Dear Car Talk:
I've noticed a new paint on late model cars and trucks. It's not the color, but the texture or overall effect that stands out. My wife calls it a "flat" finish, but I call it "enameled." It's different, shocking, beautiful and eye-catching.
Has anyone else noticed? Fill us in on the history of this new paint finish. Thanks. -- John
Uh-oh, looks like Frank in the paint department forgot to buff out another one. It's most commonly called a "matte" finish, John. BMW calls it "frozen," because it looks like a bag of peas that just came out of the freezer with a coat of frost on it. And it is a very cool-looking finish. Who says cars have to be shiny?
It's prepared the same way as any other paint job. The primer and paint are applied and then a clear coat is added on top of the paint. But instead of buffing the clear coat to a smooth finish, the clear coat is left unpolished. That's what creates the non-shiny, matte appearance. Because it's created the same way, it's just as durable as any other paint job. But maintenance isn't quite as easy. Most manufacturers recommend that you hand-wash a car with a matte finish, as the fast-spinning brushes of some automatic car washes can shine up individual spots -- making the car look like the face of a teenager with greasy splotches.
You also can't fix scratches very easily. On most cars, if you get a modest scratch that only goes into the clear coat, you buff the clear coat and make the scratch disappear. If you buff a spot on a matte finish, you'll shine up that spot and ruin the look. If you don't remove a stain in time, and it etches into the clear coat, you've got the same problem.
I don't know how hard it is for a body shop to match an individual door or fender, should you need to replace one after an accident. But I'm guessing it's harder to match than a traditional, shiny finish. And, of course, you can't use normal car wax on it. You'll need a specialty product, lest you accidentally shine up the finish you spent an extra $3,000 to special order. So, like you, I'm a big fan of these new matte finishes, John. Especially on other people's cars.