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Automotive Paint: What's Available for the DIY Car Owner

When it comes to paint for any vehicle area, we’ve got you covered with specialized color-matching touch-up paints, primer, clear coat, wheel paint, engine paint, and more.
Automotive Paint: What's Available for the DIY Car Owner

When you think of "automotive paint", is a large-scale professional auto body shop the first image that comes to mind? Perhaps you're picturing a well-lit spray booth, filled with thousands of dollars' worth of equipment, manned by trained employees with many years' experience behind them. Or maybe, when it comes to your own vehicle, you recall having purchased a small tube of touch-up paint, the kind with the brush built into the cap, which you used to repair a small rock chip on your hood. You've long since misplaced that tiny tube.


Today, you have a better selection than ever of "touch-up" paints designed to exactly match your factory finish. There are also a wealth of other paints available for your exterior trim, engine compartment, interior, and other applications. Welcome to the modern world of Automotive Paints and Coatings.

Touch Up Paint

Let's start by exploring what is likely still the greatest demand for car paint: the can of touch-up. Perhaps some other car ever-so-slightly nudged your fender in a parking lot. Or your Significant Other (not you!) left bird droppings on the paint long enough to permanently burn a small spot on the surface. Whatever the issue, there isn't enough damage to warranty a visit to aforementioned-body-shop, but the offensive panel is unsightly enough that you can't live with it. Dupli-Color Touch Up Paint to the rescue!

The most important factor for you, the vehicle owner, is a perfect match. And that is just as important to the folks at Dupli-Color. They invest significant research into OEM paint formulas in order to provide you with an exact color match. They are so certain of their ability to match your paint that they've named it "Perfect Match". In order to ensure that you are ordering the correct paint, you will need to provide the "paint code", found on a label on your car. While it is not possible to cover every manufacturer's paint code locations within the scope of this article, we can provide some general guidelines. Most vehicle manufacturers provide the paint code on a paper or riveted-metal label, located under the hood or in the driver's door jamb. A helpful hint: when you are on the CARiD website, look up your car's paint and see what the paint code choices are. This will give you some understanding that you are looking for a 2-digit alphabetic code, or a 4-digit code with 2 numbers followed by 2 letters, or whatever.

Product Options

Let's try an example by looking up the paint for a 2005 Ford Mustang. By scrolling through the drop-down menu, you can see that most (but not all) of Ford's paint codes consist of two letters. Here is where it gets tricky, yet very important: PLEASE do not guess! If your 2005 Mustang is "white", we see that there were TWO different whites available, an "Oxford White" AND a "Performance White". Obviously, these are not the same, and if you guess, you have an exactly 50/50 shot at being correct!

Base Coat

Before you finalize the purchase, you have some other considerations. You will see two additional choices in the drop-down menu, immediately below the Base Coat. The first of these is Primer. Now, primer is not required for every touch-up job. The factory which built your car first sprayed a coat of primer, on top of which the base color coat was applied. Look at the scratch or chip on your vehicle: can you see primer, typically grey? Or has the scratch gone down to bare metal? You need to purchase the primer if the factory primer coat has been damaged.

Clear Top Coat

You also see that a spray can of "Clear Top Coat" is offered. Almost all new cars and trucks built within the last 25 years or so have used a "base coat/clear coat" paint system, meaning, a protective coat of clear paint has been sprayed on top of the base color coat. If your vehicle is newer than about 1990, in order to most closely match the factory finish, you should spray clear coat on top of your touch up job.

While this article is not intended to be a "how-to" guide, please follow the label directions when using touch up paint. The good news is, you can save hundreds of dollars by performing the touch-up work yourself. And there's more good news, because Perfect Match touch-up just "scratches the surface" of the paint choices available for your ride.

Brake Caliper

There are many other areas on the exterior of your car that may have become shabby looking over time, and could benefit from a renewed finish. Let's start at the front, and take a good look at your bumper. Most modern cars have switched to plastic bumpers to save on weight and cost. And many of these plastic bumpers left the factory either unpainted, or with a coat of dark grey or black paint. Over time, the dark finish may have weathered to the point where the bumper looks almost white. Replacing the bumper with a new piece will restore the original look, but at a rather high cost. If the bumper face shows no damage, why not repaint it? But before you rush out to buy a can of hardware store Universal Black, consider that a plastic part needs a special paint, one that will adhere well, and remain flexible as the bumper flexes. Dupli-Color makes a specific paint for this application, available in 4 different colors.

With the chips filled in, and the bumpers brought back to black, the trim around your windows and doors suddenly looks lackluster. Trim Paint is specifically designed to work on metal molding around the vehicle's exterior. Just be sure to mask off surrounding areas, like the windows, so that you can see out of the car when you're done!

Wheel Paint

You've stepped back to admire your work so far, and as your eye scans from top to bottom - you set your gaze at your car's wheels. Try as you have to keep them clean and blemish-free, all you can see are scrapes from encounters with curbs. Do not fear - wheel paint is available in various shades of white, silver, grey, and black, from both VHT and Dupli-Color. A few minutes later, with all 4 wheels brought back to life, you've done what you can to make your vehicle's exterior look the best it's been in a long time.

Engine Paint

VHT Paint

Of course, the exterior of the car or truck is what's seen by most people; the interior and engine compartment can also be refreshed by you, just by further exploring some paint options. Vinyl seats, dashes, and door panels can have their color renewed or completely changed by using Vinyl & Fabric Spray especially designed for this purpose. VHT brand paint (VHT stands for "Very High Temperature") specializes in engine paint, formulated to thrive in high heat. Their engine paint is available in formulas to match OEM engine paints, as well as various metallic and metalflake shades. Remember that these paints work equally well on any underhood components which need refinishing, not just engine blocks.


You've now put a lot of effort into a very effective and cost-efficient way to refinish various exterior, interior, and underhood items. Yet you realize that you want to take it one step further, and make your ride stand out from the rest: Customization is your next stop. You can choose from a plethora of exciting looks: Chrome Blackout coating, Copper Plate coating, and Wrinkle Plus coating are just a few of the unique finishes, limited in application only by your imagination. Don't forget your brake calipers!

Spray Paint Stripper

To ensure that you have all the supplies you need, you will want to consider a can of convenient spray paint stripper (if refinishing a piece on which the original paint must first be removed), Prep Spray to remove all traces of oil, dirt and wax, and a rust treatment (allowing you to save a part by painting over rust).

Take the time to explore all your options in our extensive Automotive Paints & Coatings store, which can supply you with everything you need to touch up or refinish various areas of your vehicle. When you're ready to paint an entire vehicle, we also have all the tools and supplies you need in our digital Auto Body Shop.

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All manufacturer names, symbols, and descriptions, used in our images and text are used solely for identification purposes only. It is neither inferred nor implied that any item sold by CARiD.com is a product authorized by or in any way connected with any vehicle manufacturers displayed on this page.