Paint Meters Uncover Used Cars’ Worst Secrets

It’s essentially x-ray vision for people who need to know.

It’s hard to imagine Superman needing a used car, but if he was in the market, he’d likely summon his x-ray vision to scan the body for evidence of collision repairs.

It’s a super-power we’d all like to have – especially on the used-car lot – and in fact there is a tool that delivers the benefits of x-ray vision to mere mortals.

Paint coating thickness gauges are used by dealerships, body shops, automobile appraisers and car collectors to obtain an accurate assessment of the paint application to ensure the vehicle’s condition matches its reported history.

It’s essentially x-ray vision for people who need to know.

The first affordable paint gauges were magnetic pull-off testers, which measure the force required to detach the built-in magnet from a painted steel surface. The more force required, the thinner the paint – generally a good thing, as it indicates presence of the original factory coating. A scale on the device corresponds with paint thickness, measured in “mils,” or 1⁄1000 (0.001) of an inch.

Contemporary manufacturing techniques require more precise measurements, so electronic gauges have become the standard. They use a constant-pressure magnetic probe and eddy currents to provide consistent readings shown on a liquid crystal display. Accuracy is typically plus or minus 1 to 3 per cent, while a magnetic paint gauge can be off by up to 15 per cent.

Professional electronic paint meters sell for between $350 and $1,000 each, available online and through auto body supply shops. Magnetic gauges sell for less than $100, and there are new consumer-oriented electronic gauges that sell for less than that sum, too.

Regardless of the type, paint gauges have revolutionized the way used vehicles are being assessed, not only at the wholesale level, but in retail environments, too.

 

Mechanical or the more accurate electronic paint meters can reveal hidden body work from previous repairs.

Jim Krigos, a partner at Gyro Mazda in Toronto, uses his electronic paint meter to help him appraise potential trade-ins. Customers are supposed to disclose any previous accident history at the time of trade-in, but Krigos gives them the benefit of the doubt.

“Some people come in with a trade and have no idea of their car’s history,” he says. “Paint meters take the guesswork out of appraisal, because it will divulge the vehicle’s paint history.”

Krigos made paint meters part of his arsenal of disclosure tools to inform used-vehicle shoppers.

“We have three levels of vehicle inspection: our own mechanical check done on a hoist, the CarProof vehicle history report, and our paint meter,” says Krigos.

CarProof and Carfax are good services, but with limitations, he says. The documents only disclose what’s been reported to authorities. If a car owner doesn’t inform his insurance company of a collision and gets the car repaired at a body shop for cash, the history report remains clean. It is estimated well over half of collisions are never reported.

“As a dealer, it costs around $50 per vehicle to acquire the CarProof information,” points out Kevin Bavelaar, dealer principal of Toronto’s Auto Showplace.

“Now we use Auto Check from the Used Car Dealers Association, which is a lot cheaper, and we augment that with our paint meter. We’ve been doing it for years.”

Paint meters have become so entrenched in the industry, Bavelaar says some wholesale automobile auctions provide paint thickness numbers right on the vehicle’s report.

As a professional auto body repairer and painter, Darryl Roberts appreciated having a mechanical paint gauge in his shop. He teaches auto body repair at Toronto’s Centennial College, where he makes use of several types of meters as teaching tools.

An electronic Elcometer he places on a freshly painted Volkswagen Jetta’s roof displays 3.5 mil, but as he walks around the sedan the readings begin to fluctuate. The hood shows 10.0 mils, while the front fender starts very high at 21.0, then recedes to 6.0 as he moves to the rear quarter panel.

The numbers suggest the Jetta had been involved in a major front-end collision. The paint was likely blended with the original body panels in the middle of the car. Roberts confirms the Jetta’s ugly history, but points out a paint meter can be fooled if a body shop really wants to conceal its work.

“If they use brand-new body panels and paint to factory specs, the repair work can match the original sheetmetal, as long as they don’t blend the paint over the existing panels,” he says.

A good body shop could also sand its repair work and remove paint to the same level the new paint will fill in. But Roberts says, realistically, there are few shops that will do so, simply because car owners and insurance companies aren’t inclined to pay for the long hours of skilled labour required to hide the work from a paint meter.

Appraisers look for consistency in paint thickness from front to back and top to bottom on a vehicle. A meter may read between 5.0 and 7.0 mils, which is considered uniform, but if one panel differs from the rest with a 12.0 mil reading, for example, it may be cause for concern. If the meter can’t show a reading, it likely means the presence of body filler.

At Gyro, Krigos has taken to using his electronic paint meter to sell used cars to skeptical customers. He walks around a 2010 Mazda3, placing his device on each of the horizontal and vertical steel panels (it won’t read plastic bumper covers). The numbers are consistently between 3.5 and 4.5 mils, proving the paint and bodywork are original. He has a potential sale.

“Not every dealer will do this,” says Krigos. “But I would argue more disclosure is a good thing for the industry.”

Mechanical or the more accurate electronic paint meters can reveal hidden body work from previous repairs.

Jim Krigos, a partner at Gyro Mazda in Toronto, uses his electronic paint meter to help him appraise potential trade-ins. Customers are supposed to disclose any previous accident history at the time of trade-in, but Krigos gives them the benefit of the doubt.

Mechanical or the more accurate electronic paint meters can reveal hidden body work from previous repairs.

“Some people come in with a trade and have no idea of their car’s history,” he says. “Paint meters take the guesswork out of appraisal, because it will divulge the vehicle’s paint history.”

Krigos made paint meters part of his arsenal of disclosure tools to inform used-vehicle shoppers.

“We have three levels of vehicle inspection: our own mechanical check done on a hoist, the CarProof vehicle history report, and our paint meter,” says Krigos.

CarProof and Carfax are good services, but with limitations, he says. The documents only disclose what’s been reported to authorities. If a car owner doesn’t inform his insurance company of a collision and gets the car repaired at a body shop for cash, the history report remains clean. It is estimated well over half of collisions are never reported.

“As a dealer, it costs around $50 per vehicle to acquire the CarProof information,” points out Kevin Bavelaar, dealer principal of Toronto’s Auto Showplace.

“Now we use Auto Check from the Used Car Dealers Association, which is a lot cheaper, and we augment that with our paint meter. We’ve been doing it for years.”

Paint meters have become so entrenched in the industry, Bavelaar says some wholesale automobile auctions provide paint thickness numbers right on the vehicle’s report.

As a professional auto body repairer and painter, Darryl Roberts appreciated having a mechanical paint gauge in his shop. He teaches auto body repair at Toronto’s Centennial College, where he makes use of several types of meters as teaching tools.

An electronic Elcometer he places on a freshly painted Volkswagen Jetta’s roof displays 3.5 mil, but as he walks around the sedan the readings begin to fluctuate. The hood shows 10.0 mils, while the front fender starts very high at 21.0, then recedes to 6.0 as he moves to the rear quarter panel.

The numbers suggest the Jetta had been involved in a major front-end collision. The paint was likely blended with the original body panels in the middle of the car. Roberts confirms the Jetta’s ugly history, but points out a paint meter can be fooled if a body shop really wants to conceal its work.

“If they use brand-new body panels and paint to factory specs, the repair work can match the original sheetmetal, as long as they don’t blend the paint over the existing panels,” he says.

A good body shop could also sand its repair work and remove paint to the same level the new paint will fill in. But Roberts says, realistically, there are few shops that will do so, simply because car owners and insurance companies aren’t inclined to pay for the long hours of skilled labour required to hide the work from a paint meter.

Appraisers look for consistency in paint thickness from front to back and top to bottom on a vehicle. A meter may read between 5.0 and 7.0 mils, which is considered uniform, but if one panel differs from the rest with a 12.0 mil reading, for example, it may be cause for concern. If the meter can’t show a reading, it likely means the presence of body filler.

At Gyro, Krigos has taken to using his electronic paint meter to sell used cars to skeptical customers. He walks around a 2010 Mazda3, placing his device on each of the horizontal and vertical steel panels (it won’t read plastic bumper covers). The numbers are consistently between 3.5 and 4.5 mils, proving the paint and bodywork are original. He has a potential sale.

“Not every dealer will do this,” says Krigos. “But I would argue more disclosure is a good thing for the industry.”


  • FILED UNDER
  • used cars
  • body shops
  • paint meters
  • gyro mazda
  • jim krigos
  • accident repair
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