Spray Paint Engine

Article by Mark Trotta

Applying a few coats of paint to your rebuilt engine provides protection as well as good looks. Here's some tips to spray paint engine block and parts from an aerosol spray can.

best way to paint engine parts

Prepare The Surface

The key to every good paint job is in the preparation. To get paint to stick to a cast-iron engine block or cylinder head, the metal must be clean and dry.

Cast-iron metal is porous, kind of like a sponge. It soaks up oil, and when something is painted that has oil in it, the paint may eventually peel off. This is because the paint itself cannot soak into the cast-iron so it can grip or adhere to it.

Clean the metal surface with mineral spirits or brake parts cleaner, and then dry with compressed air. Apply painters quality tape to mask off anything you don't want painted.

Most likely the engine block will be on a stand, but for painting engine parts, place the cylinder heads, manifolds, etc, on a piece of cardboard or heavy paper. You can prop up the items to be painted with pieces of wood or cinder blocks.

Try to keep your work pieces off the ground where dirt and dust settle.




Generally, spray paint fumes aren't as harmful as other paint, but good ventilation provides you not only with fresh air, it also helps the finished product dry faster. If you can, select an area that is well-ventilated.

paint engine with spray can

Do I Need To Spray A Primer Coat First?

A primer coat is usually not needed on engine parts.

Painting Aluminum

Some metals, like aluminium, aren't easily painted and require a primer. The surface is not adhesive enough and the paint may flake off. A primer will provide a good base-coat to help the paint adhere correctly.



If you are priming the metal surface with spray-on primer, allow it to dry for at least one hour before spraying the top coat. Thicker applications dry slower than thinner coats.

Shake Spray Can Thoroughly

Shake the paint can vigorously to mix the paint. Turn it from top to bottom in your hand for at least one full minute. You will hear the mixer ball rattle in the can. Repeat the mixing process occasionally throughout the painting process.

Test Before Painting

It's wise to test the spray paint on scrap material or a piece of cardboard before aiming it at your metal project. There are two important reasons for this. First, it's to check that the nozzle is clear.



NOTE: I've sprayed a few brand-new cans (after shaking well) and had paint dribble out on my hand. The quick fix for this is to take a spray nozzle off an old can that worked well.

Another reason why you should test the spray can before you spray paint the engine is to get used to how the paint flows. As you do a little "test painting" on something other than your project, you'll get a feel to how close you can get before getting sags and runs. Try holding the can as close as 6 inches from the surface, then back away if the paint starts running.

how to spray paint cylinder heads

Spraying The Color Coat

There's several ways to spray paint, the most common being starting at the top and slowly sweeping downward from left to right with slight overlap. Hold the can approximately 10 to 12 inches away from the metal surface. Getting too close causes drips and runs, and painting too far causes brittle, uneven spraying.

You can pause after each sweeping motion by letting go of the trigger. Once the first coat is done, allow the paint to dry for 30 to 60 seconds. Continue to apply a 2nd light coat, then stop and observe the surface. Sometimes two coats is all that's needed.

spray paint engine oil pan

The oil pan in the above and below pictures was sanded down to bare metal, scuffed, then painted with color coat (no primer coat).

best way to paint engine oil pan

Allow Paint To Dry

When you are satisfied with the appearance, stop and allow paint to dry. Allow the last coat of paint to dry at least one day before handling the object. Don't rush the drying process!

Sanding Out Imperfections

If you see dirt or grit in the paint that you want to remove, first allow the paint to thoroughly dry (one day minimum). Then, take a small 600 or 1000 grit strip of wet/dry sandpaper (folded over) to lightly smooth out the imperfections. Keep the surface area wet, and sand lightly to avoid cutting through the color coat.

spray paint engine timing cover

When Not To Paint

Avoid windy conditions. Humidity greatly affects how paint dries and adheres. Choose locations and times of day accordingly. Spray painting metal in between 50 to 80 degrees is optimum.

Where To Buy Spray Paint

Amazon seems to have the best selection and prices, and most of the time shipping is free. I've sprayed Duplicolor, Plastikote, Krylon, and Valspar brands, and have had good results with all of them.

Shop: Chevy Orange Engine Paint

Shop: Ford Blue Engine Paint

Shop: Black Engine Paint

Shop: Aluminum Engine Paint

Shop: Red Engine Paint

Shop: Chrysler Blue Engine Paint

how to spray paint an engine

Proper Spray Paint Can Disposal

If you can't empty the entire can for any reason, or if you're not sure it's empty, rather than putting it in with regular trash, take it to a special collection for hazardous chemicals. The plastic spray cap should be recycled separately.