RVs are increasingly becoming a common sight on the roads and out in the wilderness. Like any other vehicle, RVs have also evolved over time both inside and out. Modern camper vans are usually built with aluminum due to the metal’s structural advantages. However, a wide number of fiberglass RVs are still used and sold by many and are becoming a due to their inherent advantages and vintage appeal.
Fiberglass, just like any other material, needs some upkeep to present the best version of itself. A fresh coat of paint is undoubtedly the best way to reinvigorate the tarnished image of any fiberglass RV. Though, painting fiberglass isn’t as straightforward as painting a wall. The process may be a bit daunting, but the end result would certainly delight you and the onlookers as well.
Supplies Needed to Paint an RV
Ensuring the availability of all the painting supplies is the first step in giving your RV’s exterior a good makeover. RVs aren’t painted on a routine basis which is why it is important not to cut corners when purchasing supplies. The following list pretty much mentions all that you will need for the entire paint job:
Items needed for prepping the surface
Products needed for applying paint
RV fiberglass paint. Ensure that the paint you are purchasing has either polyurethane or acrylic or epoxy and has thereby weather-resistant properties. These compounds enhance the paint’s ability to withstand harsh weather and allow it to adhere to the surface more strongly. There are three varieties available: matt, gloss, and high gloss. All three work well so you can choose any one based on personal preference.
For final touches, you will need
Cost of the Project
Getting your RV painted from a professional garage can be a bit too expensive for many which is why it’s no wonder that many RV owners prefer to paint their motor home all by themselves. If you insist on getting your camper van painted by pros, then expect to pay around $1,000-$18,000 for a compact to full-sized RV. The hefty price can be explained by the fact that several hours are required to do a good job and professionals charge at a per-hour basis that often exceeds $50/hour.
Fortunately, you can cut the cost considerably (almost 30-40%) by opting to paint the RV by yourself. Painting your stuff provides unique satisfaction and experience which, ultimately also saves a sizable amount of money.
Some Vital Pre-requisites
Once you have collected all that is needed for the paint job, the next thing is to park your RV in a shaded area. Ensure that the parking spot is well-ventilated and free from any pollutants or bugs since they have an adverse effect on the final finishing of a paint job. Use the face mask to cover your face as the fine dust particles can penetrate the lungs and cause allergy. Also, don’t forget to use gloves as paint, acetone, and primer are all made up of toxic chemicals. Direct exposure to these chemicals can cause irritation and their pungent odor sticks to the hands for quite some time if not used with gloves.
Since we have divided the supplies according to the three divisions of the paint job, therefore, we will begin by explaining the procedure in the same three tiers:
Preparing the RV’s Surface
Start by cleansing the exterior of the RV with a soap/detergent solution. Use the sponge wherever necessary to get rid of the grime, stubborn mud, and bird droppings. Take your time to get rid of all the impurities that may result in a botched paint job. Use a power washer with a high-pressure nozzle to work around tough stains, otherwise rubbing the sponge repeatedly would also work. Utilize the ladder to reach the upper areas. It may take you a while to clean the roof as it doesn’t get regular attention and thus the dust tends to stick to the roof more strongly.
Once the exterior is fully cleaned, let it dry for a while. Afterward, proceed to the next step but ensure that the surface is fully dry.
Roughing up the Surface
The next step involves roughing up the old paint surface. This is done so that the paint and primer adhere to the surface more strongly. To make a good adhering surface for the primer and the paint, start with the combination of a palm sander (a powered sander would work better) and fine-grit wet sandpaper (220-400 grit sandpaper). Repair any visible dents with a fiberglass repair kit if you find any during the process. Allow the patched surfaces to heal for 12-24 hours.
Giving the Surface a good wipe
The sanding process itself is relatively straightforward so it shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half to finish. Just make sure that you aren’t excessively sanding the surfaces. Wipe off the entire exterior using denatured alcohol and an old rag or cotton cloth to get rid of any residue. Regular alcohol isn’t as good as denatured alcohol when it comes to removing greasy grime, wax, or fine particles, so it would be better to use denatured alcohol.
Cover the lights, handles, windshield, windows, and trims with paper and tape to avoid paint contact.
Paint Gun or a Paint Brush?
Now that all the prior steps have been taken care of, it’s time to deal with the painting. Many people and painters now use a paint gun since it is more precise and uses less paint. Moreover, it is less time-consuming than carefully applying each stroke of paint using a paintbrush. You can rent a paint gun if you don’t have one or you can also use your pressure washer as a paint sprayer by simply modifying it a bit.
Applying the Primer
Whatever method you choose, start by applying the primer. Many choose to skip this step but in order to achieve the best possible results, we recommend you don’t skip this process. Needless to say, aiming for a uniform primer finish should be your utmost priority. To better accomplish this, divide the exterior into small horizontal or vertical sections. Shift to the next section when you are done with one section. Let the primer dry for as many hours as the manufacturer recommends before applying the paint.
Performing the Task Itself – Painting the RV
Clean your paint sprayer with acetone to get rid of residual primer. Fill in the paint in the sprayer holder and start by applying even strokes of paint just as you applied the primer. For better results, we recommend that you start with the front and gradually move sidewards. This way you will be better able to keep track of progress. Once done, let the paint dry for a day in a non-humid environment. Since painting a camper van isn’t something we do frequently, therefore, we suggest applying a second coat after the first coat has dried completely. Doing so will strengthen the first coat and ensure the longevity of the overall paint job.
Before moving on to the next step, inspect the RV carefully. Fix the uneven surfaces by gently rubbing with fine-grit sandpaper and re-applying paint. Also, apply paint on surfaces that have been accidentally skipped over.
Wax it Up!
The final step is to apply a coat of wax. Use a cotton cloth or a wax applicator in a circular motion for this purpose. The coat acts as a protector for the paint and enhances the gloss. Once done with waxing, remove all the tapes and paper from the covered areas. Your revamped RV is now ready to take on any adventure you want to put it through!
The best way to determine if your RV is made of fiberglass is to consult the owner’s manual or ask a representative from the dealership or manufacturer. If you cannot find this information, you can also look for RVs that have “FRP” (fiberglass-reinforced plastic) or “GRP” (glass-reinforced plastic) listed in the materials used on their website.
You will need to use a special type of paint called gelcoat, which is designed specifically for painting fiberglass surfaces. Gelcoat comes in a variety of colors, so you can choose the perfect shade for your RV.
Before you start painting, it is important to clean the surface of the RV and remove any dirt, grime, or other debris. You should also sand the RV to create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.
Once the surface is prepared, you can begin applying the gelcoat paint to the RV. It is important to follow the instructions on the paint can carefully in order to achieve the best results.
When painting fiberglass, it is important to work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective clothing, such as gloves and a respirator mask. You should also avoid painting in direct sunlight, as this can cause the gelcoat to dry too quickly and result in a poor finish. If possible, try to paint when the temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.