I understand your position, but with some research and reading even a newbie can do a *decent* prep job. You can't just go out and try to sand/prep without doing some good research first. There have been many paint articles in the rodding magazines that explain this. If you don't have the time or patience you get to pay for it, or it will show in the paint job.
Maaco or wherever will go over what you've done and the better ones will be a bit more diligent looking over a car that at least looks like a lot of effort went into getting it ready for paint. I've had one of the shops call me and tell me that I had an area that needed some more work -- they'd point it out and I could take it back or they could do it and charge extra. I went over and ended up letting them do it for the extra $200 they wanted, wasn't worth it to me to pull it back home and come back out another day. So I ended up with an $800 job instead of the $425 special, but I'm glad I did it.
You're 100% on the right/fast/cheap equation! I wouldn't take a show car to Maaco (etc.), but just to get decent paint on a beater or until I can afford better it's a good deal. I wouldn't expect perfection, just nothing real obvious wrong. There's no arguing that a professionally prepped car is going to have a much better paint job than an amateur job. Not much arguing that the "gunners" at Maaco should be able to do a better job than someone who hasn't done it before either. Charged me about $800 in 2003. His son (who was the helper!) did the flames for nothing because he wanted to try his hand at it -- was his first flame job! Wonderful job, he free handed it all but the left and right sides of the hood look like a template was used!
My last paint job was done by a pro. I did most of the prep work, including spraying the primer. He took one look at it and sent his helper out to assist me with finishing it -- and I thought it was ready to spray. About 5-6 hours later with both of us going over it (me following instructions!) it was acceptable, but that's all the painter would call it. He normally wouldn't have taken a car that someone else had done so much prep to (especially spraying the high-build primer), but he was a friend and did it as long as I promised not to tell people he let me prep it -- and also that if the paint fell off it was MY fault, not his! He knew me well enough to know I understood that before we even started or he wouldn't have, and I wouldn't have blamed him. It still looks good -- no paint problems, just a few chips from driving (it's the wagon in my avatar and photo album).
Last edited by farna; 08-16-2012 at 10:28 AM.
Reason: added info