Do Luxury Cars Have Better Paint?


Paying extra gets you something better, right? Well, sometimes, but not necessarily all the time. One of the real bugbears of buying a new car, truck or SUV is being asked to pay extra for metallic, pearlescent or some other sort of fancy paint, which begs the question of do luxury cars have better paint than cheaper ones?

Luxury cars do not necessarily have better paint than cheaper ones, but you will probably have to pay more for premium paint with a new luxury model than you do with a more affordable model. However, if you ever go to have a car re-sprayed, you’ll soon find out how incredibly expensive a really good paint job can be.

To explain more about luxury cars and whether they have better paint, we’re going to consider:

  • Why does premium paint cost extra, even with luxury cars?
  • Different levels of luxury car
  • How much can you pay for luxury paint?
  • Which luxury cars have better paint?
  • What difference does expensive paint make?
  • Should you pay extra for premium paint on a luxury car?

Why does premium paint cost extra, even with luxury cars?

Before I joined the auto industry and while I was in it, I always thought it was a bit of a rip-off for automakers to charge extra for metallic, pearlescent and other types of premium paint. After all, they have to paint the car anyway, so why should it cost so much extra to have a different type of paint?

Let’s face it, a large part of the cost of painting a car is the labor, and with new cars, most of the painting will be done by a robot. Does the robot have to work harder because there are metallic flakes in the paint than it would do if it was a flat paint? Of course, it doesn’t.

There can be very, very big differences between different paint jobs though, but you can’t just assume a luxury car will have been painted better than a mass-market car. To the naked eye of a regular customer, when they see a gleaming new Chevy, Honda or Ford in a showroom, the paint will look every bit as perfect and shiny as the paint on a car in a Cadillac, BMW or Mercedes showroom.

In some cases, the paint on a brand new mass-market model can be every bit as good as the paint on a luxury car, but luxury paint can also be a whole lot better, even though you might not be able to tell. It’s not that a particular paint is “better” than another, but it’s the overall painting process that can add extra cost. If you think a new car at the factory gets a once-over with undercoat and then a top coat of your chosen color, then think again.

There can be many layers applied to a car, and you probably wouldn’t recognize all of them as paint. A modern paint job can consist of many layers of primers, undercoats, paints, clear coats and sealants, and the more layers that need to be applied, the more expensive it is.

Different levels of luxury car

Not all luxury cars are created equal, and there’s more to it than just a subjective opinion of what a true luxury brand is. I’d say there are three levels of luxury vehicles, which I’d categorize as premium, prestige and true luxury. My premium cars are those from the “luxury” sub-brands of big mass-market manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, Ford and Nissan.

Toyota has Lexus, Honda has Acura, Nissan has Infiniti and Ford has Lincoln. These are models that are often more luxurious versions of models in the regular mass-market ranges, and they can even be built, assembled and painted on the same production lines. We can probably add a few other brands into this category such as Buick and GMC too, which are brands that like to think of themselves as a luxury, but probably don’t get thought of by consumers as true luxury brands.

Next up are my prestige models, and this is where I place those models that are definitely a significant step up from the premium models I’ve just mentioned. This is where I would place models from the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, Jaguar Land Rover and Audi. To be fair to the likes of Lexus and the others though, there can be a big gap in these “prestige” ranges between the more affordable and the most expensive models.

Let’s be honest here, you’re not going to expect a BMW 1 Series to have a paint job anywhere near as good as an 8 Series, and a Mercedes-Benz A-Class isn’t going to be painted anywhere near as opulently as an AMG S43, are you?

As far as the true luxury models are concerned, and these are the ones where no expense whatsoever should have been spared in any part of the manufacturing process, I’m talking Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, etc.  

How much can you pay for luxury paint?

Let’s take a fairly ordinary car like the Ford Fusion. Ford has been fairly generous with buyers, and black, gray, silver, white and blue are all no-cost options. However, Rapid Red and Alto Blue cost $395 extra, and if you fancy White Platinum it’s an additional $595 on top of the basic price of the car. Unfortunately, although a car like the Fiesta is quite a bit smaller than the Fusion, the extra costs of premium paints are the same.

When it comes to Ford’s luxury brand, Lincoln, premium paint for a model like the Lincoln Continental jumps to $695. That’s actually a little expensive when compared to something like a BMW 3 Series, and that’s because BMW in the US is only asking for an additional $550 for any of its premium paints.

Of course, if you go all the way to those genuine luxury models, the premium paint for a Lamborghini Huracan is $2,500, and if you want an “extended” paint for your Bentley Continental, be prepared to pay out an additional $4,395.

But if you think some of these extra costs are extortionate, just try getting a price to have a car painted yourself at a paint shop. A standard re-spray for a regular car like a Ford Focus with cost around $1,500 to $3,000, while a premium paint job consisting of many, many layers for a hot-rod or a restoration can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

Which luxury cars have better paint?

Which luxury car has the better paint really comes down to want you mean by “better.” Do you mean most durable, thickest, best finished, or paint that’s easiest to take care of? The problem is you’re probably not going to know until you have to take care of it or repair it.

I can tell you from personal experience that the paint on a Land Rover or Range Rover isn’t particularly any more durable than the paint on a Ford or Chevy, and you’d be surprised at just how poor the paint can be at times from almost every manufacturer apart from those at the very highest level.

Even at the higher end of what I call the Premium segment, it’s not out of the question for cars costing in excess of $100k to have truly appalling paint jobs from the factory. In my experience, the only way to ensure a truly incredible paint job on a car from the factory is to go for a Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Bugatti, or something of that level.

Just because you’re paying $750 extra for a premium paint doesn’t make it any better than the standard paint; it just different and looks nicer.

I’ve spoken to a number of body shops and asked the guys which cars have the best paint, and it really does vary. While the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini are generally regarded as top of the pile, the second and third-grade paints are not as obvious as you’d think, and it does vary over time.

There was a time when Mercedes was renowned for the quality of its paint, but a number of professionals have told me that at certain times the German luxury automaker’s paint quality has been no better than third-grade, and below the standards of Chrysler, Honda and Jeep.

Brands like Jaguar, Audi, BMW and Infiniti are probably second-tier as far as paint goes, but some paint experts put Acura and Lexus alongside the very top brands at times for the quality of their paintwork.

What difference does expensive paint make?

You’ll usually find that the paint you want on the new car when you’re ordering from the dealership is going to cost extra, and there’s a good reason for that. Manufacturers are there to make a profit, so by charging extra for the nicer things makes them more money. Although premium paints are not exactly an investment, they can save you a little in terms of depreciation.

While most cars, apart from those from the super-luxury brands, are usually available with flat paint or paint that doesn’t cost extra, those paints can mean your resale value will be lower than if you’d gone for a metallic or pearlescent color instead. Will it devalue your car by as much as the extra cost of the paint? That’s questionable, to be honest. However, a $30k used vehicle will be less desirable and harder to sell if it has flat paint than an identical example with premium paint.

You will hear paints described as being soft, medium or hard, but there isn’t really a paint from a major manufacturer that’s particularly resistant to things like stone chips. You pay more for better paint because it looks better, and that’s about it. What dealers might not tell you is how much more expensive premium paint can be to get repaired.

If your vehicle is painted in something like a flat red, white or black it will be pretty easy to paint if you have a section repaired. If you have metallic paint it will be more difficult and more time-consuming to get a good re-spray done, and pearlescent and other even more costly paints like chromatics can be an absolute nightmare. If you intend to keep on top of your bodywork to keep your vehicle looking its best, take a moment to consider if you’re prepared to pay a lot more at the body shop each time you visit because you went for an expensive premium paint job.

Should you pay extra for premium paint on a luxury car?

If you’re buying a Ford, Chevy, VW, Honda or some other mass-market car, I’d be tempted to stick to colors that don’t cost extra. Standard finishes are a lot better than they used to be these days, and going with a standard paint won’t hurt your resale price with a Ford, Chevy, Toyota, etc.

On the other hand, if you’re already prepared to pay luxury car prices, why wouldn’t you pay the extra for a paint finish that makes the vehicle look even better? It will be more expensive to respray, but a luxury car will also cost more for servicing, insurance, tires, and just about anything else for that matter.

On the whole then, if you are buying a vehicle from one of those super-luxury manufacturers you are probably going to be getting superior paint than you’d get with a BMW, Audi or Jaguar. I’m afraid all that tells us is that we tend to get what we pay for in life, and vehicles are no exception.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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