Painting a Galvanized Trailer

Galvanized trailers are commonplace. The galvanized coating protects the metal trailer from corrosion and rust. However, even galvanized coatings require maintenance over time. Exposure to the elements causes the galvanized finish to deteriorate, leaving the metal vulnerable.

Painting a Galvanized Trailer

Painting a galvanized trailer not only gives it a fresh new look but adds further protection. With proper surface prep and the right paints, you can give your old galvanized trailer new life with a custom color makeover.

Can You Paint a Galvanized Trailer?

The short answer is yes, you can paint a galvanized trailer. However, there are some important steps to follow for success.

Galvanized metal has a very smooth, almost waxy surface that paint does not adhere to well without proper preparation. Additionally, some types of paint are incompatible with galvanized coatings.

By following a few key preparation steps, nearly any galvanized trailer can be painted to look amazing. The key is using the right techniques and paint products formulated for galvanized metal.

How to Prepare a Galvanized Trailer for Painting

Proper surface preparation is crucial for the paint to adhere correctly to galvanized metal. Here are the recommended steps:

Clean the Surface

The first step is to clean the trailer thoroughly. Wash it with a degreasing agent like Dawn dish soap or a purpose-made degreaser like Purple Power to remove any oils, road grime or surface contaminants.

A pressure washer is ideal for this if available. Pay close attention to any oily areas around lights, under the fenders and hitch.

Completely remove any flaking or peeling existing paint with a wire brush or scraper. Rinse the metal well and let it fully dry.

Scuff Up the Surface

After degreasing, use 220-400 grit sandpaper or a red Scotch-Brite pad to scuff and scratch the surface lightly. This helps “tooth” for the primer and paint to grip. Focus on any remaining glossy areas.

Be careful not to remove the galvanized coating. The goal is to rough up the super smooth surface, not remove the zinc layer.

Spot Prime Bare Metal Areas

Use a brush to spot prime any areas of bare metal or rust spots with a zinc-rich galvanizing primer. This helps protect areas where the galvanized layer is compromised.

Rustoleum and Zinsser make galvanizing primers ideal for this step. Allow the primer to fully dry.

Apply Galvanized Metal Primer

Next, apply a full primer coat made specifically for galvanized metal. Quality acrylic or epoxy primers work well for maximum paint adhesion.

Rustoleum Professional, Krylon and Zinsser all make good water-based primers for galvanized trailers. Roll or spray apply a even coat over the entire trailer and let fully cure.

Two thin primer coats are better than one thick coat. The primer should go on smooth and even.

Sand Between Coats (Optional)

Lightly sanding between coats of primer improves adhesion. Use 400 grit sandpaper to gently smooth and prep the surface for the topcoat after the primer dries.

This helps the paint bond better from coat to coat. Be careful not to sand through the primer.

Choosing the Right Paint for a Galvanized Trailer

Not all paints are well-suited for galvanized metal. Some options are better than others:

Acrylic Enamel Paint

High-quality acrylic enamel paints made for metal work very well. They provide excellent adhesion and UV-resistance. Rustoleum Professional, Sherwin Williams ProClassic and Benjamin Moore Impervex are good choices.

Alkyd Enamels

Traditional oil or alkyd-based enamels don’t adhere well and are prone to peeling on galvanized trailers. Avoid these on galvanized metal.

Galvanized Metal Paint

Specialized paints like Rustoleum Stops Rust made for galvanized steel work great. They contain zinc particles and binders designed specifically for galvanized surfaces.

Roll Bar & Chassis Paint

Coatings like VHT Roll Bar & Chassis paint in aerosol cans bond incredibly well to galvanized metal without needing primer. They withstand heat and sun exposure.

Epoxy Paint

Two-part epoxies offer the most heavy duty protection. While more involved to apply, they hold up better than enamels long-term on trailers.

Urethane Paints

Oil-based urethanes and polyurethane paints don’t adhere well to galvanized coatings without a primer. They are best avoided.

For most DIY trailer paint jobs, an acrylic enamel or galvanized metal paint will provide the best looking, most durable finish.

How to Paint a Galvanized Trailer

Once prepped properly, you can paint your galvanized trailer using spray cans, a paint sprayer or by brush and roller.

Here are some tips for the best results:

  • Apply in thin, even coats allowing proper drying time between coats. Two or three thin coats are better than one thick coat.
  • Keep the spray nozzle or brush about 8-10 inches away from the surface. Avoid excessive build up.
  • When using a roller, use a high-quality microfiber or foam roller made for smooth metal. Old rough rollers can leave texture.
  • Spray painting is the fastest, but brush painting allows you to get paint into hard-to-reach spots. Combining methods gives a great finish.
  • Always follow the product directions for recoat times. Most enamels take 1-2 hours between coats.
  • Paint in dry conditions when the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

With care, even brush painted trailers can look amazing. Patience leads to a factory-like paint job.

Special Attention Areas on Galvanized Trailers

On any galvanized trailer, there are a few key areas that need extra prep and paint to prevent premature rust and paint failure:


The welding process compromises the galvanized layer and leads to quicker corrosion and rusting on welded trailer joints. When prepping, thoroughly clean and prime weld areas. Apply extra paint on top.


Sharp edges see the most abuse. Completely prime the undersides and full radius of all edges on fenders, diamond plate, I-beams and corners. Then apply extra paint on top.

Pitted Areas

Pitting, cracks or rough areas in the galvanizing need extra attention. Make sure to adequately build up primer and paint in any pits, cracks or imperfections.

Lights & Reflectors

Lights, reflectors and lit license plates often lead to rust streaking underneath. Take care to seal lights and edges with paint when spraying fully. Consider taping them off.


Any nuts, bolts, screws and fasteners need fully coated to prevent moisture getting underneath, leading to rust. Prime and paint hardware for maximum life.

By focusing on these vulnerable areas, your paint job will last much longer.

Galvanized Paint Job Maintenance

While paint adds great protection, galvanized trailers still need regular maintenance and upkeep for maximum lifespan. Here are some important tips:

  • Inspect your paint job yearly for any chips, cracks or flaws developing. Quickly touch up any problem areas.
  • Recoat every 2-3 years. Fading and chalking are signs a fresh coat is needed.
  • Keep the trailer clean by washing it regularly. Road grime damages paint. Use soaps made for RVs.
  • Wax at least once a year using a high-quality paste wax. This protects the finish from UV damage.
  • Remove surface rust quickly with a wire brush or sandpaper if it appears. Prime and touch up the area.
  • Avoid storing in damp environments. Allow good airflow to prevent moisture damage when parked.

With proper prep, paint selection and maintenance, a galvanized trailer can gain many extra years of life from a new paint job. The effort leads to great looks and protection.

Painting Galvanized Trailer FAQs

New to painting galvanized trailers? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Can I Use Regular Spray Paint?

Regular spray paint from the hardware store adheres poorly long-term. Specialty acrylic enamel or galvanized metal paints last much longer on galvanized trailers.

Does all the Galvanizing Need Removed?

No, you don’t need to remove the galvanized layer, prep it correctly. Remove gross rust, but intact galvanizing is ok to paint over.

How Long Does Paint on Galvanized Last?

With proper maintenance, a quality paint job can last 4-6 years before needing fresh coats. Cheap paint may only last 1-2 years.

Can I Use Oil-Based Paint?

Oil or alkyd-based enamels don’t adhere well and will peel quickly on galvanized metal. Stick to water-based acrylic enamels or paints made for galvanized steel.

What About Power Coating?

Powder coating provides an extremely durable painted finish. But it requires fully stripping the galvanizing and is better left to professionals with proper equipment.

How Do I Paint Pitted Areas?

Use auto body filler primer to fill pits and dents before painting. Sand smooth once dry. This prevents craters in the topcoat.

What Sheen is Best?

A satin or eggshell finish hides imperfections better than gloss. Gloss shows any dents or runs. Satin provides a nice compromise for trailers.

How Do I Remove Flaking Paint?

Use a hand scraper, putty knife or wire brush to remove loose, flaking paint. Feather-edge any rough areas before priming.

Can I Use Rust Converter?

Yes, phosphoric acid converters like Rustoleum Rust Reformer work well on light rust to prep for painting galvanized trailers.

How Soon Can it Get Wet After Painting?

Wait at least 5-7 days before heavy washing or rain exposure. This allows for a full paint cure to resist damage.

With the right prep work and paint system, you can give an old galvanized trailer new life with a custom color makeover. Proper maintenance will keep it looking great year after year.

Products Used For Painting Galvanized Trailers

Below are some recommended products for the best results:

Degreasers & Cleaners

  • Purple Power Degreaser
  • Zep 505 Degreaser
  • Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner
  • Dawn Dish Soap

Sandpaper & Scuff Pads

  • 3M Sandblaster Sandpapers 220-400 grit
  • 3M Scotchbrite Ultrafine Hand Pads

Galvanized Primers

  • Rustoleum Professional Galvanized Primer
  • Krylon Galvanized Primer
  • Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 Primer

Topcoat Paints

  • Rustoleum Professional Enamel
  • VHT Roll Bar & Chassis Coating
  • Sherwin Williams ProClassic
  • Benjamin Moore Metal & Aluminum Paint

Rollers & Brushes

  • Wooster Pro Extra Firm Roller Covers
  • Purdy Clearcut Angled Sash Brush
  • Wooster Super Fab Roller Frames

With the right selection of paint products and tools, you can achieve professional looking results painting your galvanized trailer at home.

Transforming a Weathered Galvanized Trailer

With some work, you can take a faded, oxidized galvanized trailer from worn-out eyesore to look like new.

The old galvanized coating was completely chalked and provided little protection. The surface was scuffed with 220 grit sandpaper to prepare for painting. All seams were wire brushed.

After cleaning, a coat of water-based primer specifically for galvanized trailers was applied. This provided maximum paint adhesion.

Spraying multiple coats of Rustoleum Professional in satin black turned this eyesore into a showpiece. Proper maintenance will protect it for years.

With some elbow grease, you can redo any tired looking galvanized trailer. The results are incredibly satisfying!


Painting a galvanized trailer updates the look while adding further corrosion resistance. With proper prep work, use of compatible primers and paints, plus yearly maintenance, a custom painted finish will last for many years.

The key is starting with thorough cleaning and sanding, applying galvanized-specific primer and paint, focusing on vulnerable areas and spots of rust, and reapplying fresh topcoats every few years.

With care and the right products, you can paint your galvanized trailer at home and get great long-lasting results. If properly maintained, your paint job will protect your investment and keep it looking as good as new.

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