Should You Paint or Powder Coat Your Boat Trailer?
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  • Post last modified:August 3, 2021

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Are you considering a new paint job for your boat trailer? If so, you might want to consider powder coating the trailer rather than the more traditional painting methods. Your choice will affect the look, feel, and life of your refinishing job.

Choosing the right paint and finish for your boat trailer is an important step. Powder coating provides a hard, durable finish that is very resistant to scratches and damage. It takes more preparation than conventional painting, which makes it slightly more expensive, but the finish holds up well to road debris. Painting allows you to perform the work yourself, which keeps the costs manageable, and you have more options for color and surface finish. In the final analysis, the choice between painting or powder coating your boat trailer comes down to cost and the look that you’re looking to achieve.

So, let’s discuss what powder coating is, what it’s used for, its cost breakdown, and the pros and cons of choosing it. By considering all of these factors, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about the best way to refinish your trailer. After all, you’ve only got so much time and money, so you need to make this investment count.

What is Powder Coating?

Powder Coating Trailer

Powder coating is a painting process that’s been around for almost nine decades now. It’s a three step process that involves the following:

  1. Surface preparation to remove debris, rust, and imperfections
  2. Powder application
  3. Heated curing

As you likely know, a normal paint job is either sprayed or brushed onto the surface. Powder coating is a different process that uses dry powder particles delivered by an evaporating solvent and electrostatic compressed air gun.

The thermoplastic or thermoset polymer paint coating electrically bonds to the metal surface it’s applied to. The powder melts and fuses to the surface as it’s baked in the oven for curing. Once cooled, the coat hardens.

The powder coat basically encapsulates the metal surfaces of your boat trailer for a nearly impermeable hard finish.

Recommended Powder Coater

I recommend the Chicago Electric Power Tools powder coating system. It’s an ideal home powder coating system that’s perfectly suitable for beginners.

The set includes a powder coating gun, foot switch, power source, inline filter and two powder cups. However, keep in mind that you will need a pressurized air source.

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What Is Powder Coating Used For?

Powder coating has a long history of providing a durable, solid finish to household appliances, bicycles, and automotive parts. In fact, if you’re an automotive enthusiast, you’ve most likely seen powder coating jobs on the bodies and other parts of custom vehicles on display at automotive shows. Many boat owners protect their aluminum towers and other equipment by powder coating them.

From worn outdoor furniture, cabinetry, and ironwork to plastic surfaces and medium-density fiberboard, powder coating is commonly used to refinish and rejuvenate an array of surfaces at a much lower cost than replacing it. Plus, once it’s applied, it helps prevent future rust and corrosion on metal surfaces.

Why is powder coating used so often over conventional paint? The powder coating process has a reputation for being ‘tougher’ than conventional paint, particularly for surfaces exposed to outdoor elements and the resulting wear and tear. This is because the powder particles are fused to the surface and to each other, forming a continuous and impermeable protective coating.

The properties and functionality of powder coating make it a very appealing choice for painting your boat trailer. However, powder coating isn’t considered to be a DIY job, although many people buy kits to do small jobs themselves.

Direct Comparison Between Powder Coating and Painting

Most of us know a lot about painting, because we’ve seen it done, or even done it ourselves. When it comes to powder coating, most of us lack experience and are not as familiar as we might want to be. This unfamiliarity makes it difficult to compare the two processes.

Here’s a really cool video on painting versus powder coating. It’s talking about cars, but it highlights the differences between the two processes and gives you a good sense of the relative pros and cons of each approach for your trailer.

Professional Powder Coating 101

Cost and labor are the biggest cost factors with powder coating your boat trailer. Since powder coating is a finishing process that requires good technique and specialized equipment, it’s not ideal for a DIY project. You’ll want to contact a professional to make sure it’s done right.

The cost to powder coat your trailer will depend on several factors, including:

  • The size of your trailer.

The total surface area of your boat trailer will affect the cost of the powder coating job. The powder material is applied at a specified thickness on all exposed surfaces, so the larger your trailer, the more material you need. More material, requires more labor to apply.

  • The materials you select.

The cost will also be influenced by your selection of color and texture. Any custom, non-standard, or metallic color will usually cost you more money, especially if the shop has to order the powder. This may also add time to the job, so factor this into your decision.

  • The shop you select.

This leads into the third cost factor – the shop itself. Larger, more established, and specialiy shops will have more powder coating materials on-hand. You’ll also find that their work is often accompanied by several quality assurance guarantees. For example, they may only use UV resilient powder.

The problem with these larger shops is that they typically service industrial clients, which means that your small boat trailer job may be viewed as slowing them down from the business clients who bring them large multi-order jobs. In turn, they may charge you an astronomical price for the trouble.

On the other hand, going with a smaller shop means you may pay to order a non-standard color. The cost, however, is still usually much less expensive than intruding on a larger shop servicing their industrial clientele.

Typical Costs To Powder Coat A Boat Trailer

Boat Trailer Painting

I contacted six local powder coating shops and six other shops from random geographical locations and asked for cost estimates to powder coat a boat trailer. I broke it down by the size of the trailer – small, medium, and large. The costs averaged:

  • Small trailers – $400 to $800
  • Medium trailer – $650 to $1,000
  • Large trailer – $1,000 to $3,000

To give you a little more perspective, it costs around $1,000-$3,000 to repaint a car using powder coating. A set of wheels will run you around $600-$900 dollars. At around $650-$900, powder coating a 14 to 15-foot boat trailer is similar in cost to refinishing the wheels. For larger trailers up to 20-feet, you can expect to pay $1,000 to $2,500. Figure up to $3,000 for a 24-foot boat trailer.

The good news is that the cost of powder coating isn’t that far off from the cost of a professional paint job. With powder coating, though, you have a more durable and hard surface finish for your money.

Also keep in mind that a portion of the cost with both professional painting and professional powder coating is in sandblasting the surface of the boat trailer prior to application. Sandblasting debris and impurities away prior to coating/painting is a vital step that shouldn’t be skipped if you want professional, long-lasting results.

In my research on pricing, I used a 24-foot trailer as an example. The quotes for powder coating ranged between $1,800 and $2,400. This gap is largely based on sandblasting and prep work.

The $1,800 quote is for no sandblasting, and let’s reiterate that skipping sandblasting isn’t recommended. The $2,400 quote included sandblasting, welding repairs, and removing and replacing the trailer’s lights and wiring components. Why remove all the wiring?

Remember, the powder coating process involves curing under heat. Either you have to remove all of the trailer’s components that could be harmed by heat before taking your trailer to the powder coating shop and replace it afterward, or your shop will do it for you at an additional cost. Unless you’re familiar with such, it’s advisable to leave these stripping and replacing tasks to the professionals. Do keep in mind that painting requires the same level of prep work be done by either you or the painters beforehand.

Pros and Cons Of Powder Coating Your Boat Trailer

Benefits of powder coating

  • Powder coating is more durable than conventional paint.
  • Powder coating is less likely to dull and scratch from road dust.
  • Powder coating cost and prep is comparable to paint.

Limitations of powder coating

  • Powder coat only comes in eggshell finish, meaning it can’t be glossy like paint.
  • Powder coat doesn’t look or feel as smooth as paint.
  • Without a clear coat, powder coating doesn’t have UV protection.
  • Finding a non-industrial shop that can accommodate the size of your trailer for curing may be problematic.

Preventative Maintenance Strategies For Your Powder Coated Boat Trailer

Boat Trailer Maintenance

If you’ve decided powder coating is the right fit for your boat trailer, then you’ll want to do all of the required maintenance to keep your newly finished investment looking spiffy. The two biggest threats are rock damage and salt water damage.

You can prevent your newly powder coated boat trailer from suffering rock damage by installing Rock Tamers on the vehicle you use to pull it. These complete mud flap systems are fully adjustable and mount directly to 2” and 2.5” hitch receivers. Don’t mistakenly think that just any old mudflap will do and leave your trailer subject to rock damage. They cost around $300, but they’re a worthwhile investment. Rock Tamers are specially designed for heavy-duty towing, and they include everything you need to protect both your trailer and your boat while on the road.

Powder coated boat trailers aren’t immune to the corrosive effects of salt water damage. Left without proper maintenance and preventative measures, your expensive powder coating can begin to corrode and chip off. This is a particular problem around mounts. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the trailer every time you use it, especially around salt water. Clean and care for your powder coat, and it will continue to look good for years to come. It’s also a prudent move to ask your powder coat shop to coat all interior elements that aren’t sealed, especially mounts.

In closing, you’re now armed with all the knowledge you need to decide if powder coating is the right application to refinish your boat trailer. You even have a few maintenance tips to take with you if you decide to go with powder over paint. Either way, whether it be a car, the HVAC unit heating and cooling your home, or your boat trailer, preventative maintenance is always key to preserving and extending the life of valuable investments.

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John Allen

With more than a decade of experience cruising the lakes in my Crestliner Grand Cayman pontoon boat and my Boston Whaler, I now want to share everything I've learned with my community here at Boating Hub.

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