Can Someone Tell Me About Auto Paint?

[KR] Paint 101

Q: Is it true that the more toxic a paint used for a car is, the "better" it is?

 A: Well, there is some truth to this, unfortunately, but beauty is a subjective thing. 

Lacquers were revered as the ultimate paint job for many years. They were easy to lay on, but required many, many thin, highly diluted coats with sanding in between. These many thin ‘dry’ coats shot clouds of overspray toxins into the atmosphere, and they may have been banned in many if not all states by now (I don’t know if it’s a federal ban). I hear there are still plenty of places to get an illegal lacquer job, and there may be some exceptions for antique cars, but I don’t know where they are. Twenty thin coats of lacquer give your paint a depth and beauty that just can’t be duplicated with acrylic enamels. I personally have never worked with lacquers. Lacquers are considered _better_ than OEM standards.

Now most shops and I believe every car manufacturer use acrylic enamels, which require more skill to lay on right, but meet OEM standards. Acrylic enamels have a trademark orange peel look that requires the ultimate skill to eliminate. It can also be buffed out after thirty days of curing, but then you have typical buffing problems to deal with (swirl marks, etc.) Acrylics only require two to three coats rather than twenty, and the overspray is much lighter. By putting a clear coat over the acrylic, you can get _some_ of the depth of lacquer. But clear coats use a chemical hardener that is so toxic that you have to change your double cartridge respirators every time you paint. The long-term effects of this hardener are not known, but anecdotal stories and my own experience with it eventually made me leave the business. Horror stories of things like paralysis, brain damage, stuff like that. It took me about three months of lying in the sun in Mexico to get all the paint smell out of my pores.

Since then I’ve only bought, fixed up, and sold cars, not done any production work. But kinda like an ex-smoker, I still love the smell of fresh paint.

Air pollution standards have gotten so strict that a lot of the high cost of a paint job is for the pollution filters, etc. in the paint booths. And the cost of paint has risen astronomically; from maybe $50 average for good paint (every color is different) to $250 for the paint for a single car. Painting is a messy business with chemicals and toxins of every kind.

There are other kinds of paint, but the above comprises over 90% of all paint jobs. So this is probably the basis of the statement about paint toxins.

 If you want to buy a wax that costs $1500 because it smells good, fine. But I think most  people want to have some logical/rational basis for what wax they buy and how frequently  they use it, so I'm going to go into that a little bit here. 

The purpose of wax is to provide a sacrificial coat for the elements which will extend and preserve the life of your paint job. How often you wax, and how much you spend on wax, should be a function of what you perceive to be the lifetime of the car, divided by the number of times you can repaint the car during its lifetime.

You can repaint most cars two times in addition to the original factory paint job; if they are good, thin paint jobs, you can get away with three repaints but they will not have that thin, sleek look anymore. Also, since most cars nowadays have a clear coat, that makes each paint job thicker than they used to be. After two thick or three thin paint jobs (there is a specific mil depth that I’m talking about but I can’t remember offhand exactly what it is), you have to strip away the paint on the entire car and start from scratch. Not many people except my next door neighbor likes to strip cars down to metal — it’s a hell job and it costs a fortune.

If you plan on having your NSX twenty years, you will want to repaint roughly year seven and year fourteen. The "average" paint job of a car exposed to the elements year round and waxed once per quarter is roughly four years, less if you live in the rust belt. Surely none of you Northerners drive your NSX’s in the winter anyway. So you are trying to extend the life of your paint job from four years to seven. You will need to wax your car about twice as frequently as the average bear.

You need to make adjustments in the formula for your car and the conditions to which it is exposed. I personally would want my NSX to live forever, and would wax it once a month (Sure, Richard, I’ll wax your car for you).

As far as how much to spend on wax, take the projected cost of your two or three paint jobs over an average lifetime and divide by the number of years. If you wax twice as often as the average, you are doubling the life of your paint jobs or theoretically eliminating one of the paint jobs during its lifetime. So you could theoretically spend up to the cost of one paint job on wax and still break even. But if the wax you use to preserve the car costs more than what you are saving on extending the mean time between paint jobs, you are spending too much on wax.

The most important thing is to wash the gunk off the car regularly. (I run mine through the car wash and hand dry it with cheap towels) They never see a garage and do have a little "industrial fallout" or iron dust. They get a polish about once a year. The white 93 A/T that I had looked the worst after 2 years, the red and purple ones look pretty good but not as good as most of yours.

I won’t go into the variations in the average life of different car colors, except to say YMMV.

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