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Can a used car's paint thickness indicate if it has been in an accident?

Posted by David Newton at

Used car paint thickness can indicate if it has hidden unreported damage.


One of the first things a person should do when they are considering buying a used car is to get a detailed history of the vehicle. This would include all maintenance and accident records.  Getting a Carfax on the vehicle in question is a good first step. However, a CarFax alone may not be enough. One can’t always expect that the information you receive will be comprehensive or even accurate.  Some car repairs are performed by the individual themselves, or by friends who are mechanics, and the work that has been done can sometimes go unreported. At times the work can be so good that it is hard to notice based on a naked eye inspection alone.  

That’s why a paint meter gauge can be an important and essential tool. These gauges are used to measure the thickness of the paint on the car, and, if properly calibrated, they delivery extremely accurate results.  Testing multiple spots on the car and noting variations in thickness can show which sections have been repaired and which sections have remained untouched. Thicker layers of paint can be an easy indication that there may be rust or damage hidden underneath.


Car paint thickness

The average new car paint thickness is 4-5 millimeters, but could be as low as 3 millimeters, depending on the car. The clear coat alone is around 1.5 millimeters. This might sound like a lot, but it’s deceptive since a millimeter is actually an extremely small unit of measurement. In comparison, a piece of paper is about 2.8 millimeters thick and a credit card is 25 to 35 millimeters thick. Just a small scratch can cause significant damage to a car’s overall paint job, and only a 20% removal of the clear coat layer will void the warranty. This is why removing scratches can be a delicate process and an art form in and of itself. Only an expert should be trusted to do the work properly.


Used car paint thickness

Factory car paint thickness can vary from car to car and that variation can be greater the older the car is. However, a vehicle that has been repainted, generally to cover a repair or hide rust spots will almost certainly have thicker paint than a car with its original factory paint job. This thickness will be impossible to determine without using the proper tools. So if your paint meter indicates that that paint is over 198 microns (or 8.1 millimeters) thick, you can pretty much guarantee that it is NOT the factory paint and you should be concerned if this has not been disclosed on the Carfax or maintenance report.


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