more so than you think!

Author: Andre Clemente, Founder of New Old Cars, LLC ©
Last updated: July 24, 2020


Note: this article excludes the run-of-the-mill orange peel found on almost every new car. It’s an inevitable occurrence within the factory paint shop, and it’s left there on purpose. Take a dive into the factory paint process to learn why.

Scan through the forums of any automotive make and model, and you’ll find no shortage of threads with angry customers revealing paint defects on their expensive new car. Besides orange peel, you will see close-ups of overspray, peeling, chipping, blotchy paint spots, “tiger stripes”, and plain sloppy attention to detail.

What happened? Are manufacturers really this incompetent? Is it cost cutting? Or are they incapable of delivering a perfect paint job off the factory line? How can they build cars with such fantastic performance, yet fail to deliver in the paint department?

The answer has little to do with their capability, and instead has more to do with the lack of quality control once the car leaves the factory. The reality is that the majority of the paint defects you see are NOT the result of your manufacturers’ inadequate production methods, rather they are the result of low-quality repairs made after the car leaves the factory.

On the production line, cars are dipped and painted in a very uniform, consistent coating. A body panel or two that sticks out like a sore thumb is a clear sign that damage has occurred after the car has left the factory. Anyone who has worked at a dealership will tell you – the cars don’t always arrive at their showrooms in flawless condition. Sometimes, repairs have to be made to correct things like wheel damage, windshield damage, and paint damage.

Think about it – some cars get transported across the Atlantic ocean from another continent, then trucked across the entire country to your local dealership. This long, treacherous voyage will expose plenty of opportunities for damage to occur, such as bad weather (hail and storms) and the unloading of cars on and off the transporter (time is money, Bob!). The good news is that damage during transport isn’t nearly as common as it was a few decades ago, as quality control in the logistics industry as increased tenfold. However, it still happens more frequently then you think, depending on how big the journey is from factory to dealership.

A transporter carrying brand new cars tried to take a shortcut to avoid traffic … under a low bridge. This resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
On a side note, the accident occurred on Friday the 13th. Maybe not the best day to test your luck…

And when it does arrive at the dealership (especially the massive ones), cars naturally face a much higher chance of receiving damage. While there are some dealers that are more meticulous than others, lets be real honest – there are more dealers with careless employees than there are careful ones. Sure, no “car wash boy” is perfect – vehicles get moved around and occasionally sideswipe or bang into each other. Even exotic and sports car dealerships can’t avoid this occurrence every now and then. These brand new vehicles are even prone to accidents on the public road as they get driven on test drives, as well as by dealer employees to and from different dealerships (this explains why the odometer on your “new car” can read hundreds, if not thousands of miles! These things get driven!)

But let’s be fair – before you criticize your dealers for their “incompetence”, why don’t you try and maintain a lot full of 100+ cars and 30+ employees without a single issue! Accidents can and will happen, especially if a car has been sitting on the lot for months!

Your criticism needs to be directed toward an act that is far less deserving of forgiveness: the act of not reporting any damage.

You see, repairs on new vehicles are so common that each state had to develop laws to control them. A dealership does not have to disclose a repair cost below a certain threshold (a % of the car’s MSRP). However, any repair that exceeds this threshold must be disclosed by law. This threshold varies by state and can range in allowance. For example, North Carolina allows repairs up to 5% of the MSRP to remain undisclosed, while California is 3%. (laws can change, please check your current state code regarding this matter.) Repairs range from minor bumper touch-ups to multi-panel resprays. Wheel damage, side mirror damage, and windshield replacement are especially common.

Unfortunately, not all dealers abide by the law. Some shady dealers choose not to disclose the repairs that surpass this threshold and instead are quick to blame the factory for any defects resulting from aftermarket repairs. There are instances on forums of cars receiving paintwork on more than half the body before reaching its first owner (due to a sideswipe or whatnot) without getting disclosed! (thankfully, NOC as written the most in-depth article on verifying original paint, so you can arm yourself before you hit the dealer).


Of course the factory makes mistakes. They build hundreds of thousands of cars a day, and repairs are actually quite common on the production line. According to Automotive Paints and Coatings, 2nd Edition, the best automakers have a no-touch rate of 75% (the rate of cars not needing any repairs), while 20% of cars need spot or panel repair. The final 5% require total repaint.

However, repairs conducted here are done within the confines of the establishment, where the environment is ideal. The materials and procedures exploited are superior to that of the refinishing industry, and the tools used to spot imperfections are the best on the market:

Lexus uses an RGB light tunnel for paint inspection. Different color lighting allows imperfections to stand out in orders of magnitude more visible to the naked eye – imperfections that would otherwise be imperceptible under the typical factory lighting.
Mercedes Benz using a spectrophotometer, which measures total color impression and color matching using different viewing angles and lighting conditions. A must for metallic paint jobs, where flake orientation needs to be consistent throughout all body panels.

The above GIF of a Jaguar paint inspection is evidence your car most likely didn’t leave the factory with that horrendous paint defect(s). This is standard procedure across the industry (minus the cheap economy cars). The vehicle enters a special lighting area that highlights imperfections and inconsistencies in the finish. An inspector with a special marker goes over the car with a white glove, highlighting any defects left by the paint process. In the next station, a worker will either hand correct or machine polish the highlighted defects. A final inspector will go over the car one last time to ensure the repairs are completed.

Also, because defects are spotted before the car leaves the paint shop, the repairs are done while the car is still a bare shell. This means that a refinished panel can be easily removed and properly baked in an oven for the best possible curing.

Unfortunately, quality control is not the same when the car leaves the factory. End-of-the-line (and onward) paint defects can only be repaired via the aftermarket refinishing process, using standard field repair materials, paint guns, and a low temperature bake process (if any baking at all). This means longevity is not the same as the factory finish – nor is the uniform quality. Remember, dealers are in the business of making a profit – most of them aren’t going to hire the finest body shop in the area to do meticulous work. Any repair expense is coming out of their (already slim) profits.



Here is an “externally charged” version of the Electrostatic Bell Cup Atomizer used by manufacturers to paint their cars. Those pointy claws at the tip are creating an electric field around the paint in mid-air, forcing the particles toward the car.
Photo credit: Chalmers University of Technology
The factory paint process has evolved dramatically over the years, all in the attempt to reduce costs and VOC emissions. A no-touch rate of 80% or more is pretty damn impressive when you consider the volume of cars produced in a year. The manufacturer invests hundreds of millions of dollars in their paint department for many reasons; one of which is to keep defects to an absolute minimum.

Mistakes are costly. Manual labor to remove a car off the line, inspect, sand, and repair is astronomically expensive in relevance to the automated process. Toyota, for example, builds one car every 12 minutes (from start to finish). However, halting the production line for a paint repair becomes an incredibly disruptive process, increasing the build time exponentially. The manufacturers have gone to great lengths to reduce the number of paint defects generated within the paint shop, and this has led to some incredible advancements in the paint industry – tooling and all.

This lead the industry to develop a highly advanced paint applicator (known as an Electrostatic Rotary Bell Cup Atomizer) that ensures incredibly high transfer rates and minimal overspray. The tiny charged droplets repel each other in mid-air, so they never clump up. The result is a finish so uniform that it cannot be matched by any HVLP gun on the market. In fact, the paint particles that emerge are so fine and well-controlled that, combined with the electronic charge, up to 50% more paint hits the surface compared to a typical HVLP air gun. More paint hitting the surface means the less paint flying away into the air.

Combined with a state-of-the-art computer-controlled application system, you are looking at the most precise paint application method on the market. You can imagine, then, why visible factory overspray is virtually non-existent on modern cars, and its an overstated, misunderstood issue on vintage cars.

Just ask some of the top dogs in the business, whose traditional methods of hand-applied clear coat happily gave way to the consistency of robotic sprayers. According to Dave Walton, a Paint Director for Bentley, “There’s the fact that no two expert sprayers would apply that [coat] in exactly the same way“. Even Rolls Royce, who does everything else by hand, says the top coat involves the “only robotized process in the entire plant … and that’s because the clever machines apply precisely the correct amount of paint. You have a great difficulty of achieving this by manual (hand) application. These two automakers arguably produce some of the finest paint finishes in the world.

Now, this isn’t an insult to the refinishing industry – they do a fantastic job considering what they have to work with (the good ones, at least). The above comments are referring to painting in a factory setting (can you imagine trying to paint hundreds of thousands of cars exactly the same way… by hand??) The refinishing industry isn’t worried about ensuring the thinnest coat possible, nor are they under a stressed factory setting. The end goal is to match the repair quality with the rest of the factory paint job. Unfortunately, the transporter or dealership won’t always invest in a high-quality repair, and you’re left with the horrendous paint defects that people complain about all over the internet.

ok, but regardless – who is responsible for repairing the defects on my car?

The reality is that your car comes with a warranty, and every warranty is different. If you notice something wrong with the paint on your new car, be sure to read the fine print to see what it covers. A lot of times, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer directly to open a customer ticket. Usually a “factory engineer” will come out and evaluate the damage. From there, they will determine if it can be covered. If your car isn’t covered, you can always see if the dealer is willing to complete the repair out of “good faith”, but there’s no guarantee this will happen.

Bottom line – if you are looking to purchase a new car off the lot, inspect it thoroughly. I cannot push our article on Inspecting for Paintwork enough. If you find evidence, you can either haggle the price or pass on the car. Just know that the defect likely wasn’t committed by the manufacturer.



Andre Clemente, Founder of New Old Cars, LLC © 
Article last updated: July 24, 2020

About the Author: Andre Clemente, a member of the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH), has spent over 12 years in the business of buying and selling cars – half of those years were dedicated to the classic car/sports car business. As an automotive paint fanatic, Andre has been hyper-focused on learning paint correction and inspecting automotive paintwork, working alongside veteran dealers, brokers, and a licensed Concours judge in the process. Years of real-world practice and application gave him the experience to identify inaccuracies and myths that are widely accepted when authenticating a vehicle’s paint job. Rather than keep his knowledge as a trade secret, he has decided to share the research and insider details he’s learned to help educate the collector car community, and ultimately shine a brighter light on the cars truly wearing their original paint.


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