If you own a stock golf cart, chances are likely it is white or beige. With millions of color shades available and a few easy to find items, you can easily customize your vehicle with no experience required following these few preparatory steps.
So, how do you paint a golf cart? Here are the available materials and methods to touch up or completely transform your golf cart with ease.
Suggested Additional Materials
Aside from hardware and paint materials, suggested articles include:
- Dawn dishwashing soap, Simple Green, or some degreasing soap
- Microfiber towel and sponges
- Masking tape
- Plastic drop cloths
- p220 sandpaper, p400 for wet sanding
- Eye protection or goggles
- Breathing mask
- X-acto knife
Choosing A Method
There are two methods for applying paint to your cart. One is using a rattle can that you can have filled with your custom paint and hardener mix. Anything you can buy off the shelf is not very durable. The second method is to use a paint sprayer and compressed air.
If you don’t already have an air sprayer and the idea of using a rattle can doesn’t appeal to you, then there are a few inexpensive models of gravity feed HLPV (High-Pressure Low Volume) guns available on the market. They run anywhere from $35 to $125+.
Unless you are in the profession of painting golf carts you probably don’t want to invest in a turbine system. These can run into thousands of dollars. That brings us to the air compressor-these don’t cost a lot, and you can use them for all your pneumatic tools. You need to make sure that the tank has a large enough capacity to work with the spray gun without interruption.
The air compressor tank should have all water drained out of it before using it to spray paint on the cart. Compressing air causes moisture to be extracted and settle in the bottom of the tank. The traces of moisture can travel by air through the sprayer unless there is an inline moisture filter installed on your equipment. Disposable filters have little silicone beads embedded in them which remove traces of moisture from the compressed air.
As an alternative to the disposable, you can purchase a more expensive inline moisture trap. If you’re going to be doing much painting, it would be worthwhile to invest in one.
A commonly used type of paint for your golf cart comes from the automotive line of materials. Personal preference dictates which type you use, and many golf cart enthusiasts are experienced automobile hobbyists and are familiar with specific paint properties. The key to a successful paint job is when the paint has proper adhesion to the surface.
An easy test you can do to see if you need an ad pro (adhesive promoter) is to take a rag, pour a bit of acetone on it and rub a little in a small area. If the cloth picks up some of the carts primary coating, you probably are safe skipping the ad pro. If the surface is chemical resistant and does not come off on the rag, you should use the ad pro.
For the past 20 years, urethane paints have been the industry standard and have eclipsed the more expensive water-based acrylics. Urethane paints are extremely durable and resist chipping and scratches, and with proper care, outlasts acrylics.
While the application of urethane is easier and are available in spray cans as well as quart cans, they are toxic. Proper ventilation is a must, and a breathing apparatus is needed. The isocyanates present in urethane can be absorbed through the skin as well as entering the lungs through air-borne particles; therefore gloves and long-sleeved covering should be employed as well.
Urethane paints are activated by hardeners which speed up drying time and reduce the time between applications. The disadvantage is that once mixed, the paint must be used immediately or it will be wasted.
If you choose to use Urethane paint, a clear coat is commonly used for the final layer (s). Caution should be used if you are particular about the exact color result on the finished paint job because some clear coats add a slight tint. A black paint, for instance, could end up a bit more grey than a deep black. Do the research, and you are fine. If the color you want is at risk, you may decide to skip the clear coat entirely.
Acrylic paints are water-based, which means the resin adheres to the surface using water as its agent. Urethane depends on a quick-drying toxic solvent which makes the acrylic safer. Drying time, however, is 24 to 48 hours between coats.
The advantage acrylics have is that added chemicals and hardeners are unnecessary. Using a rattle can is cheaper than getting out the spray gun, and many of the desired colors are available premixed. A downside of the acrylics is that they are lighter (the aerosol droplets are smaller) and require more coats to achieve the wanted final result.
Using a spray gun with acrylics opens a new dimension of factors…cost. Acrylic lacquers can go as high as 250 to 300 dollars per gallon. Acrylic enamels are better in price and run around 100 to 150 dollars per gallon.
The tape test should be used before committing to covering the entire cart with acrylic. Put a test paint swatch on the surface, let it dry thoroughly, and put some tape over the new color. Press the tape down hard against it and then peel the tape back. If any of the paint comes off, you will need to do surface preparation – sanding, ad pro, or both.
Preparing the Painting Area:
You can make a paint booth by using inexpensive plastic sheeting or drop cloths from the local hardware store. Putting one layer on the floor will block moisture from the concrete and hanging other sheets around in an area roughly larger than the golf cart will protect from floating debris. The three issues we’re trying to avoid here are running paint from spraying too close, moisture in the color causing improper adhesion, and dust particles marring the finish.
Preparing the Cart
Take the cart outside and remove any and all hardware possible as this will reduce the amount of masking required. If the body can be unbolted and removed, by all means, do so — this way the parts can be brought in and worked on individually. If it’s not possible to remove the body from the cart, proper masking will be required.
After all the trim work and the unnecessary parts have been removed, use the dishwashing soap and thoroughly scrub down all surfaces to be painted. We are removing any trace of dirt or oil that could prevent the paint from adhering properly.
Use the 220 sandpaper to provide an appropriate surface for the paint to stick to. Lightly sand over the entire surface to be painted using circular motions. This sanding is to roughen the surface to make the paint adhere better. Wiping down the cart with dawn liquid soap or Simple Green and water on a cloth will cut the grease and remove any wax buildup. Use a hose to rinse off the entire cart, and then, to eliminate any lint, use the microfiber towel to remove all moisture.
This would be an excellent time to do any repair work on the body. Fill any scratches and gouges with a polyester-based finishing putty and sand smooth. Use the microfiber cloths again to remove any dust and proceed, rinsing with water if necessary.
After the cart has thoroughly dried, use the masking tape to block off any areas you don’t want to be painted. You can use a small X-Acto knife to make your masking more precise. Newspaper or other scrap paper can be used to cover large areas. Now move the cart inside the garage to the prepared paint booth area.
If your golf cart’s original color is dark, you will need to apply at least two primer coats, adjusting as necessary after the layers dry. Take your time applying the paint keeping enough distance from the surface to prevent running. Allow the paint at least 20 minutes to dry between coats. After the final coat lightly sand with a p1000 grit paper. Carefully wipe off all the dust afterward using a barely damp microfiber towel.
You need to do multiple, even, thin coats, working from top to bottom. It can take about a half a quart to cover a whole golf cart. I would always recommend buying at least a quart of the color you want to use. The more coats you get, the better the color is. After the drying time has been completed any airbrushing or highlights you want to add should be applied before the clear coat/hardener.
Assuming that you are going with a single color, once the last base coat has dried the recommended time, it’s time to add the clear coat. There isn’t really a limit to the number of clear coats you can put on, but the more you add, the easier it is to wet sand and buff to a high-gloss if that is your ultimate goal. Allow at least 24 hours for curing. My personal preference is to allow more time if I want to add decals to the finished base. The longer the clear coat has to cure, the less likely it will be damaged by the removal of any adhesive stickers later on.
Using Aerosol Cans
Using a suitable aerosol primer apply a layer of primer to the cart, working from top to bottom. Allow the primer to dry for the recommended time and add another coat. When this layer is dry, it should be sanded down with P1000 grit paper. Wipe the cart down to remove all dust before applying the base coat.
Now we use the aerosol spray paint to apply the base coats, working from top to bottom in even layers and avoiding striping. Inspect your work and make sure that the entirety of the original color has been covered and your new coat is consistent.
If you are using a metallic solvent-based color, apply two coats of clear coat over the entire golf cart. This will provide an extra protective barrier and will bring the color to an effective shine. The vehicle can now be put back into regular service.
An easy way to customize your cart before or after painting is using golf cart decals. Some decals are universal, and some of them are cart specific. Good examples of this would be flames, race car numbers, college logos, etc. as seen here.
If applying decals after your paint job, I would wait a full week for the clear coat to cure just in case you have trouble positioning the decal correctly the first time. Depending on how strong the adhesive on the decal is, you could pull up the clear coat if not properly cured.
Wrapping a Cart Instead Of Painting
If you need something a bit more in the graphic nature, vinyl wraps are a good alternative. The graphics used are superior to airbrushing and are much less labor-intensive as well as being durable. They have a virtually unlimited number of style, shapes, colors and are relatively easy to apply. It is recommended that you use a heat gun and the assistance of a second person to apply these. The heat gun is used to make the vinyl pliable enough to form into crevices and contours on the golf cart body. The adhesion comes in two types, permanent and removable. The permanent type has no room for error and will stay where you first touch it to the cart, but it is cheaper than the removable vinyl.
The removable vinyl allows you to be able to pull it off and reapply until you get it just right. Using the heat gun or heavy-duty hair dryer will help seal it and mold it to the body. These panels can come in several sheets of usually 4 by 2-foot sizes but are also available in sizes for specific golf cart models. These typically cost around $300 for a pre-measured kit and are available for the major cart models.
If you have a steel frame on your golf cart, you might want to consider sealing it from rust by painting it with a rust-inhibiting coating. My personal favorite is Por-15 which I have used on some of my Datsun projects. The Japanese sports cars are notorious for rusting through prematurely and require additional protection. If your golf cart is going to be taken off-road for hunting or camping, it’s going to be subjected to water, mud, and other corrosive elements. It makes good sense to go ahead and protect the cart completely while you have the body already removed.
After you have perfected your cart’s redesign, it is time to reattach all the removed hardware. You will be amazed at how great the finished product looks with the original accessories back in place.