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How to Test Car Paint

car with color paint swatches next to it

Car paint can deteriorate or disintegrate for a number of reasons, whether from abrasive contact, exposure to the elements, or even washing, but while a good quality paint will withstand these better and for longer, poor quality paint can deteriorate before the warrantee on your car is even expired.

Repainting can be a costly and time-consuming affair, and the more reputable the shop, the more expensive the paint job is. So when you’re looking at a new or used car and hoping to mitigate any additional expenses down the line, recognizing quality car paint can be crucial towards saving you money and headaches in the future.

Part 1 of 2: Check the thickness

When considering the quality of paint, professionals will tell you that the most important factor is the thickness. In fact, it’s such an important aspect of paint quality that an entire unit of measurement was utilized just for vehicle paint jobs.

Vehicle paint thickness is measured in mils, or thousandths of an inch, and quality paint usually falls in the 6-8 mil range. There are a number of tools you can use to check paint thickness on an already-painted car.

Step 1: Visually inspect the paint job. One effective tool for figuring out if a paint job is quality or not is one that you use all the time - your eyes.

Check the car for obvious signs of wear and discoloring, as high-quality paint will be consistently uniform with no light or dark spots, chipping, or peeling.

Scratches and dents aren’t often an indicator of paint quality, but any place where the paint is obviously wearing down is.

digital reader

Step 2: Test the thickness. There are a few different tools that can be used to determine how thick the paint on a car is, all of which can be purchased at car repair shops.

A magnet gauge can be used for testing the paint on steel parts of a car, whereas an eddy current device can be used on aluminum.

Both systems use magnetic fields to determine the thickness of paint, but they can’t be used interchangeably - eddy currents can only be used on aluminum and magnet gauges can only be used on steel.

For the plastic portions of a car, an ultrasonic device can be used, since it utilizes ultrasound waves in lieu of magnets, but will not work on metal portions of the car.

It’s not necessary to buy all three, since the thickness of the paint only needs to be tested on one area of the car - just be sure you know which metal you’re dealing with if you opt for an eddy current or a magnetic gauge.

Part 2 of 2: Choose a paint

If your car’s paint job isn’t quite up to standard, or if you’re looking to refresh or update your car’s paint, a little research and diligence can go a long way towards ensuring a top-quality finish.

Whether you opt for a professional paint service, or you’re confident enough to do the job yourself, you’ll still be faced with a wide variety of options for paint, and it takes more than price to determine quality.

Step 1: Check where the paint is made. As a general rule, higher-quality paint will be made in the USA.

Paints manufactured in China are notorious for chipping and peeling within a year or two of application. Sherwin-Williams and Starfire are reputable for their high-quality, locally-made paints that often sell for a great price.

Step 2: Check how the paint is packaged. Low-quality paints are often sold by the gallon, whereas the high quality paints are sold by the pint or quart.

While this isn’t a guarantee of quality, it’s definitely one of the first things to look for when selecting a paint.

Step 3: Check consumer reviews. As with many other products, cheaper doesn’t automatically mean poor quality any more than expensive means well-made.

Price is often a good start, but it’s not the determining factor. Since you can’t realistically test paint before you buy it, look up consumer reviews online and see how the paint holds up in the real world. Check as many reviews as possible for the best overall information.

Whether you choose to have your car painted professionally, or you’re confident enough to do it on your own, the best assurance you can have that your paint will last for the life of the car is whether that paint is high quality. As long as you know what to look for, by sticking to the steps listed above, you can paint confidently knowing that your car has the benefit of great, high quality paint, at a price that won’t break the bank. Make sure to keep up on your car’s performance as well, especially if you notice any dips in power and Ask a Mechanic for any advice on the painting process.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

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