Questioning the Paint

As we move into the holiday season and the end of the calendar year, there will be an onslaught of year-end deals on new and used cars. With this surge, more owners-to-be should be asking questions regarding whether the car they are considering to purchase is completely original… or has part of it (or the entire car for that matter) been repainted? Let me start by saying just because some part of a pre-owned car has been refinished, it's not the end of the world. A door may have been keyed and re-sprayed, so no big deal. But in a worse case scenario, the car may have been in a serious accident.

Knowing whether any repainting was done is a good start in discovering a car's history. However, don't assume that only used cars get repainted. I've seen more than my share of brand new cars that have had panels repainted directly from the factory. It's a long trip from the manufacturing plant to the showroom, and accidents do happen. However, if you are paying for a brand new car, I believe you deserve one; and if any part of it has been repainted, you should be given some sort of consideration for it.

Now that we know why, let's discuss how we can determine if a car has had aftermarket paintwork. Although I've seen a few repaints that were close to indiscernible from the original, in most cases, there are certain visual clues to look for:


Color Mismatch Most noticeable on reds and colors with pearl effect in them. It's very challenging to match the right amount of pearl/metallic flake to add to paint and have it lay down right. The lights that provide the toughest visual test for this are metal halides (usually at gas stations and hospital parking lots).

Orange Peel Mismatch This is a mottled look on a paint's surface, like the texture of the skin of an orange. Remember that there is orange peel in the OEM paint. Look for a difference in the orange peel between adjacent panels.

Overspray The most common giveaway of a repaint is caused by the improper masking of adjacent panels and back-taping of crevices. A surface of overspray will feel rough. Especially check doorjambs, glass, tires, wheel wells and other crevices. If the overspray is clearcoat, there is going to be no color but just a rough finish. So don't be afraid to feel the paint also.

Paint on Rubber Trim, Emblems or Door Handles This is the second most common clue to repainting. It occurs when rubber trim and emblems (i.e. the Porsche "Carrera", Turbo" emblem on a 911 engine cover or a factory emblem) are not removed, but rather taped. Another sign of a possible repaint is misalignment or mislocation of the Porsche Carerra, Turbo, 968, or other factory emblems, etc.

Paint Thickness Unless all paint was removed prior to repainting (it is seldom), paint thickness is obviously going to increase. You need a paint thickness gauge to check (this will also detect any body filler). The thickness of OEM primer, plus paint, plus clear coat is usually four to five mils (0.004 to 0.005 inches). If you're unsure what thickness your car should be, check on another car of your model.

Wet Sanding and Buffing Marks Body shops may have to sand out dirt specs or runs in the paint; then use a high speed buffer and usually wool pads to buff out their work. These marks should especially set off an alarm if they are observed on one panel on a brand new car.

Improper Taping This is usually evident when the painter just wanted to paint the top of the panel for the sake of laziness. Let's say he painted the door, in that case he wouldn't paint the portion of the door in the door jamb. Always run your fingers around the edge of a suspect panel. It should be smooth.


Just realize that these characteristics are only as evident as the expertise of the person looking for them. If possible, put the car in question on a lift and look at the car from the bottom (or just lay on the ground). If you haven't developed an eye for seeing these imperfections, invite along someone who has. Even if you have to compensate a professional for the trip, it's worth it. It may save you a LOT more in the long run. Remember, just because you didn't see a repainted panel, doesn't mean the future buyer of your car won't. I even have one occurrence with a customer who leased a new Mercedes with the bumper already repainted and was willing to live with it; but when he returned the car at the end of the lease the dealership wanted to charge him for the repainted bumper. Obviously he didn't lease another car from them.