Whether you’re trying to salvage your car after a fire or simply a hobbyist trying to restore a car to its former glory, you’ll find most people don’t even bother repainting fire-damaged cars.
When a car burns, the paint leaves residue and smoke behind. Couple that with chemicals from fire extinguishers and rust from the car getting sprayed with water, and it’s no wonder that when you look around online most people have their paint peeling off in a couple of months — it just can’t adhere to the metal.
Don’t give up though! This problem has a simple fix. The catch is that it takes quite a lot of work to do it right. To paint a fire-damaged car, the main steps you will need to take are:
- Remove the residue
- Priming the metal
- Base coat
- Additionals coats
- Clear coat
To put it simply, the reason why most of these paint jobs fail is that whoever did it didn’t remove the residue completely and prime the metal so that the paint adheres correctly.
Restoring your fire-damaged car
As we said above, this is quite a labor-intensive process, so we suggest going to a body shop that specializes in this kind of work rather than going at it by yourself. That said, we’ll go into some more detail with some tips for painting a fire-damaged car.
1. Removing Residue
This is by far, the most important step in the process, what makes or breaks your restoration project. If you don’t get it right, the paint will peel off, no doubt about it. Ideally, you’d sandblast the metal to get rid of any residue and really clean out the pores of the metal. However, if you’re restoring a few spots at home, chances are you don’t own a sandblaster. In that case, sanding will do the trick too.
Use a belt sander or a drill with a sanding disk, with sandpaper only for the crevices that can’t be reached with machines. If you do manage to get your hands on a sandblaster, BE CAREFUL, the friction produces a lot of heat that can bend or warp the metal.
2. Priming the Metal
Once your piece is clear of all paint and residue, it’s time to prime it for the new base coat its about to receive. To do this, you’re gonna need a primer, there is debate about which is better, epoxy or self etch primer.
Paint Prep Primer
Applying paint prep primer is an optional but highly recommended step when painting a car in regular circumstances, but even more so when dealing with burnt paint, rust, and other residue. Allow me to explain: paint prep primer is a solvent that removes oils, wax, grease, and silicone from surfaces prior to coating. Since our goal is to get rid of any lingering particles that can cause paint peeling, applying solvent is the way to go.
As the name implies, an epoxy primer is kind of like applying a layer of epoxy to your car. It provides great adhesive properties and is great at protecting the metal from outside elements. For this primer to work correctly, you need to sand the metal with coarse sandpaper to provide a “bite” that the epoxy can attach to.
Self Etching primer
Self-etching primer is an acid that cleans and etches the metal to provide the “bite” you would otherwise get by sanding. For the purpose of painting a fire-damaged car, it is a better solution, since you get an additional “cleaning” of the metal pores. However, the downside is that it doesn’t provide as much protection from the elements as epoxy does.
If you’re unsure about which kind of primer is best for you, we suggest asking your paint manufacturer. Some materials used in paint making can interact poorly with certain primers, which can result in discoloration or poor adhesion, so be sure to check before buying your materials.
High Build Primer
High build primer is applied right after etch or epoxy primer, it’s meant to provide a thick coating that can be sanded down to fix any imperfections in your panel. However, this is only meant to fix small dimples or unevenness, it is not a substitute for actual bodywork, which should be done by a professional before you start the painting process.
Usually, two coats of high build primer are enough to get you where you need to be, use 600 grit sandpaper to sand it down until your panel is flat and you can move on to the base coat.
3. Base Coat
The base coat (the actual paint you’re gonna be using for your car) is not that hard to apply but it can be extremely difficult to acquire. If you’re painting just one panel, you might not be able to find paint that perfectly matches your other panels, in which case you can either contact manufacturers or professionals that can mix the paint for you – or paint your entire car with a new coat. Getting paint mixed for you can be expensive, but painting an entire car can be very labor-intensive. The choice is up to you!
If you have any experience with painting cars, applying the base and top coat should be no different from what you’ve done before. If you don’t, then you probably shouldn’t be using a burnt car as your first project.
In any case, you should first cover any parts that you don’t want to be painted with masking tape and newspaper, as well as removing any trims. Then apply your base coat with a spray gun, staying 2-3 inches away from the car to avoid the paint from pooling. Move your spray gun in a side-to-side motion until you’ve painted the whole panel.
4. Clear Coat
The clear coat is the final step of painting a burned car, it is meant as a protective coat that will hopefully prevent any scuffs or scratches from reaching the base coat. You should apply 4-5 layers of clear coat, waiting around 10 minutes between each so as to let it dry. DON’T touch the panel to test if the paint is dry, if you need to, touch the tape line.
Can you fix a burnt clear coat?
Once you’ve applied your clear coat, it’s time to buff it to a high shine. This seems simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how many cases we’ve handled where people have burned the clear coat while buffing. Unfortunately, there is no clear fix for this issue, if this happened to you, you’re gonna have to remove the clear coat entirely, then recoat it
Can smoke damage a car?
If your car was close to a fire, but luckily wasn’t reached, you might be wondering whether a repaint is necessary to prevent further damage or not. Unfortunately, ash, soot, and smoke can be corrosive and destroy car paint in the long run. They contain potassium, and calcium, which can eat through the paint when mixed with water.