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Summary
  • A car’s paint condition can give you an idea of whether it was involved in a collision or if any major repairs were done.
  • To know if a car has been repainted, you can check the paint depth in different panels using an aftermarket paint thickness gauge. A difference of 40 mils or more between two panels can mean that one of the panels has been repainted.
  • You can also look for signs of oversprays, visible tape lines, texture inconsistencies, and variations in color tone.

If you’re planning to buy a used car, one of the things you might want to check is the vehicle’s paint. Inspecting the paint’s condition doesn’t only ensure you’re getting a vehicle that looks good, but it can also reveal so much about its history.

Signs of repainting can mean that the car was involved in a collision or major repairs were done in the past. While buying a properly repaired and repainted car isn’t an issue, transparency from the previous owner is important.

How to Tell If a Car Has Been Repainted

mechanic using tool to check car paint thickness
Inspecting the paint’s condition doesn’t only ensure you’re getting a vehicle that looks good, but it can also reveal so much about its history.

Here are some of the things you can do to check if the car you’re about to buy has been repainted:

Check the Paint Depth In Different Parts of Your Car

Manufacturers usually use a robotic arm to paint the exterior surface of a car’s body, doors, hood, and other external panels. Because the mechanism used to paint a car is controlled by a computer, the thickness of the paint coat is assumed to be the same throughout the vehicle.

If a car has been repainted, there will surely be a noticeable difference in paint thickness. To do that, you’ll need an aftermarket paint thickness gauge.

Simply press the device’s tip against a body panel. It will then give out a paint depth reading that’s usually in mils or microns, which are units of measurement used in the paint industry.

A difference of 40 mils or more between two panels can mean that one of the panels has been repainted. For example, if the paint depth of your driver-side door is around 150 mils, and the paint depth of the nearby front fender is around 200 mils, you can suspect that the driver-side door has been repainted. In general, factory paintwork tends to be thicker compared to repaints.

Look for Oversprays

One of the easiest ways to spot if a car has been repainted is to look for paint overspray. When a car is repainted, sections not meant to be repainted might not be covered properly. Places to check include under the hood, inside the door jambs, and in the trunk. Additionally, make sure to open the fuel door and inspect there as well.

Paint overspray often looks like a dull patch on top of the paint. The surface will also be rough compared to other parts of your car.

Watch for Visible Tape Lines

Body shops usually use masking tape to cover areas they don’t want to get paint on, such as windows, moldings, trims, and emblems.

If the auto body painter didn’t do this process correctly, there can be visible tape lines after the repainting is done. A tape line looks like a sharp cutoff between two depths of paint. You can look for a visible line or observe if there’s an area where paint depth transitions abruptly.

Excess compound or polish residue can also accumulate on the edges of the tape, creating a visible line. This is usually a sign of a careless paint job.

Texture Inconsistencies

The term “orange peel” refers to the slight dimpling and waviness in the paint of a vehicle. This slight imperfection is usually the effect of heat and other external factors like dust contamination during the paint curing process.

What you want to look for is excessive and inconsistent bumps and blemishes. This could mean that the vehicle was prepped and repainted hastily.

Variations In Color Tone

Matching a car’s color tone is no easy task. Auto body shops must find a color that matches the paint code of your vehicle. The automotive paint code is a number that corresponds to the specific color your auto manufacturer used on your vehicle’s body paint during production.

You’ll also have to consider that as a vehicle gets older, its paint inevitably fades. Therefore, a body shop might have to use a spectrophotometer to analyze the car’s current color and determine how to blend color shades to achieve it.

Since perfectly matching a car’s color is a complicated task, a repainted car might have noticeable variations in color tone—especially if the body shop didn’t do its work properly.

The paint might match perfectly under direct sunlight, but you might notice a slight difference in color tone during nighttime or under different light sources. In some cases, the opposite can happen: the paint may look good when parked in a shaded area, but the difference becomes obvious in the sunlight.

Take note, however, that some paint color variations happen naturally. For example, if the owner routinely parks the car in an area where the left side of the car is constantly exposed to the heat of the sun, there’s a chance that the paint on that side will fade more easily than the right side.

Paint can also age differently on a metal surface compared to plastic surfaces. For example, a car’s metal hood might develop a slightly different hue compared to plastic bumpers.

Ask an Expert to Inspect the Vehicle

If you’ve hired a mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection, you can ask them to inspect the vehicle’s paint. Although they might not be a paint expert, they’ll be able to spot obvious signs of repainting.

If you paid for a pre-purchase inspection, you should specify that you want the frame inspected to ensure a frame stretcher hasn’t been used and to check for any damage to the front end components that might indicate the vehicle has been involved in an accident.

If you have the budget for it, you can also ask an experienced paint and body expert for advice. They’ll be able to determine whether a vehicle was repainted just for its looks or if it was done due to extensive repairs.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Tony Harlin is a Master Gas and Diesel Diagnostic Technician with over 18 years of experience. He works full-time at a large independent automotive shop as a driveability and repair technician working on all types of vehicles with a focus on diesels. ASE certifications include A1-A9, L1 and L2, as well as X1.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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