Painting Plastics
by: Andrew Krause


Plastic is the most common material used throughout your car. However, it may not always match your tastes. I once had an 86 Pontiac Grand AM. The center console was this awful fake silver brush metal looking shit, and it looked like ass, so, I repainted it....wrote a paper about it, like to hear it, here it go....

The first thing about painting is prep. In any good paint job, whether you're "Fat Al's Autobody" or Leonardo DaVinci (no, not that faggy little white boy on Titanic), it's the prep that truly makes your work worth it.

The first thing I did was to remove the center consoles upper plastic panels. There were three of them, from behind the handbrake, to the trim-plate around the radio. I removed all the attachments until I had just the panel. On the center portion of this panel, there was a small indention for a back-lit picture of a cigarette to indicate the cigarette lighter was below a foldout panel. I wanted to keep this feature, so silicone was smeared into the feature and allowed to cure. Then, the excess was trimmed out. After the panel was painted, the small silicone plug was easily removed with a pick to reveal an unpainted "cancer stick ignitor" indicator light.

The next step was to clean the panel thoroughly to remove any oil, dirt, grease, spilled soda, ashes, shit, piss, blood, or whatever. Hot soapy water is suitable for this task. You do not necessarily have to use boiling water (remember that plastics will warp if heated excessively), but definitely used the hottest water you can work with. Also, it's a good idea to use Dawn dishwashing detergent, since it has an anti oil agent (5 mL/L). Wash thoroughly, and use a small toothbrush to get into the cracks. When you are satisfied, rinse in equally hot water, and towel dry with soft lint free cloth.

Now, at this point, look at the panel VERY carefully. Are there any bad nicks, scratches, cuts or dings? Now would be a good time to use some bondo to fill the gouges, and sand smooth. If they are light scratches, spray a bit of paint on them, and after the paint has dried, sand it smooth. The paint itself can be used for filling light scratches.

Once you are satisfied that the panel has been sanded and filled, go back and wash it again.

Now comes the final paint. For most purposes, normal spray paint is more than sufficient (although, avoid metal paints, since they may contain harsh solvents). I did my dash piece with a $3 can of Krylon. I recommend a flat color. Flats dry much more quickly, and are quite forgiving. Also, when you can spray dash protectant to a flat color and get that factory looking sheen out of the panel.

The first thing to do is to vent the can a tad. If you've filled some scratches, you've vented enough. Turn the hot water tap on, and let it run. Hopefully, your hot water is as hot as my hot water, but just as hot as you can stand, and a little more is fine. Place your spray can in the water stream to heat it up. Don't exceed 120 degrees, but dammit, get close. Reason behind this is that oil based paints (which you should be using) mist more fine when heated, and will give a finer more even coat. They also dry more quickly. Once you are satisfied that the can is hot enough, it's time to paint.

Clear the nozzle with a few quick squirts. Then, point the nozzle of the can directly at your panel, and with a flat even motion, apply the paint in short bursts, sweeping the can back and forth across the panel. Do not use a steady spray, because you will lay down too much paint, and this causes drips. Only spray enough to cover the panel. Let it sit for about 10 minutes (preferably in sunlight, or under a warm lamp in a well ventilated area, unless you're into huffing). Apply around 2 to 3 coats. Do not apply the paint too heavily, or it will flake and crack after a week or two. After about 25 hours, you can handle the panel. Take a dry paper towel and vigorously rub the panel to buff off any excess paint. Then, a warm wet towel should be used to clean off any paint particles that aren't adhered to the panel well. When the panel dries, use another paper towel to apply a thin coat of Finish 2001. Avoid armor-all, because it will eat the paint.

You are now finished, you can install the panel. go easy on the panel for the first few weeks, but in time, you will have an attractive and durable painted panel.