PPI’s The Paint Meter Never Lies

Having someone qualified to perform a PRE Purchase Inspection BEFORE you buy is always a good idea. Being able to spot potential or current mechanical issues, previous accident damage, etc is critical when buying a car, so you can have an idea of what repairs you may be facing in the future, Ie, money out of your pocket. Unfortunately, I end up doing a lot of POST Purchase Inspections after someone had purchased a car, and they never really enjoy my findings. Cheap insurance is what I say. Many people will just run a Carfax to look for reported damage. I think Carfax is good for checking number of owners and any odometer discrepancies. Other than that, I think it is a scam. I have inspected a lot of cars that have been nearly totaled in accidents and then repaired that have shown clear Carfax reports because it wasn’t reported to them. The idea of Carfax is fantastic, unfortunately, the amount of people that report damage to Carfax is far from perfect.

Yesteray I ran over to Belton to check out a Porsche 944T for a friend. Typical Craigslist and Ebay listing, 88k miles, but it fairly decent shape. It had great records for the clutch/Belts/Water-pump which are the big ticket items, and for a 25 year old car it had it’s share of things that it would need in regards to maintenance. No records of any body work being done. A few oil leaks here and there, some 25 year old rubber hoses that were hard, etc. The paint looked really good with the exception of a dented nose panel and dent in a rocker panel. Not bad right?

Here comes the trained eye 😉 Some paint jobs are very obvious. You pick up on signs like orange peel, contaminants in the clear code, paint runs, over spray etc. Other paint jobs are near perfect and you can’t see anything with the naked eye (or your brain is trying to tell you something you want to hear)

On a 944, the most common error a paint shop makes is right here on the header/nose panel. To the untrained eye, the car looks great. To me, I see the car has been painted. Why? Because this strip where the screws are on the backside of the panel was painted black from the factory, and not body color. Most body shops will not bother masking this strip off when they paint, but will instead just paint the entire panel.

The next dead give away, is near the top corner of the rear hatch, in between the hatch and the body. There are a couple of round bolt heads used in the production process from the factory. Again, these bolt heads were painted black. When body shops spray the car, they end up spraying them body color. On the left side of the car, they were black. On the right side they were body color.

So out comes the paint meter. I use a FenderSplendor FS488 which has proven to be yet another invaluable tool. So I started measuring. The left side and rear were mostly 5-6mils thick on the paint.

The nose panel, hood, and entire right side of the car ranged from 10-13.5mils thickness. What this tells us, is that section of the car had another layer of paint put down over the top. That could have been due to an accident, vandalism, or just the owner trying to get the car in top cosmetic condition. Sometimes a paint job is a good thing, and other times it is covering something bigger up.

Paint thickness is going to vary from car to car. The idea is to look for consistency throughout the car, from side to side, front to back, and specifically door jambs. When you start finding huge outliers, then you can bet the car has been painted. Remember, the paint meter never lies, no matter how good the car looks.

Here is another example of a 911. On this car, the paint ranges from 6-8mils throughout most of the car. Nice consistent numbers.

Unfortunately, when you get to the hood, the numbers jump, indicating a lot of paint on the hood. On this car, it was obvious the front bumper had been painted, but the hood looked great. But the paint meter doesn’t lie. Now in a case like this where the fenders were not resprayed, but the hood and front bumper were, you can likely bet the owner had the hood and front bumper painted due to rock chips, and such. A respray on a 20 year old collector car to fix cosmetic issues is not unheard of, and doesn’t necessarily mean the car was in an accident.

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One Comment

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Jeremy D.

August 10, 2011 at 8:53 PM

Very interesting post. I’ve always wondered how that was done. You read about it all the time on the forums and such.

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