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Painting your car is not just a cosmetic matter. While, certainly, a shiny coat of blue can make your ride look great, that's really not the point. The point is to extend the life of the vehicle and increase its value for resale. Keeping your car's paint job in good shape, however, costs money. 

How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Car?

If you take good care of your car you will end up repainting it periodically. How often depends on many factors, such as sun and heat, physical damage and (potentially) even changing the color of the car or preparing it for resale.

The cost of painting a car varies widely. Some of the most important elements of this price include:

  • Size of the vehicle
  • Model and make of the vehicle
  • Type and quality of the paint
  • Any necessary preparation or repairs
  • Quality of the work and attention to detail

According to Car and Driver, an inexpensive paint job can average less than $600. However this typically results in subpar work. For a mid-quality paint job, consumers should expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500. This would involve repainting the entire car. Fixing individual spots or damage will cost much less, although this isn't always possible.

A thorough "showroom quality" coat of paint will typically average anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 in costs.

Why Paint Your Car?

The paint on a car is specialized, typically made out of either polyurethane or enamel. It seals the car from moisture and environmental damage, and is designed to withstand nicks and scratches. This is particularly important because damage to a coat of paint can quickly spread.

Car paint offers three main forms of protection to the underlying body of your car:

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  • First, it protects the vehicle from physical and chemical damage. Debris such as rocks and gravel can cause substantial wear to your car's metal parts over time, and chemicals such as road salt can do the same thing. Paint keeps your car safe from these hazards.
  • Second, it protects the underlying steel from rust and corrosion. This is a particular danger from rain and moisture, which paint keeps away from the metal body of your car. Once corrosion sets in it can spread quickly, which is one of the reasons why mechanics advise drivers to fix scratches to their paint quickly.
  • Finally, car paint is designed to help maintain structural integrity. The metal body of your car can weaken over time. Paint inhibits this.

Painting your car also makes it look better. This cosmetic enhancement adds value, helping with potential resale.

Why Is It So Expensive to Paint a Car?

The cost of painting a car can create a significant burden for many consumers. If you have an older or used vehicle, a new coat of paint can cost almost as much as the entire car is worth.

There are several reasons why it costs so much to paint a car. The first is simply the expense of materials. Car paint itself is relatively expensive, and the amounts of it necessary to paint the entire car add up. Some paints can be applied with a spray-on method that is relatively quick and easy. But depending on the type of paint you've chosen, spray work might not be an option.

Further, often if you need a new coat of paint it means that your car has suffered some damage. Any dents, scratches or other physical damages have to be repaired first because you can't simply paint over damage. This is doubly true for rust and corrosion. Paint will seal this in and the problem will only get worse. These repairs will add to your cost.

To completely repaint your car the mechanic may even need to remove the original paint. This is a lengthy process.

Finally, a body shop needs to do significant preparation work before painting your car. It will need to cover over exposed surfaces such as windows, door jams and tires. The mechanic may also need to remove interior features such as your dashboard and seats depending on the nature of the work to prevent them from being damaged.

Particularly high-quality paint jobs can even require mechanics to take apart entire sections of the exterior itself, a very labor intensive process that adds significant costs. All of these are factors that increase the costs beyond just the paint and spraying.