A high quality engine paint job can greatly enhance the appearance and presentation of a vehicle’s engine. Because of this, most show car owners will gladly spring for a custom paint job for their engine blocks in order to take their vehicle to the next level with the additional WOW factor that completes their overall presentation. Although the painting of engines is generally done mostly for aesthetic purposes, there are also a few practical purposes for which one might consider painting an engine and its components. For example, for engine blocks that are made of cast iron, applying an engine paint can help to prevent against the formation of rust, and certain colors may even provide additional benefits regardless of the metal of which the engine block is made. Using darker colors, especially black, can help to provide for better heat dissipation, which allows an engine to cool off much more quickly after being powered off. Some people have used lighter colors such as white as a means for being able to easily identify and locate leaks when they occur. This is clearly beneficial toward being able to quickly address problems as they arise, and before they potentially become worse.
Regardless of what one’s motivation to paint an engine may be, anybody who is considering painting an engine needs to make sure to use the proper type of paint. Not every paint is suitable to withstand the extreme operating conditions and high temperatures generated by engines. Other environmental factors such as salt, rust, corrosion, and automotive chemicals and fluids also make most types of paints a poor choice for use on engines. In consideration of all this, I have compiled this review of the best engine paints in order to help you determine the paint or paints that are best suited to your specific needs. For a quick overview of the products I will be reviewing, please see the comparison table located directly below the “Preparation and Safety” section. For more specific details, please read my full review of each individual product below the table.
Preparation and Safety
Prior to beginning my review of the 5 best engine paints available, I want to make sure that everybody understands the utmost importance of properly preparing engine blocks and engine parts for painting. Never skip the prep work! Jumping straight into the painting step would be a huge mistake that produces disastrous results, as well as wasted time and money. After all, nobody wants to have to redo the work.
Before beginning, take into consideration that engines can be painted either while fully assembled or while broken down. For those of us who are mechanically inclined, the best results may come from breaking the engine down completely, which allows for precision application of the paints, and also aids in allowing paints to completely dry and cure properly. For most people though, in consideration of time constraints, painting engines while assembled is perfectly fine, and probably much more feasible, at least if completing the work themselves as opposed to outsourcing the job.
The very first step to take is to clean the engine, as painting over built-up grease, dirt, and peeling paint will not allow the new paint application to properly adhere. Use a quality degreaser to thoroughly remove built up grease and dirt. To achieve the best results, it is also best to remove all old paint that remains. Use a paint thinner for this purpose; however, at the very minimum, loose and peeling paint should be completely removed. Note: be careful to avoid mixing chemicals! Make sure the engine is completely dry prior to applying a different chemical. Be cautious!
Once the engine is clean and dry, it is ready for painting. Some gearheads recommend beginning with a primer, such as a rust encapsulating primer, for better, longer lasting results. Others, such as this engine painting tutorial from NAPA, advise skipping the primer (at least for the engine block itself) in order to minimize the overall thickness of the paint. Engines use porous metals such as cast iron or cast aluminum, so engine paints can easily stick to these materials without requiring a primer first. Anybody that is inexperienced with painting engines should conduct thorough research into proper techniques before beginning a project.
Painting conditions should also be considered prior to applying the engine paint. Typically, engine paints should be applied when the outdoor temperature is between 50 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity rating below 85% to ensure that the paint dries and cures properly. Specific temperature and humidity ratings may vary by manufacturer due to differences in formulas, so always refer to the manufacturer recommendations. It is also good practice to be aware of environmental factors such as wind and dust, as these can negatively impact the results. Be sure to cover any surrounding area and items that should be protected from paint mist.
Lastly, keep in mind that paint fumes may be harmful if inhaled. Always make sure to apply paints in a well-ventilated area, and for maximum protection use a respirator with charcoal packs. It is also advisable to protect your skin against any chemicals used during the cleaning steps, and from the paint itself. Minimizing skin exposure with long sleeved work clothing is good practice, as is wearing protective gloves.
1. Rust-Oleum Engine Enamel: Best Value Enamel
This is a durable engine enamel offering from Rust-Oleum that brightens engines with a smooth and glossy finish. Rust-Oleum engine enamel is formulated to withstand intermittent high temperatures (up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit), and to resist other environmental factors such as oil, gas, grease, rust, salt, humidity, and solvents. Rust-Oleum engine enamels are by far the least expensive products included in this review. The Rust-Oleum brand has been around since 1921, lending 97 years of experience and credibility to their products.
Rust-Oleum engine enamel is available in an assortment of 15 different colors, including exact color matches for some popular Chevy, Ford, Dodge, and Chrysler colors. See the table above for a full list of available colors.
2. POR-15 Engine Enamel: Best Surface Area Coverage Enamel
Formualated by RestoMotive Laboratories, POR-15 engine enamels contain extra pigment in order to obtain incredibly rich colors that easily flow and provide better, longer lasting coverage for engines. Plus, these paints are non-flammable and conform to the strictest environmental standards, such as those regulated under California law. POR-15 engine enamel holds up against high temperatures up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Although this is the most expensive engine enamel on this list, the POR-15 product also goes further than the competition in regards to the surface area it can cover. Per the POR-15 company website, a pint is typically enough paint for an entire engine. As such, most POR-15 colors are sold in pints (only Chevy Orange and Black are available in quarts).
POR-15 engine enamel is available in 20 different colors, including exact color matches for some popular Chevy, Cadillac, Buick, Ford, Chrysler, Jeep, AMC, MG, and Austin Healey colors. See the table above for a full list of available colors.
3. VHT Engine Enamel: Best Durability and Heat Resistance Enamel
VHT engine enamels boast outstanding durability, providing superior resistance to both high heat and common automotive chemicals. The very name VHT is an acronym meaning “Very High Temperature,” and the VHT engine enamels live up that name with the ability to withstand high temperatures up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. VHT engine enamels are also formulated to stand up against environmental factors such as corrosion, rust, salt, chemicals, degreasers, and gasoline additives. Per the VHT company website, these products utilize a unique blend of urethane and ceramic resins in order to ensure a long lasting finish under the most extreme conditions an engine may encounter.
VHT engine enamel is available in 29 different colors, including exact color matches for some popular Chevy, Pontiac, GM, Ford, and Chrysler colors. See the table above for a full list of available colors.
4. PlastiKote Engine Enamel: Best Versatility Enamel
PlastiKote offers versatility beyond engines, and can be used on metal or wood, for projects suited toward indoor or outdoor purposes. So, for projects that utilize components of varying materials that require the same colors, this line of engine enamels should be taken into consideration. PlastiKote engine enamels can withstand repeated exposure to temperatures up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and will not weaken, crack, lift, or peel.
PlastiKote engine enamel is available in 25 different colors, including exact color matches for some popular Chevy, Pontiac, GM, Ford, Cummins, and Chrysler colors. See the table above for a full list of available colors.
5. Dupli-Color Engine Enamel with Ceramic: Best Heat Dissipating Enamel
Ceramic resins contained in Duplicolor’s engine enamel formula allow for maximum heat dissipation and retention of the gloss finish. The resins allow for protection from exposure to temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit as well as protection from exposure to automotive fluids. Highly durable, this engine enamel will not blister, flake, crack, or peel, making it a popular choice among a range of automotive enthusiasts.
Dupli-Color engine enamel is available in 25 different colors, including exact color matches for some popular Chevy, Pontiac, GM, Ford, Cummins, Dodge, and Chrysler colors. See the table above for a full list of available colors.
Any of the products in my review can produce outstanding, beautiful results. The key considerations are temperature resistance (engines subjected to extreme conditions such as racing require paints that can withstand higher temperatures), environmental factors (engine paints that will be subjected to winter conditions should be able to hold up against salt spray), and color selection (if a specific OEM color is required, options may be more limited. Regardless of the paint selected, always be sure to prepare the engine and engine parts properly prior to painting in order to avoid the need to repeat the process. Thanks for reading my review of engine paints. Happy painting!