Paint jobs, get your 300 dollar paint jobs!!

Dec 6, 2000 (Updated Dec 14, 2000)

I scrolled down the list of auto body reviews and much of what I saw was expected. "I paid 500 whole dollars for my paint job and it looks horrible!" "They said they'd repaint my car and get it back to me in three days but it ended up taking 3 weeks and when they finally did I saw problems!" Are these cases of bad business? Yes. Are these also cases of people who saw a chance to save a dollar and a day and got what they paid for? In large part, yes. One of the biggest causes of the problems people have with body-shops is unrealistic expectations. I cannot possibly explain the auto body industry in its entirety in one epinion, but I can give a good idea of what to expect and not to expect.

1) When you first walk into the shop there are several signs to look for to indicate whether you might have struck gold or whether you should get out of them thar hills soon as yer feet can carry you. If you are pulling up to the shop and see vehicles that look newly painted sitting outside drying with the masking tape still on them, do not stop, just turn around and drive right back out.

I saw one case of this myself when I dropped a friend of mine off at an auto-body shop where he was having some work done. I noticed a late-model Ford Explorer(If you recently got your 91-94 Explorer repainted this could be you!) sitting outside with the paint drying, and I wondered how anyone who called themselves an auto-body technician could let it happen. I could tell the paint wasn't dry for sure because they hadn't removed the masking yet, which they usually don't do until the paint is dry to avoid ridges where the tape is pulled up. I could already see dust and other particles settling in what otherwise looked like an OK finish. Letting a vehicle dry out in the sun allows all kinds of contaminants and nearby objects a chance to get imbedded in the paint or to cause big flaws.

2)Inside: Look for lots of overhead lights to help the drying process and for exhaust fans in the paint booth. The more the better: Exhaust fans suck the dust and other particles that may be floating in the air out of the booth before they can touch the paint. Look at newly painted cars(which should still be sitting inside.) Look at the tires, windows, license plate frame, bumpers, tail lights, headlights, and weather stripping around the windows for signs of over-spray, or paint where it isn't supposed to be. This is caused by poor masking and failure to take off easily removable parts prior to paint application. Also look at the quality of the finish. Check for smoothness, any particles trapped in the paint, and evenness.

3) When you talk to the guy behind the counter, you know something must be wrong if he looks over your shoulder at your vehicle through the shop window and quotes you a price and a time-frame on the spot. Expect that he will walk outside, carefully look over the body of the vehicle, examine it for any signs of damage from prior accidents, and ask you lots of questions about if it's ever been hit and what exactly you expect in your paint job.

4)Time: If they promise to paint your vehicle in two or three days, be suspicious: Many shops make a profit by painting a high volume of vehicles. They do that by rushing everyone out as quickly as possible and possibly not paying the attention they should to preparation(priming, sanding) or to the details like door jambs or trunks. Expect that the time and price may go up if they find anything underneath the paint that must be fixed before the job can be finished, because painting over bad sheet metal makes for a less durable paint job.

5) Price: If you can find a high quality, meticulous paint job for under a thousand dollars, I think millions out there would want to know about it so please post all information here. But for now, I feel pretty safe in saying that's ball park for a durable, great looking coat of paint. You could get one for less, but that would mean settling for varying degrees of mediocre. Yes, I know, Maaco advertises paint jobs all the time for as low as 200 dollars. But that is for slapping a new coat on the car. That's the easiest, cheapest part of the process so it's the only one advertised. All it involves for them is usually masking the car, putting it on a conveyor belt, and rolling it through a machine that sprays the paint on. The price will quickly escalate though for sanding, priming, and other necessary labor. Also, to cut down on labor prices, you can take the time to remove objects such as body moldings, decals, stripes, or accessories on your own. That's less prep work required for the body shop, less time, and more savings for you. Try asking the technician who will work on your car what needs to come off for painting and what can be done easily by you.

6) Ask about how they warranty their work. Many shops will guarantee the paint for flaking or peeling but don't guarantee the rust proofing.

7) You could theoretically paint only a part of a panel to patch up some damage, but realize it is extremely difficult to get a good paint match even if the shop claims they can do it. In most cases you will be able to tell that the car has been repainted after the job is done. You're usually better off repainting a whole panel.

So remember, when getting your car painted, have reasonable expectations! Expect to be without your car for at least a week, and possibly longer than that. Expect to spend at least a thousand dollars. And remember, an estimate is just that, an estimate. The quality of paint jobs vary depending on price, from poor to mediocre to showroom quality, which can cost several thousand dollars.

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