Urethane vs. Acrylic Spray Paints: Which Are Better For Off-Road Vehicles?

Utes, 4x4s, and other off-road vehicles are naturally designed to rough and ready, but that doesn't mean they can't also be aesthetically pleasing. A decent paint job can make even the most utilitarian of vehicles look good, and car spray paints are often used by off road enthusiasts to keep their vehicles looking trim.

Using spray paint can be far quicker and easier than other vehicle painting methods, so they're ideal for paint jobs that need frequent renewing and touch-ups as they take damage from bumps and scrapes. However, the kind of spray paint you use can drastically affect the way it performs under harsh off-road conditions, so you should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type before taking the plunge. Two kinds of spray paint are most commonly used on off road vehicles; urethane-based paints and acrylic paints.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using urethane-based paints?

Urethane paints are generally favoured by professional car respraying services, and it's easy to see why:

  • Durability: Put simply, urethane paint can take a thorough beating, and does not chip or scratch easily. It is also reasonably resistant to chemical damage caused by petrol spills and other accidents. The benefits this can have for off road vehicles go without saying.
  • Availability: As an industry standard, urethane paints are widely available, allowing you to shop around extensively for the best deals.
  • Reactivity: Or rather, lack of -- urethane paints do not suffer damaging chemical reactions when sprayed over other paints, and can even be used to cover lacquer paint. Off-roaders painted with unsuitable paints can be easily covered with urethane coats to protect them.
  • Drying time: Urethane paints dry quickly after application, even in humid and/or poorly ventilated conditions.

However, they also come with a number of disadvantages:

  • Toxicity: While urethane paints are easier to apply than acrylic cousins and can be used effectively by amateurs, they are quite toxic. As such, you will need extensive protective equipment (such as goggles and respirators) to apply them safely.
  • Flow problems: Urethane paint comes out of spray cans and guns in larger drops than acrylic paint, which can cause problems with low flow rates and clogging.
  • Use it or lose it: The hardening compounds that allow urethane paints to dry quickly must be added before application, and will cause paint to solidify if it isn't used straight away.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using acrylic paints?

Although they have been largely replaced by urethane paints when it comes to professional painting, acrylic paint has a number of properties that can make them useful for off-road vehicles:

  • Longevity: Although they are not as durable as urethane paints, acrylic paints can last a lot longer before perishing and flaking. This makes them very useful for the off-rad enthusiast who favours the protective aspects of paint over its aesthetic value. If you choose to have acrylic paints professionally applied, they can be 'baked' on to provide even longer life.
  • Ready to go: Acrylic paints do not require mixing or additional compounds, and can be used straight out of the can.
  • Price: Acrylic enamel paints are generally the cheapest spray paints available, allowing for frequent reapplication. Bear in mind, however, that acrylic lacquers can be significantly more expensive.

Like urethane paints, however, they come with a few disadvantages:

  • Difficulty of application: Applying acrylic paints evenly can be difficult for the amateur painter, particularly acrylic lacquers. They also require a clear topcoat to maximise their longevity.
  • Fragility: Acrylic enamel paints generally rival urethane paints for durability, but lacquers can be damaged much more easily. Topcoats and gloss finishes can increase durability.
  • UV damage: Extended exposure to ultraviolet light can cause acrylic paints to fade quickly -- while this doesn't mean you have to keep your off-roading escapades to the winters, you should store your vehicle in a covered area to prevent early perishing.

For more information on car spray painting, talk to a professional.

About Me

Restoring my old beauty

I have a gorgeous old car, but the paint work sure let's you know it's old! Unfortunately my uncle had left it outside for many years and even under a tarp the Australian climate is not friendly to auto paint work. I have been trying to get the paint work back as close as possible to the original condition which is harder than it seems as modern paints have a much different finish and texture to genuine vintage paint jobs. This blog is about how to go about finding vintage paints, and faking vintage finishes with modern paints if you can't!

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