How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Car?

By laura.cox

Posted in: 

A guide to determining the cost to paint a car 

There’s nothing that makes a car look better and accentuates its value more than a fresh paint job. And it’s not just an aesthetic consideration; that new coat of paint helps to keep the vehicle safe from rust and damage from day-to-day driving. But with a price tag that can quickly run into thousands of dollars, it’s not a decision to be made lightly. 

Understanding how to calculate the cost to paint a car, the auto paint finish you can expect to get for that money, and possible car painting alternatives that could save you some money can help you choose the option that will work best for you based on your needs and budget.  

How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Car? 

If you decide to go to a car paint shop to get the job done, you can expect to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars depending upon the level of paint job that fits your needs and budget. Based on the quality of the automotive paint, the meticulousness of the work, and the demands of your specific vehicle, the cost to paint a car can climb fast. 

  • Basic or Budget: This is the quickest and cheapest way to get a professional paint job, and the savings are achieved by cutting corners to save time and expenses. Only visible areas of the car will be painted, using the fewest number of coats of the cheapest car paints. You’ll have a painted car in the end, but that’s about all you’ll be able to say. Expect to pay between $300 to $900 for this level of service. 

  • Standard or Mid-Budget: If budget and turnaround time aren’t your primary concerns, investing in a higher-quality paint job can be worthwhile. This will typically include sanding and light bodywork, removal of rust, car scratch repair cost, painting of details and interior areas like the underside of the hood, more and finer layers of higher quality paints, and the finish to make it all look just right. This is when you’ll start wondering what the paint job adds to the car’s value, and you should expect to pay between $1,000 to $5,000 for the service. 

  • High End or Showroom Quality: This is the flashy end of the spectrum. It includes up to 24 layers of the most expensive of paints, lovingly applied to a car, sanded back to bare metal, and cleaned of dents, scratches, and rust. Custom paint jobs are possible, but whatever style you choose, it should come out looking … perfect! You can easily spend $10,000 to $20,000 or more on this level of service, but realistically if you have the money to spend, there’s always a more expensive paint and a more exotic look! 

With prices like these, it’s worth knowing a bit more about what to expect for your money. Understanding how the pricing breaks down can help you make the best decisions about where to spend and where to save your money to get the paint job you desire at an affordable price. 

Calculating the Cost of Painting a Car 

If you focus only on the average cost to paint a car, you might miss several factors that can impact the final price. Even an online car paint job cost estimator is only guessing the actual condition of your vehicle and any complications that could arise and add to the cost. 

choosing the car paint color

Some of the factors that go into the price calculation are: 

  • Surface Area: The math here is simple; more car equals more paint and more time spent preparing the vehicle to be painted. The bigger your car, the more you should expect to pay to paint it. 

  • Body Condition: More time spent removing dents, repairing scratches, and sanding out rust means more labor and, therefore, more expense on your final bill. 

  • Color Choice: The color of the automotive paint you choose can dramatically affect your final bill, not just in the sense of the cost per square inch. If you change the color of your car, interior sections that aren’t painted to match will stand out - but keep the same color, and you’re locked into the price of the paint that was used before. Some paints have different pigment densities and may require more coats to achieve full, even coverage. Any of these factors can add additional expenses to your paint job, from picking the shade of pale green that would look so cute parked in front of the garage to the expected type or texture of the finish. 

To say that calculating the cost of repainting a car is complicated is an understatement. 

Deciding When to Paint Your Car 

In addition to the actual bill when budgeting for the cost to repaint a car, you’ll need to account for the lifecycle of a paint job. To maintain your car’s protection from the elements, you’ll want to have it painted every five years – fewer if you don’t wax your car. 

Some other reasons you might want to consider repainting your car earlier include: 

  • Dents or Bodywork: These can create chips and cracks in the paint finish, allowing water to seep in and cause rust. Even a partial repaint can prevent additional damage. 

  • Increased Value: A new coat of car paint can give a car a new lease on life, though a decent paint job can easily cost more than the increased value of the vehicle if you aren’t careful. 

  • Color Changes: Sometimes, the same old car can feel like a brand new one with something as simple as a different paint color. 

But even if you wax meticulously and never get a scratch on your car, that lovely paint job has a shelf life. You’ll want to take that into account as you make your decision. 

car scratch repair, buffing, and dent removal

Estimating the Cost of Materials and Labor 

Another factor to consider when calculating your car paint price is how much is spent on the materials and labor. This raises the question of whether to bring your vehicle to a car paint shop or if you feel confident enough to attempt the repaint on your own. 

The materials that are needed to paint a car include: 

  • Paint Sprayers: To paint a car cleanly with a smooth finish, you’ll want to use high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) paint sprayers. 

  • Air Compressor: You’ll need a compressor of at least 15 psi to use your paint sprayer, but a stronger one will cover more area faster. 

  • Masking Materials: You’ll need to be ready to cover the areas you don’t want to paint, and masking tape or film helps keep your edge work clean. 

  • Drop Cloths: These will prevent paint overspray on the surrounding area. 

  • Protective Clothing: When spraying your car with automotive paint, you’ll want a face mask with eye protection and air filters, gloves, and coveralls for the rest of your clothing. 

  • Automotive Paint: As mentioned above, automotive paint is expensive and constitutes most of the price. Depending upon the size of your vehicle, you’ll need to cover anywhere from 50 to 150 square feet of surface area, and you’ll need to cover this area multiple times depending upon the paint you choose. In addition to your car paint, you’ll need a primer to prepare the vehicle’s surface and a clear coat to protect the final paint surface. 

Once these materials are calculated, the remainder of the cost to paint a car represents the hourly expense for labor. In addition to painting, the time spent working on your car will include: 

  • Masking and Trim Removal: Time-consuming but essential to making the car look crisp and clean when the work is done. 

  • Bodywork: Any sanding, buffing, or dent removal that your vehicle requires will add to the cost and the preparation time for the paint job. 

  • Removal of the Interior: Including the dashboard, console, and even the seats; taking the time to do this protects against accidental damage. 

While painting the actual car may not take that much time, the extra work that must be done before and after to make it go smoothly adds up fast. 

Saving Money by Painting Your Car 

Whatever the specific details of your situation, car paint job prices aren’t cheap. It’s perfectly reasonable to look for ways to save money on this kind of expense.  One of the easiest ways to save is to replace the labor costs with elbow grease and your own time.  

Before jumping into the deep end and considering this a fast source of savings, remember that you aren’t just paying for the time; you’re paying for the experience to use that time efficiently and effectively.  Unless you are an experienced automotive painter (and then why would you be reading this article?), expect to spend a lot more time getting lesser results as you figure out what you are doing. 

Some things to think about when you are considering a DIY automotive paint job are: 

  • Equipment Purchase: While drop cloths and painters’ tape may be cheap, compressors aren’t – and even cheap consumables add up over time. If you need to buy a lot of the materials and tools before you can start, it will cut into the amount you save by doing the work yourself. 

  • Attention to Detail: When you do a complicated job like this on your own, there will invariably be spots that did not receive even coverage or were missed entirely. You’ll notice little interior edges, corners, and similar details that you missed forever after finishing. 

  • Damage: In addition to rust, dents, and holes, there can be other surface problems like discoloration and surface texture that can lead to problems with the final paint job

  • Location: You’ll need a large, open, and well-ventilated area to do this work, preferably one that will minimize dust as the paint is drying. 

If you’re handy with a set of tools and not intimidated by these kinds of challenges, a DIY paint job may be ideal for you. 

Alternatives to Painting a Car 

But what if you aren’t a handyman, comfortable with things like ripping the interior of a car out on your own? There are still some options available to you that can help you save on that car paint price. These include: 

  • Vinyl Wrapping: Rather than repainting your car, a vinyl wrap can change the color without paint at all. The pricing for this can be in a similar range to a paint job and may not work for some vehicles due to surface damage or the complicated shape of the vehicle making the wrap too expensive. 

  • Truck Bed Liner: A spray-on truck bed liner can be a less expensive option for work or off-road vehicles. It offers better protection from bumps and scrapes and saves money. 

  • Plasti-Dip: With a vehicle intended for off-road use, like a 4x4, a rubber coating automotive paint like Plasti-Dip can provide better protection from scratches and chips. While possibly not as attractive as a traditional car paint job, it is affordable and can be removed if you decide you don’t care for the look. 

Exploring options such as these can entirely replace a new paint job or at least significantly reduce the amount of surface area that needs automotive paint. 

Talk to an Online Mechanic 

Car paint prices are intimidating, to say the least, and you are bound to have questions. When you find yourself faced with that decision and calculating the cost to paint a car, it helps to know that the voice of experience has your back. 

You can access that expertise in minutes with online help from a professional mechanic on JustAnswer. Discuss the specific details of your vehicle, share photos of your car to identify potential painting challenges, and get professional answers in real-time when something doesn’t seem right. Why deal with your automotive problems on your own?