YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THE GOODS : When it's Prime Time : Does your car need a paint job? Before you scratch the surface, know the costs and hazards


You're thinking about having your old car painted and are puzzled about whether it's worth it and how much to spend.

Or you've got a new model and are confused by talk about its expensive, difficult-to-match paint.

Questions about car painting can be difficult: Are higher- priced jobs notably better than cheaper ones? Does a paint job increase a car's value?

Here are some guidelines.


Choosing a Paint Shop: To check out a shop's work, visit and watch cars being painted, says James Coray of Hill & Vaughn, a classic car restoration firm in Santa Monica.

"Ask to see one of their repaints," Coray says. "You can see if the paint is smooth and shiny or pitted like the skin of an orange. If the paint is pitted, the application was done very poorly."

Watch how cars are prepared for painting. Some low-priced firms may cut corners, says Barry Meguiar, chairman of Irvine-based Meguiar's Inc., which makes waxes and other car surface products.

"Some may not prep the surface completely and may leave trace amounts of wax and silicone on the finish, which prevent paints from completely adhering to the surface. After a few months or years, paint will start shrinking and cracking.

"Another factor is stripping (taping) off the trim and door jams. If you don't strip properly, paint will be on the chrome, trim, rubber, key locks and door handles.

"Many car dealers don't have their own body shops," Meguiar adds. "They farm work out to a body shop they can trust. If someone is doing a lot of paint work for a car dealer, it's probably a good sign they can be trusted."


Price Ranges: At the lower end, prices are $149.95 to $399.95 at Earl Scheib Auto Painting shops and range from about $189 to $600 at Maaco Auto Painting & Bodyworks.

Some medium-priced shops charge $800 to $900, says David Sanger, owner of Brought Back Bugs, a San Diego service and restoration company for Volkswagens.

"Depending on the color you select, how you maintain the paint job and how much you leave it in the sun and rain, you could pretty much count on four to seven years of decent paint life out of an $800 to $900 job."

A high-quality, high-priced facility will paint the outside of any medium-size car for $2,400 to $4,800, Sanger says.

Don't aim for a job that looks like a show car. That's a $15,000 to $20,000 paint job, Coray says.


Choosing Cheap: "Generally if you go to a lower-priced shop and the paint job is appealing to the eye and you pay for additional catalysts and hardeners, you should be OK," says Tony Jones, coordinator of the automotive collision repair department at Cypress College in Cypress.

"Any time I talk to someone, I recommend that they opt for the higher-end prices at the mass production paint shops. The additional additives give more durability to paint. And the increased dollars you're paying normally aren't that great."


About Color: Those who seek value through a long-lasting finish will probably choose a light color, Meguiar says.

"If you only want something that looks decent and won't embarrass you, a light color is a lot more forgiving. It doesn't show oxidation, light scratches or contamination.

"If you're looking for something you can be proud of, you probably want a darker color. The darker the color, the more the luster. But dark colors take more effort and time to keep up and require a bigger decision on what type of finish you use and who'll do the painting."


When to Paint: If you want to increase the resale value of the car, you may spend more on painting than if the purpose is to keep the car, Meguiar says.

"If it's got paint problems but otherwise is in good shape, nothing will add to the resale value as much as appearance," he says. "Buying a car is an emotional thing.

"It's not unusual for painting to add thousands of dollars to the value of a luxury car, but you can't expect that kind of increase with, say, a Volkswagen."

Before investing in a car you are selling, "Look in the newspaper," Sanger says. "Go look at cars. Ask people what they are selling for. Then calculate how much a paint job would increase the value of your car."


New Cars / New Colors: New cars receive a base of pigmented paint and a clear-coated cover to protect the base from ultra violet rays and contaminants, Meguiar says.

Most colors are easy to match, but metallic surfaces are difficult, Sanger says.

"You have problems with the way metallics flow because they are little chunks of fleck material, and you have to put that on properly," he says.

"The only other jobs that high-quality facilities will tell you they have trouble with will be the three-stage, pearl paint job, paint with graphics underneath and other custom jobs," Sanger says.

Last Word: Recent environmental laws have increased the cost of auto painting, says Robert Ernst, research coordinator for I-Car Tech Center, a nonprofit training group for auto collision repair in Rolling Meadows, Ill.

In the late 1980s, Los Angeles and Orange counties began to regulate the amount of volatile organic compounds that can be released into the atmosphere as paint dries, Ernst says. As a result, primer, paint and top coating had to be reformulated.

Laws for the disposal of paint and other materials were also changed, Ernst says. "That is considered hazardous waste. You can't dump it on the ground or pour it down the drain. It has to be taken away by a licensed hauler and properly disposed of--not only the paint but the tape you'd mask off the handles with, the paper you'd put on the windows and glass, and the filters that separate out the particulates."

Also increasing the cost of painting in Southern California were air pollution regulations requiring new equipment. "You have to have a high-volume, low-pressure spray gun," Ernst says. "So everyone had to retool and buy new guns. They put on a greater volume of paint using less air pressure, so you get less over spray."

Los Angeles Times Articles