Best Engine Enamel Paints: Overhaul Your Engine’s Look
Enamel paint can take your engine from boring to exciting in just a few coats
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PUBLISHED ON June 27, 2019
Engine enamel paints have two main purposes: to keep rust out and to make your engine look good. Most automotive engines feature a nice luster when new, but that shine can dull over time as the car is used. You can restore your engine’s ability to withstand the elements and its overall look by painting your engine block. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the best engine enamel paint for your needs.
- Best OverallRust-Oleum Heat Protective EnamelSummarySummaryOne of the best engine paints on the market, this Rust-Oleum product features a great formulation that’s easy to apply.ProsProsSuper high heat resistance at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit makes this suitable to lots of different applications. Restorative and protective formula.ConsConsThe formulation is on the thinner side, so you’ll need to add a couple of coats for the best finish.
- Best ValueDupli-Color Ceramic Gloss Black Engine PaintSummarySummaryA color painting that features something for everyone, our best value pick combines a great price point with an easy-to-apply formulation.ProsProsRated to withstand 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Usable on a variety of metal and non-metal surfaces. Cures quickly with applied heat and contains ceramic resins.ConsConsThe formula tends to buckle and wrinkle when too thick or too many coats are applied/
- Honorable MentionVHT Engine Enamel Gloss BlackSummarySummaryThe OG VHT paint that started the enamel engine painting trend, this VHT product is available in 31 vibrant colors.ProsProsSuper durable formula with improved heat and chemical resistance. Rated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit when cured properly. Helps prevent corrosion.ConsConsThe cap and nozzle weren’t up to our standards, as both are a little fragile, making the application more difficult than it needs to be.
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Benefits of Engine Enamel Paint
- Customize your engine. Engine enamel paint gives you the opportunity to choose your engine color. If you always wanted a bit more flash under your hood, enamel paint is the perfect option.
- Protect against rust. A properly prepped and the painted engine has an increased ability to resist rust. That’s great news if you live in a humid or otherwise wet climate, where rust is common.
- Aesthetics. Not only do you get a chance to customize the color of your engine block, you can also choose the finish. Most enamel paints dry to a glossy look, which catches the eye, but matte formulations are also available.
- Resale value. That extra wow factor under your car’s hood can really impact its resale value. If you’re thinking of trading in your car down the line, then painting the engine an eye-catching color is a good option for upping the value.
Originally made only for professional drag racers to decrease air resistance, VHT is now sold in a number of colored formulations for automotive use. The company has been around for more than 50 years, so you know you can trust the formulation. A bestseller is its Engine Enamel Black.
Founded in 1921 in Evanston, Ill., Rust-Oleum is a leading manufacturer of protective paints and coatings for home and automotive use. Its formulas are known for their excellent anti-rust properties, making its Heat Protective Enamel a favorite.
One of the leading manufacturers of DIY automotive paints, Dupli-Color has been around since 1938. A favorite among automotive enthusiasts, its formulations are easy to use and provide long-lasting results. Top products include the Ceramic Gloss Black Engine Paint and the green Engine Enamel with Ceramic.
Engine Enamel Paint Pricing
- Under $10: You can find a few goods, quality options in this price range that will get the job done. Most come in a spray can for easy application, but the package size will be smaller, so you’ll likely need more than one can.
- $10-$20: The mid-range is home to a couple of good options, so you’ll definitely find something to suit your needs and tastes. Spray applicator cans and regular paint cans are available, as are a large array of different colors.
- Over $20: If you’re looking to get fancy, this is the price range for you. Paints at this price point often include ceramic that add an extra smooth finish and even more heat and element resistance. Just keep in mind that you don’t need to spend this much to get a great product.
A number of engine paints come in a spray bottle for easy application, while others come in regular paint cans and need to be brushed on. You also have the option of filling the engine enamel paint into a sprayer so that either formula can be applied in this manner. We like the cost-effectiveness of the spray paint.
Most enamel paints are pretty similar in terms of their base ingredients. Where things start to differ between brands is in the additives. Depending on the color you choose, some brands contain additional stabilizers to ensure that the color comes out mixed correctly. In addition to that, some also feature more heat-stable ingredients to up the heat resistance factor.
Most enamel paints are rated heat-safe of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Some products take that a lot higher, sometimes up to 2,000 degrees. Keep in mind that your average engine will not produce temperatures even nearing that range, so the extra heat resistance isn’t necessary. If you want your product to double up for other purposes though, like coloring your fire pit or grill, then the extra heat resistance can be a good thing.
- Quality: This is an important factor to consider, especially when looking at more inexpensive paint options. Good quality paint will adhere well and cure properly to avoid flaking. Cheaper options don’t necessarily match up to that standard.
- Packaging Size: Spray can typically don’t contain all that much paint, so the paint can be the way to go if you’ve got lots of surface area to cover. This is especially important if you’re using colored paint, as it will require a couple of coats to really look good.
- Finish: Most enamel paints will dry to a glossy finish, but there are a few matte options on the market. These tend to be a little pricier, as the formulations need to be adjusted to change the typical glossy finish to a matte one.
- Kits: If you want to do things properly, you will need a primer and a top coat. There are lots of enamel paint options that come in kits to include all the essentials.
Best Engine Enamel Paint Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Rust-Oleum Heat Protective Enamel
A favorite of automotive enthusiasts and backyard BBQ-ers alike, this Rust-Oleum enamel paint is suitable for use on grills, wood-burning stoves, engines, radiators, and other metal items. The finish is a rich satin black that resists up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, and the formula itself is restorative and protective, preventing paint chipping and flaking.
The paint is very easy to apply, and the fast-drying formula cuts down on drying time. Superior durability and color retention are two more factors that set it off from competitors as well as the paint’s suitability to indoor and outdoor use. Rust-Oleum protects against rust and corrosion as well, so your engine will benefit from increased longevity overall. A quick note about the packaging: the paint comes in a one-quart paint can, giving you lots to work with.
The one downside we found to the formulation is that it is on the thinner side. That translates to more coats overall, and more work time. However, the paint longevity is hard to bear, making it worth the little bit of extra initial effort in painting your engine from top to bottom.
Best Value: Dupli-Color Ceramic Gloss Black Engine Paint
Available in a staggering 28 colors, this Dupli-Color Ceramic Gloss Engine Paint is tough to beat in terms of value. The formulation resists temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for most engine applications. In terms of finish, this one is high gloss thanks to the durable ceramic formulation. An EZ touch nozzle makes the spray application a breeze and the quick-dry formula will cure just in time for your next joy ride.
Since this is enamel paint, you can also use it to cover other metal surfaces, which makes it a great workhorse. For the best final result, make sure that you give the paint a bit of heat to cure properly. On an engine, that’s easy to do -- just drive around for a bit when the paint has mostly dried. On other applications, you’ll want to blast the paint with a heat gun.
Although this is a great product for the price, it’s important to keep in mind that the formulation doesn’t quite hold up to higher quality products. For instance, this formula has a tendency to wrinkle a bit if you apply additional coats more than an hour after the last one.
Honorable Mention: VHT Engine Enamel Gloss Black
The original product that started the engine enamel paint trend, this VHT engine enamel gloss comes in 31 different colors, ensuring that you’ll find one to match your tastes. The formulation is overall very durable, offering superior heat and chemical resistance. It also withstands temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit when cured properly. This paint works best when it’s used in conjunction with a primer and a top coat to seal everything up.
The formulation itself is also super easy to apply and requires only a few coats to look its best. It can be used to cover up spots that are starting to corrode, but keep in mind that it’s always best to try to clean out the surface as best as possible before applying another product over top. This will help prevent further corrosion and peeling of the fresh paint. An important note about this product is that the paint has to properly cared for so that the finish lasts.
We weren’t big fans of the fragile cap and nozzle combo that made applying the paint a little more difficult than it needs to be. The formulation is also a bit sensitive to separation, so make sure you shake the can well before every use. Other than that, the performance of this paint definitely makes it worthy of honorable mention status.
- Before applying the paint, make sure to wipe down the engine to remove loose particles and dirt. We recommend sanding the engine thoroughly to remove old paint and debris.
- Start with a high heat engine enamel for maximum corrosion resistance and uniformity of the top coat color.
- If you’re using a spray applicator, use long, sweeping motions to apply the paint without it running. Apply two coats for the best finish.
- You can top your work with a clear coat to seal everything in and keep the paint looking fresh for a long time.
- Don’t forget to wear a mask when applying paint and only work in well-ventilated areas. This will help to protect your lungs from the more harmful particles contained in the paint.
Q: Can I apply enamel paint to a warm engine?
A: Although enamel paint is rated to withstand the high temperatures associated with running a car engine, you never want to apply the paint on a warm engine. Make sure to let the engine cool completely before starting the application process to ensure safe working conditions and a great final result.
Q: Do I really need to use a primer and top coat?
A: Yes and no. It really depends on the look you’re going for and the durability you’re seeking. If you want your paintwork to last, we recommend using at least a top coat and properly prepping the area beforehand. The longevity is increased even further if you also use an engine primer.
Q: What temperature ranges can enamel paint withstand?
A: Enamel paint is designed to withstand the extreme temperature fluctuations surrounding an engine, and is usually rated to at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit, if not more. In most use cases, however, you really don’t need an extremely high-temperature rating, although it can be a sign for the quality of the product.
Q: Do I have to wait for enamel paint to dry completely before using my car?
A: The short answer is yes. You want the paint to get a chance to cure properly so that the finish and durability are optimized. If you want to make your paint dry quicker, leave the car in a well-ventilated area that’s low in humidity and make sure you’re applying thin, even coats to begin with. Then, once the paint is mostly dry, take your car for a drive to heat up the engine and finish the curing process.
Q: Can I use engine enamel paint for adding color to my brake calipers?
A: Absolutely! Engine enamel paint is one of the best options for coloring brake calipers, thanks to its superior durability. Just make sure you regularly use a degreaser to clean up the brake dust to maintain that high gloss finish.
Our top pick is the Rust-Oleum Heat Protective Enamel. It’s one of the most heat-resistant products on the market and features a great formulation with a rare satin finish.
If you’re looking to keep a bit more cash in your wallet, check out our best value option, the Dupli-Color Ceramic Gloss Black Engine Paint. It works well and is available in a wide range of colors to suit your tastes.