How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Car?

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By |2020-10-14T10:13:02-04:00October 14, 2020 - 09:07AM|Car Owning & Maintenance Advice|
Photo Credit: Getty / loraks

Photo Credit: Getty / loraks

You may see offers to paint your car for “just a few hundred dollars,” but any such claim should be viewed with skepticism. A cheap quote for a car paint job raises questions about the quality of the paint, how long it will last, and how the car is going to look a few years from now.

If you want a complete paint job that comes with a warranty of at least a few years, $3,500 is a more realistic estimate, according to body-shop owners contacted by Carfax.

And if you want a top-notch, bumper-to-bumper paint job with a factory-fresh appearance and quality, you might be looking at $5,000 at the bottom end – and $15,000 or more on the upper end.

Use the Carfax Service Shop Directory to find the top-rated shops in your area

What Affects the Cost to Paint Your Car?

Just as no two used cars are exactly alike, neither are two paint jobs. There are some key variables:

  • The size and type of vehicle. A large SUV will require about 1.5 gallons of paint, but a midsize sedan needs only about a gallon. One shop estimated that a gallon of high-quality paint can range from $700 to $1,000.
  • How much body repair is required? Slapping a new coat of paint over rust, dings, and dents won’t fix those flaws, and might make them stand out more. Repairing and preparing a vehicle for painting can easily account for more than half of the total repainting cost.
  • The type, quality, and even color of paint. Metallic paint will cost more than regular enamel, for example, and some colors, such as bright red, cost more than white.
  • The number of layers of paint and clear-coat finishes. Some vehicles have multiple layers of paint and clear-coat finish, which protects the paint from environmental damage. The more coats that are applied, the more expensive it gets.

The Carfax Car Care app makes keeping track of your car’s maintenance easy

Photo Credit: Getty / Alexeg84

Photo Credit: Getty / Alexeg84

How Good Does the Paint Job Have to Be?

Some shops offer “good, better, best” levels of paint jobs, while others may offer only one level – and it might not qualify as “best.” Here is how one shop owner outlined his options:

  • At the low end: No trim is removed, just masked, and the existing finish gets sanded before repainting. The estimated cost is $1,200 to $2,200, and the warranty is for six months to a year (set by the paint manufacturer).
  • Midlevel: Some trim and the bumpers are removed, there’s more surface preparation, and higher-quality paint is used. The cost is $3,500 to $5,000, and the warranty is three to five years.
  • High end: All exterior trim is removed, the body gets extensive repair and preparation, and the paint is top quality. $7,000 to $15,000, with a lifetime warranty.

In all three cases, the job only covers outside body panels and does not include painting door jambs or the underside of the hood or trunk. Those add cost, as will painting a car a different color.

There are shops and chains that advertise that they can repaint vehicles for less than these estimates, but those might not provide the same level of preparation, paint of the same quality, or a clear-coat.

The best way to find out what options they offer and their costs is to visit three body or paint shops for estimates and compare what you would get. Despite what the TV ads used to say, body shops need to see your car in the metal before they can accurately estimate the cost.

Don’t be surprised if some shops say they don’t do complete repaint jobs. It can take three weeks or more to do a thorough job, and many shops don’t want to tie up their technicians or shop space for that long.

Use the Carfax Service Shop Directory to find the top-rated shops in your area

Is It Worth It to Repaint a Car?

Fresh paint can boost the resale value of a vehicle, and the improved appearance should make the owner of the vehicle happier, but will there be an appreciable return on investment? Probably not. Spending $2,000 on fresh paint doesn’t mean its value went up that much.

A rare or classic car that’s worth a lot on the collector market is a better candidate for repainting than an ordinary vehicle that just needs some cosmetic improvements.

Instead of going for a complete repaint, it is probably more cost-effective to repair or replace the most damaged body panels and try to spiff up the rest of the vehicle through detailing, which can remove scratches or other blemishes.

If doing that still leaves glaring contrasts between new/refinished sections and other areas, maybe the best choice is to just leave things as they are, and save that money to use as the down payment on new wheels.

If you’re ready for a new-to-you car, check out the Carfax used car listings. Every vehicle comes with a free Carfax Report.

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About the Author:

When I began covering the auto industry you could still buy cars with carburetors, and SUVs accounted for less than 5% of the new-vehicle market. Along the way I served as automotive editor of Consumer Guide for more than 15 years, as an auto writer for the Chicago Tribune for eight years and as a freelance writer for several more, contributing to newspapers, Reuters, Automotive News, and others. I have an on-again-off-again interest in racing that during an “on” period led to an opportunity to write a history of the Indianapolis 500. If it’s warm enough in the Chicago area, I’m probably playing golf in my free time or watching White Sox games.