Costs of Updates for Water-Based Paints Balance by Savings

Dear Car Talk:

You wrote recently about the new "matte" paints on some new cars.

Speaking of paint, what's with the idea that government regulations require car manufacturers to use water-based paint that requires an added cost when you sit down to sign the papers for the purchase/financing?

Is this the new rust-proofing scam? -- Steve

I'm not aware of any required extra charge for water-based paint, Steve. Your dealer may just be ahead of the pack when it comes to the "scamming arts."

The auto industry -- and actually the paint industry in general -- has been switching over to water-based paints for the last several decades, for good reasons. The older "oil" paints were made with lots of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Those are serious pollutants.

For most of us, they made the air we breathe less healthy. But for people who worked in factory paint shops and auto body shops, they were linked to more acute health problems, including cancer.

So the Environmental Protection Agency was 100% right to force this change. Put simply, paint is a mixture of pigment (color) and a solvent that keeps it liquified until it's been applied to a surface. Once it's applied, that solvent evaporates and leaves the color. Compared to older oil paints, water-based paints replace an enormous percentage of that solvent material with water. Water also evaporates to leave the pigment, but it's not bad for your health. Unless you mix it with an excessive quantity of bathtub whiskey. Which I've tried.

So, what's the cost? Well, there was a cost involved in the switchover, as manufacturers and body shops had to invest in new equipment, and had to work out the kinks of using the new products. And water-based paints do tend to cost a bit more than less-desirable, oil-based paints.

But there are also savings, because shops need fewer pollution controls to meet air quality regulations and fewer hazmat suits and respirators for employees.

In the end, most auto paint experts think that water-based paint with a clear coat results in a better metallic finish. Look at a new car from 40 years ago and a new car today. Today's paint job looks much better.

So if a dealer tells you there's an extra charge for low VOC paints, Steve, tell him it sounds like he's been breathing too many VOCs and walk out.


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What the stars say about your car for 5/16/2022
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