The Best Way to Paint a Car Roof

Published: July 27, 2022
Last updated: February 21, 2024

If you want to save costs when painting your vehicle, this step-by-step guide will walk you through the process to get the job done right!

Invest in a pro-style paint sprayer and use expert techniques if you want to paint your car yourself and get exceptional results. You may decide that "pretty good" results will do since your car's roof is less noticeable. Instead, use “rattle can” automotive spray paints to make the job easier and cheaper. But preparation is key, so don't scrimp!

Part 1: Getting The Roof Ready For Painting

Using the car's color code, you can buy paint that matches the existing color. For example, if you want the color of your car's roof to remain blue-gray when the roof is repainted, find the color code of your vehicle's paint. A compliance plate under the hood normally lists this information, along with other details like the VIN. For a color match, bring this code to an auto paint retailer.

Occasionally, the color code appears on the door frame of the driver's side, along with the tire pressure recommendations.

If you'd like to paint your roof a different color - such as black - go right ahead!

There are several online retailers where you can purchase auto paint that matches your vehicle's color. If you want to order the paint, you must enter the make, model, year, and paint code of your car.

There are also rattle cans of automotive primer and clear coat finish that you'll need in addition to rattle cans of color-matched automotive paint.

  1. If you are painting a car, you will need to wear a respirator and personal protective equipment. You should avoid breathing in or absorbing chemicals from automotive paint regardless of whether you use a compressed air sprayer or rattle can spray paint. Don't just wear a dust mask; wear a respirator mask as well as goggles, long sleeves, and gloves for your safety.

Make sure you wear a disposable full-body protective suit with a hood in addition to long sleeves and pants for even better protection.

  1. Make sure your garage or outdoor area is well ventilated. It is vital to have good ventilation when using automotive paints, as well as wearing a respirator and wearing safety gear. The best choice for a garage in a home setting is usually one with a lot of ventilation. Spray paint should not be used in garages with water heaters, furnaces, or any other potential ignition sources.

You should at the very least keep an exterior door or window open, and the garage door should be kept open as well. To increase ventilation, set up fans that draw in air and exhaust it. To protect your stuff from paint overspray, you will also need lots of plastic sheeting.

To protect your work from sunlight, raindrops, leaves, twigs, and the like while painting in the open, put up a canopy tent over your car.

  1. The roof of your car should be washed and rinsed, then let it dry naturally. Make sure all dirt, dust, and debris are removed from the vehicle using an automotive soap, water, and sponge or rag. After you've done that, rinse the area thoroughly with clean water. Do not use a towel to dry the roof since this may leave lint behind. Allow the roof to air dry before proceeding.

Don’t apply any wax—you need to remove as much wax as possible before painting!

  1. Sandpaper or a grinder can be used to remove any rust spots. If there is a smaller amount of rust, you can use a sanding block and 180-grit sandpaper to remove it. If your metal is heavily rusted, use a metal grinder to remove as much as possible. Using a putty knife, fill small holes with a non-rusting auto body filler and let it dry completely before starting the next step.

Rust should be removed using small circular movements with a sanding block or metal grinder.

  1. Sand the entire roof with a 400-grit block to make it easier to apply primer. You should use a firm but even pressure when sanding in small circles. For wetting down the area you're sanding, use a spray bottle or poke a hole in a plastic bottle and squeeze water out. A 320-grit sanding block will speed up the process slightly.

When painting your roof with a rattle can, sanding down to bare metal isn't really needed but you'll get the best results if you do. Make sure all existing clear coat finishes are sanded off. If you've done your job right, the roof should have a dull finish.

It is recommended that you feather the paint surrounding any bare metal surfaces you sand down to. Smooth out the difference in paint depth by applying more pressure on the bare metal and less pressure away from it.

  1. Wet rags and tack cloths are used to clean the roof thoroughly, followed by a degreaser. Once you have finished sanding, dampen a few rags and wipe the roof down. To remove any remaining dust from sanding, wipe the roof with a tack cloth after it has dried. To finish, use a commercial degreaser and according to product instructions wipe the entire roof.

Alternatively, denatured alcohol, mineral spirits, or paint thinner could be used instead of the degreaser. Choose only one product and do not mix them together, as fumes can be dangerous if combined.

  1. Tape, paper, or plastic should be used to protect areas you do not want to paint. Using painter's tape, apply it firmly to the seams between the roof, doors, front windshield, and rear windshield as you work your way around the edges of the roof. Use more tape to cover the front hood, trunk, doors, and windshields with plastic sheeting or contractor's paper. It's better to cover up as much as possible!

Make sure you fully cover your sunroof if you have one. You might paint the seams shut if you don't press the tape down into them.

Part 2: Painting, Priming, And Sealing

  1. A light, even coat of automotive primer should be applied three times. Make sure the can rattles for at least one minute and up to four minutes after shaking! While moving the can from side to side, spray in steady, even blasts about 12 inches (30 cm) from the roof surface. Work your way from one side of the roof to the other in parallel lines beginning with the side furthest from you. You should wait 20 minutes before applying the second coat, and another 20 minutes before applying the third coat.

It is better to apply several light coats rather than a single heavy one. Don't rush!

Practicing your spraying technique now will help you perfect it when you add colored and clear coatings.

  1. The primer should be lightly sanded with a 600-grit block, then the dust should be wiped away. A 600-grit sanding block should be used once the last primer coat has dried completely. In this case, however, do not make small circles, but instead use long, even strokes going in one direction. After removing the dust, wipe the roof again with a tack cloth, let it dry, and then wipe off the dust again.

Be very gentle when sanding here! We want the primer to be even and lightly etched so that the finish coats will adhere better.

  1. Apply a light coat of rattle can auto paint in the color of your choice. As with the primer, spread a thin layer from the far to the near side of the roof by making long, steady, even, parallel strokes. Although this is a very light coat, you should still be able to see the primer colors underneath. Ensure that the paint has dried for 20 minutes before continuing.

The first coat should be wiped down with a tack cloth once it has dried. From now on, clean off each coat with the tack cloth.

  1. For a full, even color, apply two and three coats of paint. The second coat should be applied in the same way, but it should be heavier. By the time you're done, you should barely see the primer color. Using a tack cloth, wipe the coat down after it has dried. Apply a heavier coat where the primer is barely visible and a lighter coat where coverage is already good when you apply the third and final coat.

Once you have applied the third coat, you can use the tack cloth again. Add a fourth coat if you are still unhappy with the coverage.

  1. Ensure the rattle can automotive clear coat is applied three times. The same techniques you used to paint the colored autos can be used here. Using long, even, parallel passes, spray a light layer of clear coat on first. Let it dry for about 20 minutes, then wipe the roof down with a tack cloth. After applying the second layer, wait then wipe, finally, you can go for the final layer to smooth out the glossy finish.

In case you still don't have the even, glossy finish you want, you can apply a fourth or even fifth layer of clear coat.

  1. Removing the painter's tape should be done after 12 hours. Let the clear coat cure for a few minutes before carefully removing the painter's tape, plastic sheeting, and contractor's paper. Prior to exposing the car to the elements, allow the clear coat to cure for at least another 12 hours, preferably a week.

Your car is undoubtedly one of your most valuable possessions. In that case, it is crucial to maintain your vehicle to the best of your ability. Learn how you can clean and maintain your vehicle's interior.

Principal Analyst A mechanical engineer by trade, Bobby previously spent over 20 years at automakers giants, where he spent most of his time leading core technology design and operations and the development of new automotive models. He now devotes most of his time to be our go-to guy and Principal Analyst in Keep Driving.
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