I'd like to repaint some of the exterior trim pieces on my car, but I'm not an autobody expert and I suspect having them done professionally will be quite expensive. Some of the pieces are currently chromed, which I'd like to change. Since these pieces are pretty small, I'd like to take a shot at doing it myself first. But, I have a problem: I don't know how. I'm guessing that it's more complicated than just apply two coats of paint and call it a day, which I don't expect to be durable under normal operation.

What do I need to do to repaint exterior trim pieces for a quality and durable finish? Does this include stripping the chrome, or simply painting over it?

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    Try taking a look on YouTube about some of the videos on spray painting Parts yourself Nov 27, 2016 at 4:39
  • Maybe look into vinyl wrap for your trim pieces.
    – cory
    Nov 29, 2016 at 15:36
  • @cory: I've looked into it. I have two problems with vinyl for this application, which would be on exterior trim. 1) It'll peel on it's own eventually through wear and tear, requiring me to redo it. And 2) I want to do the window trim and then install some rainguards, which need to stick to the trim. Vinyl won't be able to handle that long term. What I really need is a finish that is as high-quality as the chrome on it is now... but either color matched or black.
    – Ellesedil
    Nov 29, 2016 at 17:06
  • Besides a professional paint job, it's not clear to me that a DIYer can do better than vinyl. Vinyl is made for signs and lasts just fine on police cars and whatnot. I'm not sure why you think it's going to peel off more quickly than a DIY paint job. Painting over chrome requires some serious prep work.
    – cory
    Nov 29, 2016 at 18:29
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    The general answer is that, if you remove old damaged finish, apply a primer evenly, and refinish with several even coats in the right humidity, the results will be professional. Any hiccup in that sequence will show, as how good it looks and well it holds up is subject to error catastrophes. Specfic advice depends on the specific parts. What parts do you want to refinish?
    – bishop
    Jan 8, 2017 at 1:19

2 Answers 2


It obviously depends very much on what kind of trim pieces you are wanting to respray. What they are made of and the sort of finish you are after.

I am not sure what the trim is you wish to renovate but most cars of the last. 25-30 years or more have utilised some form of moulded hard plastic or softer rubberised style materials.

Hard plastics are straight forward enough to paint even with cheap generic spray paint.I live in the UK so have almost exclusively used touch up spray paint in cans from Halfords (if you're from the UK then you know what chain I'm referring too but I'm afraid I don't know what the US equivalent would be) but there are similar products from Carplan and Holts, if they still exist.

All the same you will know the kind of paint I mean. The one you have to 'shake vigorously' for 2 minutes to mix the paint evenly They always have a marble in the can so you can hear it as you shake...... hence the familiar term 'rattle cans'.

Yes, they are cheap, nasty, smell bad or can make you high though not in a nice way and are universally used by graffiti artists to colourise our city centres but despite the general notion they're only usrful for a patch up job you can get an amazing finish using these products.

It's often been said that it's 90% preparation when it comes to all manner of DIY tasks and it had never been truer than with getting the best finish with spray tins.

The use of a good thorough coating, several layers preferably of plastic primer are essential. The secret is thin coats and lots of them built up slowly, dusting coats that dry quickly with 10 mins between each one.

After building up a good coating let it dry overnight then the next day give it a mild rub with 600-800 grit wet&dry sand paper.

Pour some warm water in a bowl and a couple of squirts of detergent/washing up liquid then rip up the sand paper in strips and let it soak for 10 mins or so before using it.

Afterwards thoroughly wash and dry the trim piece th then a little later apply another coat of primer.

Next day, sand, wash and dry it again and apply the colour coat taking the same approach as before. Build it up slowly and methodically then sand lightly once completely dry.

Then finally lacquer the trim piece following the same approach. I believe you know lacquer as clear coat in the US.

Also the entire process from beginning to end needs to be done in a clean, dry, warm environment where little or no dust can be kicked up into the air.

The more time and care taken in each step will result in a far better outcome. I've colour coded many body parts this way and it truly is possible to get a finish as good as the OE paintjob.

As for chromed/chrome effect trim pieces...... window surrounds for example I'm not sure it's possible to replicate the original pieces with aftermarket spray tins, they never seem to live up to their promise in my experience.

Far better to try ebay or a local scrapyard for pars from another vehicle.

  • Would you be confident enough in the finish to apply other exterior modifications, such as rain guards or other things with a bit of weight, to your finished product?
    – Ellesedil
    Mar 6, 2017 at 19:02
  • That's a good question and I'm not quite sure what kind of modifications you have in mind.When you say rain guard is that like guttering channels like on older cars or those clear plastic attachments on your front doors that divert the airflow and rain so you can have the window open some protected from the weather?? I ask because both those would be bonded to,say,painted window surrounds or even the door.If your mods are bolt on I'd say the point was irrelevant apart from drilling into painted areas where the risk of damage is no different.
    – bob james
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:36
  • No different than if you drill into original painted panels.
    – bob james
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:39
  • No different than if you drill into original painted panels.If you are using some kind of powerful glue or bonding agent then I would strongly suggest letting the area you have repainted as I outlined in my original comment cure for a week or two but after that I would have full confidence in the durability of the paint. As an example I painted the black plastic door mirror covers on my car silver well over 18 months ago. As you can imagine they get hit with all the weather, flies, stones and grit off the road yet clean up perfectly and have survived machine polishing several times now 😊😊
    – bob james
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:45
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    Yeah there is absolutely no reason why there would be a problem with attaching anything like that onto parts that are painted in the way I described.Like I was saying I'd maybe give it a week to allow the paint to properly cure and harden but after that I'd be fully confident in applying any kind of mod like you have in mind straight on to the new painted parts.
    – bob james
    Mar 16, 2017 at 11:12

auto exterior paint is a trade done by experts with specialized equipment, which you can do yourself if lower quality results are OK with you. another option besides vinyl wrap is powdercoating.

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    This doesn't answer my question at all.
    – Ellesedil
    Dec 27, 2016 at 8:10

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