Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
June 13, 2006

Talk to most people with a hankerin' for working on their own rides, and they'll say they can handle most repair jobs and performance upgrades with little concern. Show them how to do something or put a manual or well-written instructions in front of them, and they'll be spinning wrenches and having a good old time before you know it. But bring up the topic of paint and bodywork and you might as well have the clichEd B-movie horror screams and lightning flashes in the background.

For your average wrench bender with a project in the garage, paint and bodywork are their biggest fears. Most of the anxiety probably comes from the fact that paint and bodywork have been specialized for decades. As teenagers or even earlier, we knew neighbors that could rebuild engines, wire houses, or frame a shed, but how many of us really knew someone with paint and body skills?

A vo-tech college class on paint and body prep work is the logical step for most of us. We'd be lying if we said we could teach you the proper steps to bodywork and painting your own car. It takes more than five or six pages of photos and my drivel for someone to get the hang of it. Plus, there are so many theories on paint and body-repair work that if we explained one way of going about it, there'd surely be 10 different opinions waiting for me in my inbox the day after you read this story. No, we can only give you the confidence to go out and try something you've never done before, and we feel that some of the new paint technology coming our way is going to help.

Last year we met Craig Kennedy from Auto-Air Colors when he visited our Tampa offices to show us what Auto-Air's paint is all about. It's a light-fast, automotive-quality paint that can be used for custom work (flames, stripes, and so on) or for complete paint jobs. It's water-based and compatible with any urethane paint product, including primers, paint, and clears, and has a high coverage rate, often needing less paint to cover the same areas as standard solvent-based paint, though Auto-Air does not market a clearcoat. You can have your Auto-Air paint job cleared at any body shop or chain-type repaint facility. Most importantly, the Auto-Air paint doesn't use reducers or additives for different surfaces, has no pot life (can sit on the shelf for years), and with over 180 great colors that can be mixed into thousands of custom tints, you're sure to have an eye-catching color on your project for the big cruise night or car show.

We were impressed with the fact that Auto-Air's paint has less than 0.1 volatile organic chemicals (VOC). This extremely low VOC means there are no problems with local or state-level government regulations for using this paint-it smells like craft paint your kids would use. While a standard respirator is recommended for the person applying the Auto-Air product as well as anyone within the exposed area, you could literally spray a fender or door shell in your open backyard without environmental concerns. This may be an extreme example, but with a little preparation, you can paint your own car in your garage or temporary spray booth. Offering easy cleanup and no fumes, the paint can be applied with traditional spray guns, and while Auto-Air recommends forced-heat drying, ambient drying works fine too, it just takes a little longer.

So if you've been thinking about adding that final touch of automotive skill to your resume, take some classes on welding, bodywork, and paint. Then practice on some old sheetmetal, and before you know it, you'll be producing quality body repairs and refinishing them with great-looking paint jobs.

Here's one last tip. Since we loosely bolted on the fenders, hood, and other parts for painting, we made sure none of the door or other body edges touched each other. Use sections of rollbar foam, old shop rags, or T-shirts in these gaps to protect the adjacent panels from hitting each other during transport.

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