Dealing with Cosmetic Bodywork: Painting the Racecar – Interior

For minor cosmetic rust or other damage, you should learn how to perform the work yourself. Even if it does not come out perfectly, well, it’s a racecar. A significant benefit I obtained by having a body shop as a sponsor was having them assist me with some of the various projects on my racecar. Of course it also helped them, since I did most of the grunt work. One valuable lesson that I learned was that there is a right way to perform bodywork, and then there is the other way for a car being raced. The point is that the car won’t be brought to car shows, so why spend a significant amount of time and money making the car as pretty as possible? By all means, I am not saying you shouldn’t take pride in your racecar and want it to look decent. What I am getting at is that vehicle contact and off-road excursions happen in racing and the fancy paint job won’t always remain perfect. As a result, it is still worth learning how to use auto body fillers such as Bondo. If the rust is cosmetic, there are a few other little tricks you can use. For exterior rust holes where Bondo may not work well, use a piece of sheet metal and rivet it into place. When I was confronted with a few minor rust spots in the interior of my car, I used some metal tape, and then painted right over it. Again, this refers to cosmetic damage, not structural damage, where you need to have someone with expertise complete the repair. If you take your time doing these repairs, the result can end up looking pretty decent, and you will save a significant amount of money. Just because I say that you should try and repair the vehicle yourself, this doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, especially if you are willing to pay for a professional to get the car looking how you want it.

Painting the Racecar Interior
There are two primary methods that you can use to paint the interior of the racecar yourself. One method is to use spray paint (either using spray cans or a spray gun), and another method is to use paint out of a can applied with a brush. Each of the two methods has advantages and disadvantages.

Spray paint: You will need to worry about overspray. Everything that you don’t want covered in paint must be very carefully masked. And even things that are outside of the car may get overspray on it since you will have at least one car door open when painting.

Painting out of the can: While you will save time masking the interior, it will take longer to do the actual painting.

There really is no right or wrong way to paint the interior of your racecar; you will hear different people swear by both techniques. I honestly am not sure which method I will use the next time I paint an interior of a car since both work fairly well. Regardless of which method you choose, it is important that the interior metal that you will be painting not be too cold or too hot. If you will be doing this during the winter months in a climate where it reaches cold temperatures, you will need to find a way to heat the garage up a bit either by using space heaters or simply leaving a door open to the heated house. If you are heating your garage to reach the desired temperature, allow extra time for the metal to also reach this temperature. Just because the room gets to the necessary temperature does not mean the painting surface is that temperature. If you don’t have access to a garage, then it might be a good idea to wait until it gets a bit warmer outside. Read the back of the paint can to determine what temperature requirements for the painting surfaces it recommends. If you attempt to paint the car when it is too cold or hot, the paint might not adhere properly, and it may peel or bubble. I personally recommend that you wait to paint the interior of the car until after the cage is installed, although some people do prefer to paint the interior beforehand. The individual building the cage will damage the pretty paint job while installing the cage no matter how careful he is.

When you purchase the primer, paint, and cleaning solution, verify that they are all compatible. It is possible for these products to be incompatible with each other, therefore causing the paint not to adhere properly. For the driver’s foot well area, some people apply a non-skid substance to the floor. I chose not to do this, and other than occasionally having to touch-up the paint in this area, I have no regrets. If you choose to do something differently with the foot well area, consider going to a boating store and see what options they recommend.

Should the roll cage be the same color as the rest of the interior? There really is no right or wrong answer. I personally chose to paint the cage a different color than the rest of the interior simply because I like the way it looks. If you choose to paint the cage a different color, in general, I found that applying paint with a brush on the cage is much easier with paint from a can. If you attempt to paint the roll bar with a spray can, expect overspray on the rest of the interior.

For the interior colors, gray is a very popular color. It does a pretty good job of hiding blemishes and dirt. Black causes the interior to become extremely hot in summer months. White is another color that many people use, but be aware it will show any spec of dirt. Depending on your perspective, this could be a good or bad thing as it will force you to clean the car often, and thus inspect it frequently. Should you use a high gloss, semi-gloss or flat finish? Again, people have different opinions, but I recommend using a semi-gloss finish.

Depending on which method you choose to paint the interior of the car and cage, the process will vary slightly, but this will give you the general idea:

  • You have taken the insulation and sound deadening out, right?
  • Quickly vacuum the interior.
  • Using scuff pads (can be bought at auto parts stores), lightly scuff the areas you will be painting. If you choose to paint the cage using a different method or color, you should still scuff the cage now to reduce dust inside the car after most of the interior is painted.
  • Vacuum the interior again.
  • Quickly wipe down the interior with a wet paper towel or cloth.
  • Cover and mask the interior. If you are using the spray method, it is extremely important that you take your time with this step. You need to cover any exposed wires, as you never know when you will need to identify what their original colors were. (When covering exposed wiring, one trick is to use aluminum foil to cover it, which is quicker than taping it. I still would tape the ends of the aluminum to prevent any paint from dripping inside, just in case.) If you don’t take the time to properly cover everything that you don’t want paint on, in and out of the car, it will show. You will be amazed how paint particles find their way to various areas! After you have covered everything, take a break and then double check that you did not miss anything. If you have elected to paint the interior with a can and brush, this process is not as intense as spraying the interior. When taping items, use painters tape, not masking tape. If you ever need to paint over that item later, the residue which masking tape leaves could impact the adhesion of the paint.
  • Vacuum the interior again.
  • Carefully clean the interior, including the roll cage, using a paint preparation solvent (can be bought at automotive parts stores). Don’t use brake cleaner or any other cleaner as a substitute. Once this has thoroughly dried, you are ready for the next step.
  • Apply primer. Is priming the interior of the car really necessary? If you are using the spray method, you already have everything covered, and therefore it is very easy to do. Honestly, it won’t cost much more money to do a light primer coat. If you will be brushing the paint on, I recommend that you at least prime the high-traffic areas such as the floors of both the driver’s and passenger side. If you choose not to prime the other already-painted areas, paint a small test area to ensure that the paint will adhere properly without priming the surface. After the paint dries, if you see cracking or bubbling in the paint, it will be necessary to prime the interior.
  • Now you are ready to paint!

When priming and painting the car, start from the rear and work your way forward. If you are spraying the interior, apply the paint in several thin coats. If you are painting using a brush, you should at least put a second coat on the high-traffic areas. Check the instructions on the paint can to determine how long to wait between coats. This sounds silly, but don’t forget to paint the roof.

When priming or painting the car, at a minimum, you really should wear a paper painter’s mask and safety glasses to protect yourself from harmful paint fumes and paint particles. Wear some old clothes and disposable latex gloves. Not only will wearing latex gloves keep your hands from becoming full of paint, but it will also prevent oils from your hands getting on the metal. This oil from your hands affects how well paint adheres to the metal. No matter how careful you are, paint will get on you. If you are spraying the car, I advise that you to wear a hat. I learned this the hard way and had a bit of a blue tint to my hair afterwards. Nice! Again, take your time throughout this process – it will probably take longer than you anticipate.

Summary of Primary Costs:
The methods you choose will impact the costs, but the following will provide enough information to get a good idea of the related expenses.

  • Painters mask: $20 – $35 depending on the style
  • Box of 50 disposable latex gloves: $4
  • Two rolls of painter’s tape: $14
  • Can of paint thinner (cleaning hands and brushes): $6 for a gallon
  • Scuff pads (3): $6 total
  • Paint preparation solvent: $8
  • Paint brushes (2): $16 total

Painting the Interior:

  • Primer (4 spray cans): $16 total
  • Spray paint (8 spray cans): $32 total
  • Primer (1 quart can): $10
  • Paint (3 quart cans): $24 total

Painting the Roll Cage:

  • Primer (1 quart can): $10
  • Paint (1 quart can): $8