Painting Brake Calipers

This DIY article explains how to paint your brake calipers and achieve a professional, durable finish.

My best advice is to take your time.  I spent most of a day doing mine, but it doesn't have to take that long.  I did one side (front & rear) at a time since I didn't feel comfortable taking my car completely off the ground with the equipment I have.  Having the car tip off of the jackstands and land on the underbody would be a Very Bad Thing™.  But if you have access to the right equipment and can get to all four calipers at once, you can shave a lot of time off.  That way, you can just rotate around the car.  By the time you get done with the fourth caliper, the first will be ready for another coat.

Let's get on with the DIY, shall we?

Tools and Materials needed
  1. paint - either high temperature caliper spray paint such as VHT ($6) or epoxy brush-on paint ($40) such as G2
  2. jack and jack stands
  3. brake cleaner (cleaning solvent) in a pressurized spray can
  4. wire brush (brass, preferably); a rotary tool with a wire brush attachment may also come in handy for tight spots
  5. masking tape and newspaper
  6. small paint brush - 1/2" to 1" wide (13 - 25mm)

Choosing the color
The color is up to you.  Strictly a matter of personal preference.  The most common colors are probably red, yellow, black, and blue.  Here's my opinion of each color:

Getting the car off the ground
Before jacking up the car, use the lug wrench to break the lug nuts loose 1/2 turn.  Set the parking brake and jack up one side of the car so that both wheels come off the ground.  Find sturdy spots on the frame for the jack stands.  Put one toward the front of the car and another toward the rear, then slowly lower the jack until most of the weight is borne by the jack stands.  It's a good idea to shock the wheels on the opposite side of the car with something like bricks or cross-ties to be extra sure the car can't roll off the jack or jack stands.  Now finish removing the lug nuts, pull off the wheels and set them aside.

Surface preparation

Start by scrubbing the calipers with the wire brush dipped in gasoline, mineral spirits, or some other solvent.  If you notice any stubborn spots, especially in tight spots where the brush won't reach, use some sandpaper wrapped around your finger to scrub it clean.  Then follow up with some spray brake parts cleaner.  It's a fast-drying solvent under high pressure that blasts away any latent debris and leaves the surface ready to paint.

I can't overemphasize the importance of surface preparation.  I'm convinced that's why mine have held up so well.  If there's the slightest bit of oil or debris left behind, the paint will be much more prone to chipping and peeling.  You want to start with immaculately clean calipers. 

Finally, use masking tape and newspaper (small plastic grocery bags work great too) to mask off the rotors, brake lines, etc...anything you don't want painted.  You can do spot cleanup with acetone or fingernail polish remover.  Any overspray that gets on the friction part of the rotors will burn off the first time you use the brakes.

I used red Plasti-Kote 900°F caliper spray paint.  I know some people swear by the more expensive epoxy paint, but mine are holding up extremely well.  When they're clean, they look just as beautiful as the day I painted them.

Begin with about four (4) coats using the small paint brush.  As needed, spray some paint into a plastic cup, dip the brush into it and begin painting.  I know it sounds funny to brush on spray paint, but it helps get into the hard-to-reach spots.  Coverage won't be very good at this point, but that's okay.

Now put on about six (6) light coats with the spray can.  The biggest mistake you could make at this point is to go too heavy with it and get a paint run.  Don't get ahead of yourself and try to get full coverage right away.  A run is a big waste of time.  It takes a long time to dry enough to sand it down, or if you jump the gun and try to wipe it up while it's still wet, it makes a mess of the surrounding paint.  Keep applying light coats until you are pleased with the coverage.  Use care and make the last coat a little heavier to smooth out the finish.

The rule of thumb is 15 minutes between coats, but it may take more or less depending on the temperature and humidity.  To check, very carefully touch the surface in an inconspicuous area.  If it is tacky, wait a little longer.  Just don't touch it too hard or in a spot that is readily visible or you might leave a fingerprint.  If you're within the paint manufacturer's recommended temperature and humidity and it's taking much longer than 15 minutes, you're probably applying too much.

If it is below 70°F while you're trying to paint, a helpful trick is to soak the spray can in a bucket of hot water.  Doing so will allow the paint to atomize into smaller particles and give more uniform coverage.

The combination of brush and spray work really well.  The brush gets into the spots that can't be reached with the spray, and putting on the finish coats with the spray gives it a nice smooth finish that looks like it was professionally powder coated.

It may be hard to resist, but it's recommended that you not drive the car for 24 hours in order to allow the paint to properly cure and harden.  You worked hard to do a good job, so don't chance it.  Sit back and admire your work.

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Written by Jason M. Neal - Revised Sept 13, 2004
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