Giving your campervan a DIY paint job

Guest blogger Laura Jerome shares how she and partner Lloyd gave the outside of their campervan a DIY paint job for a fraction of the cost of a professional respray!

“Coddiwomple” the DIY painted campervan!

When Lloyd and I were looking for a van to convert into our tiny home on wheels, our choices were surprisingly limited. After a few months of searching for the right one within our budget, and coming up with nothing, we put a post on our local Facebook page asking if anybody had one they were selling. Amazingly, within minutes we had a Toll delivery van. It was perfect in every way, except the colour. We weren’t mad on the bright turquoise blue that Toll use. However, it wasn’t a deal breaker, we just thought we’d get it resprayed or wrapped – no problem.

The original colour

The decision to do a DIY paint job

As our campervan conversion went on we realised there wouldn’t be anything like enough left in the budget for a paint job, or to have it wrapped. We did get some quotes, but we simply didn’t have the money. However, we had a vision right of what our van “Coddiwomple” would look like and we didn’t want to give up on that dream.

I researched painting him ourselves and found loads of information from the UK. Someone had painted their van with paint that the army use and it looked amazing, but I couldn’t get that paint here in New Zealand. I also watched lots of videos on how to respray a vehicle but that was far too advanced for us. So, I decided to change the search parameters and rather than look to see what other people had done, look at the paint available in New Zealand and work from there.

Finding the right paint

We have a local Resene which I’ve used a lot – I loved repainting our house and old furniture, so I wasn’t a newcomer to painting with brushes and rollers, I’d just never done a vehicle! I looked into what paints they stocked that might work for a van and that could be brushed or rolled on. Neither of us wanted to learn how to use a sprayer. We were already way out of our comfort zone with our build!

I found the Uracryl range. It comes in gloss, semi-gloss and low sheen. Now, call us odd, but we wanted the low sheen finish. It’s incredibly durable and keeps it’s colour well. In the real world it can be used to paint bridges – but had anyone ever used it to paint a van? Resene didn’t know! But the tech guys there were
amazing and went into great detail with me on how to use it. We decided to go for it! (I should mention, there are other suitable paints available in NZ, but I personally liked this one). Then we had to decide on a colour. We did a few tests on the inside back door – let all our friends tell us which ones they liked best – and then ignored them and went for Resene Armadillo!

Preparing for the paint work

If you are going to paint your van yourself there is a LOT of prep to do. If you have any rust you’ll need to remove it or have it repaired. We were lucky Coddi only had a few teeny specks of rust which were easily sanded out and protected with Hammerite. The paintwork was also in really good condition. Next, it was the mammoth job of sanding the whole van. It just needs a light sand, with fine sandpaper to get a key. This took us a couple of days-ish.

After completing the sanding, we jet-washed Coddi to remove all the paint dust. Then we drove him over to friends who have a large shed they’d been kind enough to lend us. Now, I’m sure you could paint outside on a nice, wind free day, but I’d recommend doing it inside if you can. We had to let Coddi’s tyres down to get through the shed door! But even once we were happily inside there was more work before we could start to paint. We degreased the whole exterior with white spirit and then masked everything off. It literally took hours, and it’s really fiddly and boring.

For the painting, you will need…

…the paint and the hardener, the finest roller sleeves (we went through about 10), small brushes for tiny areas, masking tape, pots to mix up the paint in, white spirit for cleaning. And painkillers for your back, because by the time you finish, you will be exhausted and really sore!

Our van is a Mercedes LWB high roof Sprinter. For 2 coats we worked out we’d need 8 litres. We could always buy extra. As it turned out the paint covered amazingly. We used about 5 litres for 2 coats all over except only one coat on the roof.

We used measuring jugs for mixing because they have markings down the side and this made it simpler. And we used a kitchen hand mixer bought especially, that we binned afterwards. The Uracryl range has two components – the paint and the hardener. These are mixed together, as per instructions, and then you only have a certain amount of time to use it before it goes hard. The days we did our painting were really HOT, and really humid so I didn’t just add all the hardener to the whole paint pot. I was worried it would start to harden before we’d finished the pot, hence the measuring jugs to mix smaller quantities.

The technique for a good finish

This paint isn’t like emulsion that you can roll on then change direction and roll again. If you paint it like this you will be left with very noticeable lines (we have a bit of one side that is less than perfect – that’s the one that hubby did!*) You really just need to roll on and maybe a roll off and that’s it. And it covers beautifully. Now, even though neither Lloyd nor have a head for heights, we thought we’d be able to do the roof… but we were wrong! Lloyd tried – while I stayed firmly on the ground – but thankfully a very good friend dropped everything and came and painted it for us. If he hadn’t, there’s every chance it would still be bright turquoise!

At the end of the first, very long, day we’d managed to get one coat on and were shattered. But really happy with how it looked. We headed back the next morning to do the second coat which went on much faster because all the hard work had been done. We reckon it took about 5 hours. The third morning we went back and removed all the masking tape and saw him for the first time – finished and dry. Yes, there were bits to touch up. Truth be told, there are still some bits of turquoise that catch our eye every so often but we are delighted. We think Coddi looks amazing.

Finishing touches and road-testing

Over the course of the rest of the build I touched up wee bits we’d missed and also painted the inside cab doors and the inside of the back doors. Interestingly, I didn’t sand these at all. I just painted directly over the paint that was there already. I did these bits with a paint brush – the finish is definitely better with a roller – but they are holding up just as well.

Is it perfect – hell no! But we did it ourselves. Has it worked – absolutely yes! It’s been many months since our DIY paint job and it’s been well and truly tested! It’s lived through a 4 month full-time trip to the South Island (in the depths of winter with sub-zero temperatures), been driven through trees, mud and gravel… and survived a super hot Northland summer. There is not a chip, not a scratch. It really is bullet proof! It looks exactly the same as it did when we put it on. We haven’t even washed him!

Coddi even looks good dirty 😀

So how much did the DIY paint job cost?

$400 for the paint, and about $100 for brushes, rollers, cleaning stuff, ibuprofen, plastic sheeting, masking tape. $20 for a rubbish hand mixer! So all up about $520.

Time-wise, roughly 2 days for sanding, prep and cleaning. Two (hard) days of painting (including masking) Then a morning to remove masking tape etc.

Does it look like a professional glossy respray? No. Does it look amazing? To us, yes! It’s exactly what we wanted. Some teenagers told us Coddi was, and I quote, “Totally Gangsta” – and it made our day! Would we do it again? Absolutely yes… but only if we had to!

*Lloyd added that bit in himself – I diplomatically left it out!

Port Tarakohe – Golden Bay

Well done to Laura and Lloyd for taking DIY to a whole new level! If you want to learn more about Coddiwomple and his travels with Laura, Lloyd and their adorable pup Bean, check out their blog. And for more vanlife reads from us check out our other blogs here.