Before and after photos of our 1995 Pleasure-Way after buffing, white paint touchup and painting all black surfaces.
So, you’re shopping used Class B campervans and half of the units you find look like molting ducks with the paint coming off. Doesn’t anyone take care of these things?
It wasn’t just campervans. If you watch traffic while driving you’ll see any number of fullsize vans with peeling paint.
No primer, thin paint, bad paint, acid rain, UV damage - there’s no simple easy reason for why the paint doesn’t stay on these vans. There have been Class Action lawsuits and “secret warranties” that have helped many owners to get their vans repainted at no cost.
But 20+ years later? These vans are probably older than half the employees at the local car dealer.
Why Did We Buy a Campervan with Bad Paint?
It begs the question - why did we buy a campervan with bad paint? Wouldn’t it have been easier to keep shopping and buy one in nicer shape?
Yes and no.
A number of reasons led our deciding to buy our 1995 Pleasure-Way - even with the paint issues:
- We had a budget.
- We had a scheduling window that was quickly closing.
- Needs work = lower asking price.
- Under the poor paint the van was actually in great shape.
- By putting sweat equity into the van I can sell it at a profit if we don’t like it.
- Working on old cars was a pre-travel hobby of mine that I missed.
So even though I’m sure some folks wondered why we bought something that looked like a junker, we did the deal.
We didn’t tackle the paint right away. We focused on her mechanicals - getting new tires, new fluids, new battery, etc. Then we sold our fifth wheel, moved into the campervan, and made a big move from Texas to Michigan for the summer.
Once back in Michigan I started the restoration on Sally’s exterior.
How to Fix a Bad Class B Paint Job
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I found five options for how to deal with Sally’s bad paint:
A full repaint with traditional paint
I didn’t get formal estimates but I’ve had cars painted in the past. I knew hiring someone to do a full-on repaint would cost several thousand dollars. I might tackle the work myself, but have neither the equipment or location. Realistically we’d probably have to move out of the van for 2-3 weeks for a paint job.
While we dream of a non-white Sally, a full on repaint wasn’t in our current budget.
A Full Repaint with Bedliner
Mike over at Backroads Vanner painted his van using a truck bedliner product.
It looks great, the costs aren’t bad and it’s DIY-able.
But I’m not a huge fan of the textured finish. I think it would be hard to clean - maybe only doable at a carwash or with a powerwasher. It’s also unclear how the bedliner will hold up. Or how to fix it if it goes bad.
A Full Vinyl Wrap
We could do any number of fun things with a vinyl wrap - from a stealthy plain matte finish to something all artsy-fartsy.
I didn’t get a formal estimate for a full wrap job but searching around I saw costs in the thousands of dollars. Again, not in our budget.
A Full Plasti-Dip Job
Yes, this a thing. People are taking a product designed to make your screwdriver handles more comfortable and applying it to an entire car.
It’s an interesting solution, but with a lot of prep and an unknown life span. If I spend effort redoing the entire exterior on this van I want it to last for years. We’re not going to peel off one color and apply another just because we got bored one weekend.
Recovery of Existing Paint
How about we just buff out the existing good paint on the campervan and touch up the rest with new paint?
Based on our budget and our approach to camper van life as a “experiment”, this made the most sense.
Our goal was a “50/50” paint job - where she looks good at 50MPH or from 50 feet.
An uncle offered the use of his pole barn, buffing wheel, and supplies. Plus - he had RV hookups we could plug into while there.
I had a few things to prep first though.
I removed all the Dodge badging from the sides and rear of the van. I like doing this to cars anyway. Removing the visual noise from a car usually improves how it looks.
In Sally’s case, the badges weren’t in great shape. They would also be a pain to work around for paint buffing and touchup.
I pried them off using a putty knife. I then used this 3M Adhesive Remover to clean up where the badges had been.
Running Board Removal
You’ll note in the photos that I removed the running boards that came on the van. I did this for a few reasons:
- MsBoyink and I are both tall. We didn’t need an additional step into the van. The running boards were in the way more than anything.
- I didn’t like how they looked. They detracted visually from the classic lines of the Dodge van.
- We plan to boondock in rustic sites. I didn’t want to worry about ripping off the running boards accidentally.
- The paint on the running boards was horrible. I would have had to remove, repaint, and reinstall them to keep them.
While removing the running boards I also discovered they were brittle and weak from years in the Florida sun.
With badges and running boards off it was time to tackle the paint.
Buffing Out Campervan Paint
Here’s the thing - I had never used a buffing wheel.
That whole “burn through the paint” thing always scared me into hand-buffing cars.
With this van, though? The paint was so bad I had nothing to lose. Burning through would just add another spot to the dozens I already had to touch up.
Power-buffing it was.
It took three days. Not all day, but most of it. And yes, it’s exhausting work. Especially for an out of shape keyboard jockey nursing a bum knee.
On my Uncle’s recommendation I used this 3M Marine Cleaner and Wax. Ironically, even though it’s a marine product it worked better on the steel portion of Sally’s body than her fiberglass raised roof.
On the fiberglass the buffing wheel kept picking up green pigment from the stripes and putting it into the white gelcoat, turning it all a lovely mint green (not).
I gave up using the buffer on the fiberglass and resorted to plain old rubbing compound, wax, and elbow grease. No, not that kind.
At the seller's house. She had started to clean it - look at the upper rear roofline for an idea of how dirty this rig was.
My formal "before" pictures - all I've done is give it a powerwash.
You can see where I couldn't reach on the roof.
This rear corner was the worst of it - rust leeching and paint flaking.
Getting the buff treatment at my uncle's place.
This is about the only way I get buff.
You can see the difference buffing makes.
MsBoyink helping with a roofline wax job.
After buffing - paint is shiny but rear corner still pretty bad.
Spray-bombing the hood - it was just easier than touching up all the little spots of missing paint.
Front bumper and cowl getting new paint.
Every window frame was faded - a fresh coat of glass black does wonders.
Rear bumper getting a fresh coat of paint.
Inside the rear wheel well was nasty looking.
A quick job with the gloss black makes this area disappear visually.
I burned most of the paint off the fridge door when buffing, so spray-bombed it white again.
After all the paint work and a fresh wash job.
There are still some decals to remove on this side and the propane door needs a bit of love.
The passenger side view is my favorite - all debadged and smooth looking.
That rear trouble spot isn't bad now. You can see where I touched up but it's better than the alternative.
Front end view is lean and mean.
So, her remaining paint at least shines. Now what about all those spots with missing paint? Especally bad were Sally’s:
- Rear corners
- Rear door
- Upper side door windows
- Roofline above the windshield
But realistically? There were bad paint spots all over. Any raised edge and around anything where water drained.
If you are doing a similar project, skip the Autozones and Pep Boys. They have touchup paint but it’s sold in small quantities. I used Autozone’s spray paint product on a past project and wasn’t happy with the results. The paint didn’t adhere well and didn’t even last a few months.
Instead, go pro.
Find the nearest business that supplies auto body and paint shops with their materials. For me it was the Wyrick Company in Zeeland, MI. I took the van there and explained what I was doing.
I hoped they would put their color reader on the paint to get a match, but they wanted to go off the original paint codes. The risk with this approach is if the original paint is faded, the new paint won’t match. I chose to trust their advice. We found the paint codes on a sticker under the hood and they went to work mixing up the paint.
I bought a quart of Montana Big Sky System 12 Acrylic Enamel paint in a Chrysler Bright White.
Professional paint shops like Wyrick can also make rattle cans with the mixed paint. I had them do two.
I bought a variety of brushes - foam, traditional, small artist brushes, and a small roller. I also bought some paint thinner, and blue “painters tape” for masking off edges.
Paint Application - White
Several words come to mind here.
Quick and Dirty.
I wasn’t looking for a fine automotive finish. I just wanted the van to be all one color again.
My only prep was to wash the van and then hit the target spots with some paint thinner.
To apply the paint I mostly used the foam brushes. I didn’t apply the paint using strokes like you normally would do. I dabbed or stippled. On the larger trouble spots like the rear corners I used the small roller brush. I used the small artist brushes for detail work and getting into recesses.
I worked in sections as my schedule, weather, and campground traffic cooperated (I didn’t want to be spray-painting by people vacationing around a campfire).
After I touched up all the spots on Sally’s body I also painted:
- Around the entire van where the steel and fiberglass rooflines meet. The trim in that spot had turned to a nasty looking yellow.
- The yellowed exterior light.
- The wheels where the steel rim shows between hubcap and trim ring.
- The fridge access door (I had burned a lot of the paint off this while buffing).
I left the hood for last. It needed a lot of work. I decided it would be easier and I’d get better results if I removed it and repainted the entire thing.
I first scraped off the Pleasure-Way decal and Dodge badge. Then I sanded the entire hood. I primed it with Rust-Oleum white primer and then painted using the custom-mixed rattle cans. Two cans was just enough.
Paint Application - Black
One way to distract from the bad white paint was to make sure all the non-white parts of the van looked good. I bought a quart of Rust-Oleum Gloss Black and used it on:
- Everything that hangs down below the body line (fresh water tank, gray water tank, etc)
- The rear tire carrier
- The rear hitch
- The front steering stabilizer
- The front grill inserts
- The rear wheelwells
- All exterior window frames
I didn’t want to clean brushes, so continued to use either foam or the cheapest bristle brushes I could buy. Once done for the day I disposed of them along with any used painters tape, paper towels, or newspaper I had used.
The bumper tops are a rubberized plastic, and at first I treated them with Meguiar’s Ultimate Black Plastic Restorer. They looked OK. For a couple of days. Then they’d look streaked and not quite black again.
I decided to paint them. My hope was I could stop having to treat them each time I washed the van. I used two cans of Rust-Oleum Bumper Paint and it was enough to do multiple coats on both the bumpers and the plastic cowl area below the windshield.
I got lazy and didn’t want to chase down all the reciepts for a grand total…
Between the off-the-shelf products, the custom-mixed automotive paint, and various supplies (tape, paint bushes, paint thinner) I’d estimate I spent about $300 on paint supplies.
The bigger cost was time. I’ve done a lot more to the van than just the paint work so it’s hard to estimate how long just the paint took. If I worked at it fulltime with no distractions I’d say it took 10 days.
Factor in weather, client work, family responsibilities, and other van projects getting done at the same time and it’s taken from the beginning of May to the end of August. And I keep seeing little spots I want to touch up or do more on, so it’s not 100% done yet.
The pictures really tell the story.
Up close, yea. It’s a hack paint job on a 22 year old van.
She has the mark of an amateur using the buffing wheel - visible swirls (in the late afternoon sunlight she looks like a rolling version of van Gogh’s Starry Night).
On the touched-up spots? Drips, sags, and brush marks abound.
I’ll have to keep the unused paint on board. Nothing I did improved how the white paint is adhering to the van, so there will be constant touch-ups as new sections of white paint flake off.
From a Distance
But looking at the van from any kind of distance?
It looks like a different van.
I get compliments on it.
Not only did the buffing job get a shine to the paint, it made the white much brighter than my “before” pictures show.
The new paint matches well. It’s not exact, and it hides better being white. If you stand back 20 feet or so you can’t really tell where I’ve touched up.
The spray-bomb job on the hood isn’t as shiny as the original paint, but it’s acceptable. Thankfully it’s a small hood.
The white paint on the rims really sets off the new baby moon hubcaps. It’s like I got new custom wheels at a fraction of the price (and people love the baby moons).
The updated black paint helps the van look fresh. It sets off the original chrome which is all in great shape.
This project was well worth the time it took. We started with a van that might look at home next to an out of business flea market. The result looks clean and well cared for.
We hear stories of RV parks that don’t allow older RVs to stay there. It’s a controversial policy, but we do understand the intent. We hope to not be in private RV parks as much with the van, but we’re hoping that having her present a lot better will help us avoid any potential issues.
Have You Repainted?
If you own one of these old campervans and have dealt with the paint, let me know what you did and how it turned out!
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