Beauty comes from within
Even if your car's interior isn't showing signs of age, one of the most cost-effective and dramatic enhancements you can make is to paint the dash. We don't mean just slopping on a few coats of paint with a brush or trying to mask off the stereo and A/C vents and get silly with a spray can. The process is fairly involved and may require a pro, depending on your tools and level of experience. Here's an overview of what's required, using a Lexus IS 300 as an example.
Color and Prep
Note that the color used on the interior is the same as the exterior, which keeps the theme of the car consistent. A complementary color could be used as well, but be careful that it doesn't clash. One of the most common mistakes is a mismatched or odd color combination. Paint jobs that peel and flake also ruin the effect. The key to success here is good prep work. It's tedious, but it's the most important aspect of painting. The actual paint spraying goes pretty quickly by comparison.
When working on the parts outside of the car (don't even think about doing this without first removing them from the interior), start with a thorough cleaning with lacquer thinner to remove any and all dirt, oils, and vinyl dressings. The surface then needs to be roughed up a bit with a scouring pad and some paint-prep gel, so the primer adheres properly. A special plastic primer is required as well that has more flexing agents than conventional primer. This gives the coating a bit of "give" for covering pliable material.
Paint and Check
After the paint has been applied and dried, go back over it carefully to inspect for any minor specks in the surface. Since the dash pieces are always within close view, you'll want a flawless surface. Remove any small particles with fine sandpaper and then buff the surface smooth with a polishing wheel and compound.
If this dash painting job sounds a bit more challenging or time consuming than you had in mind, the good news is that it's not as expensive as you might expect. Figure on less than a thousand dollars for a high-quality interior paint job, which is a pretty cost-effective treatment considering the big difference it will make.
The first step is to remove the major dash components from the car.
These are all the pieces that will be getting a coat of paint.
Any mechanical or electronic components that could be damaged by the painting process should be removed from the dash unit as well.
All traces of dirt and grease need to be cleaned off during the prep stages, which are the most time-consuming aspects of any paint job.
Areas that must be left unpainted are taped off.
Use a scouring pad and a paint-prep gel to rough up the surface, so the primer and paint adhere properly. This step is must and should be done thoroughly, or the paint will peel off later.
A special primer used for plastic parts must be applied to the prepped surface with a paint sprayer.
After the primer dries, the color coats can be sprayed on.
Small imperfections are more noticeable on a painted dash, so they will need to be color-sanded.
The sanding marks can then be removed with a buffing wheel and polishing compound.
Carefully replace the painted parts back into the interior and reconnect the ventilation and mechanical components.
Notice the dramatically different look of the dash compared to the stock treatment.
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