Car painting – something you would do only when you’ve had some extensive damage has been done to the exterior. Small wonder that most people would associate anyone selling a vehicle with the tag “newly repainted” as an ACCIDENT CAR.
But that’s not necessarily true.
Take my Skoda Octavia for instance; I hold to the belief that for it’s asking second hand price, it is the most value-for-money vehicle you can buy. German engineering (without current German unreliability). But this isn’t a story about the Octavia. This is an article about car paints and the Octavia’s paint is the perfect example.
It’s been on Malaysian roads for 7-years and during this period, its exterior paint has taken a heavy beating from our extreme heat, high humidity and the subject of numerous vandalism.
As you can see, the clear coat on the left bonnet is all but gone with no reflection, no gloss. The rims are caked with brake dust and almost impossible to remove.
Minor scratch marks on the front right bumper due to minor contact with a slow moving van. Fortunately, the dents are limited to the front and no clips were damaged.
Finger nail scratches are most obvious in black cars.
And these lines appeared when parking near my house.
The Octavia has a boot that opens upwards with its rear windscreen. This means it has one of the highest reaches and some car parks have parking lot heights that you can barely stand straight under. The notches you see at the edge was due to metal frames I missed when opening the boot. Look closely, you will also notice patches of discoloration on the top and that’s due to lit cigarette butts landing on it.
All in all, while she’s a solid performer underneath, the Octavia has seen better days and can do with a fresh coat of paint.
Which brings us to the topic …
Generally, (car) paint jobs are divided into three categories:-
- Cheap, under-the-cherry-tree job (usually costing a between RM2,000 to RM3,000)
- Medium (costing between RM3,000 to RM5,000)
- Quality (anything above RM5k)
Naturally, people would assume that every sprayer is out to cut your throat. That’s common because respraying your car isn’t something you do often. Just like dental treatment where you won’t bother going unless you have a bad toothache that won’t go away, everyone assumes the fees are the same as the last time they did it – like their father’s time?
Let’s face it; the last time most people had to respray anything was probably due to an accident and most of the time, the service centre and insurance company would cover everything. So when someone is unaware of what has transpired between their father’s time and the present, expecting quality work for low prices is understandable.
And so very wrong.
- Cost of materials have gone up
- Cost of rental has gone up
- Salary not going up fast enough
If you’re one who complains they don’t paint em like they used to, well, you might want to know more about the paint process and what exactly are you paying for.
Before we go on, we should know what makes up the paint on our vehicles;-
- Clear coat – that invisible layer that gives you that glossy, shiny look when clean
- Color coat – the …. ermm, color. In it’s natural state, it’s matte and has no shine
- Base coat (also called Primer) – the layer that stands between bare steel and color. Acts as a base for color coat to bond to and also a barrier between bare metal and the color coat
CHEAT 1: SKIPPING SOME STEPS
Technically, the proper step in any paint job is to:
- sand off (remove) the clear coat,
- sand off (remove) the color coat and
- sand off (remove) primer
This is tedious and time consuming but only necessary on very old vehicles that could have been repaired and resprayed numerous times before. Commonly done during restoration of classic and vintage vehicles. On daily driven modern vehicles, it is not necessary unless the owner is aiming for a show car finish.
If you pay Cheap rates, the sprayer will remove the clear coat and part of the color coat only. The underlying primer is not touched. Why? Aside from saving time & effort, sanding away every panel to bare metal may reveal certain defects that the sprayer has to fix before continuing the process.
Opting not to remove the primer would mean the metal surface may not be level and the final result could exhibit reflections appearing to be wavy or having ripples. You can see in the picture above that the reflection is clear but it’s obvious that the lines aren’t straight.
Before handing the keys back to the owner, the car is washed and buffed using a rotary machine. This process is usually done by unskilled workers who’ll just do one or two rounds of polishing just to make the panels look shiny but is usually aren’t bothered buffing evenly. The resulting “waves” above was detected 2 weeks later.
CHEAT 2: Materials used
You can’t expect a world class dish with substandard materials.
Or can you?
Premium brands such as Dupont, PPG and BASF Glasurit utilise higher quality raw materials (pigments, binders etc) and tend to produce a more vibrant look, making the paint feel ‘alive’ rather than merely average. This is most obvious on certain colors such as red.
The MK VI Golf’s Tornado Red is one of the more vibrant original colors you can buy.
The type and grade of thinner used can also greatly affect final results. For repairs of dented areas, the quality of putty/filler will also determine the durability of a repair job. The quality and characteristics of the spray gun, spraying facilities and all the way to the condition and quality of the air compressor will also impact the final outcome.
The BMW M4 Austin Yellow Metallic is another example of high quality paint work
Most respraying materials used by the average sprayer today are locally manufactured. At only RM2k per vehicle, it does not allow them to utilize a full set of imported paint materials.
However, being local does not necessarily mean it’s an inferior product. Even to a trained eye, it cannot discern between a great job using local materials vs a mediocre job using imported materials.
Just so you know, very high-end premium paint materials alone can cost RM5K per car for a show car finish.
Furthermore, before the paint is to be sprayed, it has to be mixed with a catalyst and catalysts are expensive. It has to be mixed in a certain ratio with the color; Too little and the paint is soft. Too much and it becomes hard. Since it costs quite a bit, some sprayers opt to use less catalyst and the resulting pliant paint is easy to scratch, with swirl marks appearing almost instantly if you do not practice proper washing techniques or using proper tools such as high grade microfibres. Asking your friendly condo bicycle macha to wash your car or bringing it to the petrol station car wash would guarantee fine scratches that will make Spiderman proud.
This is one aspect that unfortunately you have no way to tell until you take your car back. The safest bet is to go to a reputable sprayer. Mine has a soft paint finishing which means I have to be more careful with maintaining it.
CHEAT 3: Not removing trim moldings/panels.
Those plastic trims and moldings you see at the door, front and rear bumpers, door sills etc. Removing all of them prior to spraying is certainly necessary but in low-budget jobs, removal is kept to a minimum. Certain trims are time-consuming to remove, and it might reveal previously damaged or missing clips that must be replaced. Entire trim with its integral clips, such as the trims on the front and rear bumpers may need to be replaced if taken out.
So it’s not a question of them being lazy; there’s an economic reason why they do not wish to take the risk.
There’s also the possibility that the sprayer may be rushed to complete the work and have insufficient time to complete the task. Quality work takes time. If a sprayer is on a tight schedule, he’s more likely to just tape up the trims and carry on with the rest of the process.
CHEAT 4: Facilities
Proper spray booth with a good control of air direction and great filtration might cost up to RM80K. The quality of a spray booth will also determine quality of the paint job.
Each layer needs time to off-gas (the release of solvents into the air) before the next layer can be sprayed on top. Heat and humidity affects this off-gassing process.
In small workshops, your freshly resprayed car could not be left for too long inside the spray booth with ventilation fans switched on They need to work on other cars as well. And car owners with low budget often want the job to be completed quickly.
Parking such a car outside (uncovered and under high heat) will cause the upper layer of clear coat to dry and harden much faster than bottom layers. The gas from underlying layers will continue to push upwards, and this will “pop” a tiny hole on the half-hardened clear coat, resulting in a surface that is full of random pinholes/minute craters. A very common problem.
On a car, it would look like this:-
As the paint cures, paint shrinkage would occur. What may be a mirror like reflection would appear blurry and you’ll see something like this:-
It’s not lemon skin as what you’d normally find on OEM painted vehicles fresh from the factory. Paint shrinkage dulls the paint and reflections would appear as hazy as 1MDB’s cash flow. There are many reasons for this; quality of the paint components, quantity and quality of thinner/reducer and other technical matters.
CHEAT 5: Sprayer’s skill and reputation
Some high-end aftermarket sprayers such as Liew Motors in Petaling Jaya have built a strong reputation for itself and would not entertain low-ballers. Like Japanese master chefs who’ve spent decades honing their skills (and investing the right tools), these are companies dedicated to the pursuit of perfection and won’t be shy in asking you to pay for that quality finish. It’s not because they are snobbish but because they do things the proper way and there is little point explaining the process to those who’re only interested in a cheap fix.
Ask around and you’ll soon discover where Ferraris and Porsches go to get their touch-ups. Be warned though – these places usually quote 5-figures. Which is why you often see Ferraris and Porsches with crappy paintwork. These are usually recon units brought in by AP holders who just wants a quick fix to make the cars look nice before flipping it for cash to potential buyers. These 2nd hand car dealers would not want to cut their profits too much if they go to established spray shops. Why should they when the moment the money is wired into their account, they wash their hands clean of the paint work.
All the steps listed above has an influence on the final finish of the paint. Does this mean spending at least RM4k-6k is inevitable if one wants a good nice coat of paint?
When I started this article, I knew far less about paints and thought that finding someone willing to do an complete exterior respray for less than RM2,000 to be a great bargain (if I wanted to do exterior and interior, the cost would be around RM2,500 but since I’m maintaining the same shade of black, I thought of saving the extra few hundred). And in some ways, it is value for money; if you’re tight on budget and wants your car to look good right before Raya, this place would fulfill the need.
But it’s not without its issues, as I’ve highlighted above. I noticed haziness the following few weeks after collecting, minor paint peeling, “pimples”, ripples on the paint surface and micro scratches after the first 2 washes. It is something to be expected from a job costing this low.
So the next step is to see how do I maximize it’s shine with what I have. Since I didn’t go with expensive paint work, would an high-quality detailing (or “paint correcting” as my dear friend and professional vehicle detailer, ProDetailer emphasizes) make my “cheap” paint look luxuriously mouth watering?
Stay tuned for the next article which talks about how to pimp your average-budget respray job to look like it costs RM2.6b!