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How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Car?

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 5 days ago Nick Kurczewski
Know the facts and follow these few tips to get the best paint job for the money.© Getty Images Know the facts and follow these few tips to get the best paint job for the money.

It can pay-literally and figuratively-to make your old car look almost new with a fresh paint job. First, there's the psychic pay you get in return for having a good-looking car once again. And then there's the potential financial payoff when you sell your ride; it should be more valuable. So, how much does it cost to paint a car?

The answer depends on what you want to get from the paint job. How much it costs to paint a car, truck, or SUV varies widely depending on the level of detail in the pre-painting preparation process and the quality of the paint. Are you interested in a quick and economical way to pump up the value of your car before selling it? Then a less expensive paint job could be just fine.

At the other end of the spectrum is a restoration project. If you're repainting a car or refurbishing a ride you want to keep for a long time, it makes sense to invest considerably more. This is especially true if the car is highly valuable; a cheap paint job will detract from its value should you decide to sell.

Price Ranges for Paint Jobs

a man sitting in a car: Professional car painting.© Getty Images Professional car painting.

Google "how much does it cost to repaint a car," and you'll find that there are national chains that charge only a few hundred dollars to paint your car or truck. This might not be a bad option if you're on a tight budget. But know that there are plenty of potential pitfalls to slapping a cheapo paint job on your car or truck. For starters, the quality of the paint might not match what was originally used on your car. Most newer vehicles, for example, have a clear-coat finish that adds extra work to the repainting process if you want to do it right. Add some repairs to exterior dings and small dents, and these steps can bump the price from several hundred bucks to well over a thousand.

Research

These less expensive paint jobs won't have the same level of care and attention put into them as pricier options-how could they? According to the price-tracking site CostHelper, a third of consumers who purchased cheap paint jobs-which averaged $566-were unhappy with the results. Consumers spent between $1000 and $3500 for what they described as good-quality, "thorough" paint jobs. According to consumers who reported their prices to the site, it takes at least $2500 to obtain a "showroom quality" paint job. If you're in the mood to go wild with metallic paints or multiple colors-and maybe some flames down the side-look out. The most outlandish paint jobs on custom cars or hot rods can cost tens of thousands. But you don't have to break the bank to get a great paint job; consumers on the CostHelper site reported spending an average of $4975 for high-quality paint jobs.

So, think twice if that 1996 Honda Civic you loved in college needs new paint. You don't want to end up with the most expensive used economy car on the planet. When getting your car painted, here are five essential things to consider:

Decide How Good a Paint Job You Really Need

If your car has only a few minor chips and blemishes, then painting the entire vehicle probably doesn't make sense. Repainting the hood and touching up door dings should range from $200 to $1000, depending on how much work is required. Keep in mind that where you live can determine the degree of repairs. Cars in hot climates, where sun is the biggest enemy, battle with hazy finishes and faded paint caused by intense heat and damaging rays. This could make touch-up repairs more difficult, since affected areas will likely be large surfaces such as the hood, rear deck, and roof. Then again, cars in cooler climates could have touches of rust beneath the paint that require attention.

Don't Paint over Problems

Scratching on the front of the car's wing© Getty Images Scratching on the front of the car's wing

You wouldn't paint your house if the siding was falling off. Never put a thin, superficial, cosmetic cover-up over a structural problem-and painting over dents or rust without addressing serious issues is just that. If your vehicle has lots of dings and some rust, painting over the problems will only make them worse in both the near and long term. A shiny, fresh coat of paint will likely make body damage even more visible, while rusting panels will continue to rot if they're not properly tended to. Paint is cosmetic, not a means to cover up bodywork issues.

Keep Your Budget Realistic

Car painting© Getty Images Car painting

Let's say you have an older vehicle with high miles, valued at a couple thousand dollars. It's looking a little tired, but you love the car, and it's still running great. Opting for a cheaper repaint in the same color is fine if all you want is a quick exterior freshening for minimal cash outlay. This might hold true if you're looking to sell this same car. Spending several hundred bucks, maybe a thousand or two, could bump the asking price, though probably not by more than you'll spend on the paint job. On the other hand, if you have a vehicle that's either a classic or something with a higher value, skimping on paint can be a recipe for disaster. You could adversely affect the car's value and potentially be stuck with a finish that's not even close to what the car looked like when new.

Understand the Work Involved

a close up of a person: car body work© Getty Images car body work

For an inexpensive paint job, preparation will be minimal, and the shop might not include repairs to rust and door dings. The glass area and other non-painted exterior trim will be covered up before repainting, but that's about it. From 50 feet away it might look fine, but up close there will be numerous telltale signs it was a surface respray, such as overspray on the rubber gaskets around the windows and on exterior trim, differences in the color of the doorjambs, and spots of overspray where the masking off wasn't perfect. If you know this going into the process, okay. Just understand what you're paying for, and check to see if there's any kind of warranty on the work.

Paying More Gets You a Better Paint Job

a red tray: car painting work© Getty Images car painting work

The more you pay, the better the paint shop's preparation. Some shops simply won't do slapdash, budget work. Some will offer several levels of paint jobs. As you move up the price ladder, shops will remove more trim pieces and items like the head- and taillamps. This ensures the pain will cover sharp bends in the sheetmetal and get into the crevices in the body where the older paint might have shown through. In more expensive paint jobs, the prep will likely also involve sanding off the older paint, fixing exterior damage, and even removing glass. This adds time and money to the process, which is why something along these lines could cost $5000 or more.

a close up of a red car: Old classic car.© Getty Images Old classic car.

The most expensive paint jobs amount to a restoration: having the car largely or entirely disassembled to make certain every single section and panel gets repaired and repainted to look as good as or better than when it rolled off the assembly line. This includes doing metalwork and using body filler to ensure panels are arrow straight before painting, attacking the engine bay, painting the interior of the trunk, and repainting other, often extremely hard-to-reach spots. This process could cost tens of thousands of dollars and is usually reserved for high-end classics, vintage vehicles, or highly valuable sports cars and exotics. Just check out the work done on TV restoration shows such as Overhaulin'or Restoration Garage, and you'll see how much time and effort go into an all-out refurbishing. Remember, these shows often compress months or years of work into a single half-hour installment. Full restorations run into the hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours in pursuit of paint perfection. And you pay dearly for those hours.

For most of us, though, those are far better paint jobs than we'll ever need for our personal rides. Keep the above five points in mind as you consider a new paint job, and you'll find it easier to match your needs to your budget.

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