk amount of automotive paint and have loads leftover that you’re stuck with only being able to use on your vehicle.

On the other hand, you also don’t want to have too little at your disposal to work with. Imagine how you’d feel toward the end of the process when you suddenly notice that you’ve run out of paint.

While there are no definitive ways to figure out exactly how much paint your own car needs so that it’s completely covered with the color of your choice, there are still some key things to take into account.

These considerations will make the purchase process a lot easier, and will ensure you minimize the chances of buying too much (or too little) paint to cover your ride with.

Vehicle Size

It’s logical to think that if you have a bigger vehicle, you’re going to need more auto paint than if you have a smaller one.

However, let’s get into the details and really work it out. The paint already comes in pre-measured cans, so we’re going to talk in terms of gallons of paint and quarts of paint.

If you’ve never painted your vehicle before by yourself, it’s a great idea to get more than you need, just in case you need to do another coat to cover your vehicle exterior, or find that you’ve got something to fix before you wrap the painting project up.

1) Smaller Sized Cars

The following list covers estimates you should know when working on smaller vehicles.

Amount needed: 2 quarts (half a gallon).

Usually, for paint coverage for a smaller vehicle such as a mini, it takes approximately 2 quarts of product.

If you’re inexperienced: 0.75 gallons, 3 coats.

Keeping the original color: 0.5 gallons.

Changing color: 1 gallon.

Using a spray mechanism: multiply the above amounts by two.

2) Medium Sized Vehicles (Averaged Sized Vehicles)

The following list covers estimates you should know when working on medium vehicles.

Amount needed: 3 quarts (0.75 gallons)

3 quarts is a good, general guideline. However, there are other things to consider. Adjust the amount you buy to the below guidelines.

If you’re inexperienced: 1 gallon, 3 coats.

Keeping the original color: 0.75 gallons.

Changing color: 2 gallons.

Using a spray mechanism: multiply the above amounts by two.

3) Large Vehicles

The following list covers estimates you should know when working on larger vehicles.

Amount needed: 6 or 7 quarts (1.5 or 1.75 gallons).

If you’re inexperienced: 2 gallons, 3 coats.

Keeping the original color: 1.5 or 1.75 gallons.

Changing color: 2.5 gallons.

Using a spray mechanism: multiply the above amounts by two.

4) Vans and Trucks

The following list covers estimates you should know when working on vans and trucks.

Amount needed: 2 gallons and a quart (2.25 gallons).

If you’re inexperienced: 2.5 gallons, 3 coats.

Keeping the original color: 2.25 gallons.

Changing color: 3 gallons.

Using a spray mechanism: multiply the above amounts by two.

Van, Crew Cab or SUV: An additional 2 quarts (0.5 gallons).

Other Parts of the Vehicle

Use the amounts we’ve covered (no pun intended!) to estimate the quantities for other parts of the vehicle you want to paint.

Covering the hood, trunk and door jambs are all popular areas to paint.

Types of Car Paint

First things first, here’s a very neat video about how much paint you’ll need to paint your car.

Now that you’ve watched this video, let’s go over the different types of paint you could use to paint your car, and how much you’ll need from each type.

Paint Primer & Clear Coat

Before painting, you need to prime the surface. This comprises of a base or clear coat. You also need to reduce the color itself with the base layer before you actually put it on your car.

Amount needed: 2 quarts of clear coat for each gallon of colored paint.

Additionally, different varnishes and colors have different consistencies and styles. That means you’ll need to apply the color to your car accordingly; which is a perfect example of why you need to buy more paint than you think you’ll need.

For example, if you have a black car that you want to turn white, it’s going to take a lot of coats of paint and precision when compared to contrasting colors.

If Applying a Third Layer

If you’re going for a third layer of varnish, combine it with the clear coat, so that you get a shiny finish.

You’ll also need to be careful if you plan on painting more than two or three layers. This might end up making the color itself duller, or it could lead to peeling and chipping.

Single Stage vs. Base Coat/Clear Coat

Whenever you’re covering a vehicle with paint, plan on getting more single-stage paint than anything else. You’re not going to be using as much of the base coat as you will the single-stage paint.

In fact, when you’re done, you’re probably going to use a lot less of the clear coat and the base coat, when you compare to how much single stage paint you’ve used.

It’s Time to Get All the Paint Your Car Needs!

So, now that you know that the paint for a wall and the paint for your car are entirely different things that can’t be interchanged and used for the same tasks, you’re now ready to go out there and do your thing.

You also know all about the estimated amount of paint you’ll need for different scenarios you might be faced with, so you should be all good to go with the information you’ve learned so far.

Now, it’s time to give your car a brand new or refreshed look!

Don’t forget to share any tips or questions you may have in the comments section below, we love to hear from you!

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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