Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Paint touch-up for pros

October 11, 2010
Many of those in the carwash/detail business have the remnants of a paint touch-up kit in their shop that has likely never made a profit.

It’s finally time to dispose of those old containers of dried paint and gummy chemicals to make room on the shelf for things that actually get used, like compounds and waxes.

The obstacles may be simply too great to hurdle. But for others, it may just be the additional information that you need for making the go-ahead decision now or sometime down the road.

Finding the market
Before venturing into the paint touch-up business, you need to ask yourself, “Is there a significant, meaningful market in my area for making touch-ups? Is there a large percentage of my clientele wanting this service?” If not, it may not be worth the investment.

On the other hand, in places like Denver, with its fast, busy freeways and rock-strewn roads (a result of treating snow covered streets), I would guess that 30 percent or more of the cars that go through the high-end carwashes have noticeable paint chips and other repairable blemishes.

If the business is there, is it profitable to follow? I supply some materials to a few guys who do primarily wholesale work for car lots. For a standard paint chip repair, which takes about an hour, the fees run from $55 to $85 on average and usually involve some light scratch removal/repair. Retail should bring at least another 50 percent or more. And remember, this is in addition to any other work done and charged for, such as detailing.

What’s next?
Do you have a qualified and dedicated operator? Contrary to what some may believe, doing quality paint touch-up repairs is not simple and easy. It’s only the tacky, brushed-on repairs that the car owner himself could do that are easy.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was selling repair materials to car dealerships where he had successfully made touch-up repairs. Companies like these hired paint repair personnel from vendors who had serviced their lots in the past. They did not start from scratch.

You may want to consider hiring already trained personnel or subcontracting with an experienced vendor. Not only should they know what they’re doing, but they should be experienced enough to know what can and can’t be done.

Materials and methodology
Here’s where it really gets tough. What materials and method are you going to use and what are your choices?

There are several things to consider when purchasing materials:
  • Purchase location;
  • Paint type; and
  • Applicators/application methods.
Purchase location
Do you want to buy locally or mail order? Local is a good choice, but they may not sell in the quantities you want and may not have some of the ancillary items specialty shops may have.

Most mail order companies sell materials in small amounts and have their own additives and removers as well as other items you may see a need for.

But beware: some may only sell complete kits, along with blue sky, or worse, black hole attachments. Do your homework before buying from a mail order firm, same as you did before you bought your business.

Paint type
Before purchasing paints, it is important to determine paint type and application method. The choices are:
  • Pre-mixed paints,
  • Visual color mixing; and
  • Formulated colors.
Pre-mixed are the simplest and consist of a couple dozen examples of colors along with some adjusting toners to use when necessary. Pre-mixed paints could also include those you get from the dealer or auto parts store in a tube. This material is a lot better than it used to be.

Visual color mixing systems consist of a small number of toners along with the tools and training to achieve the color you want.

Formulated colors will likely call for a system of 65-90 toners and, unlike the other two systems, will require a database to call up formulas from. You will probably have an ongoing expense with formula availability. Since there are tens of thousands of car colors out there (standards and variants) it would seem that with formulated colors you will be assured of getting the closest color match. Colors are getting more and more complex, not simpler.

On the other hand, when the repair areas are quite small, as is the case with rock chips, closely matching the color is the way to go. If you are contemplating small-area blending repairs that require spraying, closely matching the color won’t cut it.

Be advised that high-metallic/mica colors like champagnes, ferns, and mists are much harder to achieve than low-opacity, somewhat transparent colors like whites, blues, greens, reds (pearlescent, metallic, or solid), etc. Get a sprayed-out example and not a brushed-on for best analysis.

Methods of application
For small cavity repairs like chips and scratches, the methods that I am aware of are:
  • Brush-on;
  • Airbrush;
  • Wipe-on/wipe-off;
  • Squeegee; and
  • Syringe.
A brush or any type of dauber is probably easiest. But the drawbacks are obvious. Try touching up a car with hundreds of chips without leaving unsightly repair material above and outside of the cavities’ rim. A brush is usually best when used in conjunction with other methods.
  • Air brushing is nice, but can become labor intensive if too many chips are present. On the other hand, if you are making spray repairs, a spray gun/airbrush is indispensable.
  • Wipe on/off can be good when there are lots of small, shallow chips. It can be messy, but also quite beneficial when used in tandem with a complementary method.
  • The squeegee method can cover many chips at a time quickly. Challenges arise when small, irregular non-flat pieces have to be touched up. These are for when brush on, airbrush, wipe-on/off and syringe come in handy.
  • A syringe is something of a cross between a brush and airbrush and should allow for good film build, but has the same drawbacks when the chips are many.
All of these methods involve applying new paint to the damaged area and removing any excess from the undamaged surface.

Do your homework
Of course, you must also deal with the typical nonsense associated with anything these days. Some supplier may dogmatically and bombastically insist that single stage is better than base coat/clear coat, or that enamel is better than urethane for touch up or vice versa. It’s not that simple.

Single stage shines without clearcoat, but most colors today cannot be formulated by paint manufacturers in a single stage — the medium will not allow for a close match. Basecoat formulas will match, but by themselves will not shine because of their medium. Enamel may be thicker than one company’s urethane basecoat, but not anothers.

Thicker is usually better for making touch-ups. But color coverage is important, too. If you go with a single-stage, can you get close enough matches for touch-ups? Probably so. Same with enamels. If you go with a urethane basecoat system, can you make the material shine and built? Yes. What you need to be convinced of are these three things in a paint line:
  • Will it match close enough and have a nice appearance?
  • Will it last?
  • It is easily available — locally or by mail order?
Guaranteeing a touch-up of rock chips can be like guaranteeing a carpet cleaning job. You cannot prevent the carpet from getting dirty again, and you cannot prevent the car from getting additional chips.

Last words of advice
When receiving a sales pitch, just remember that while all that is true may seem weighty, it is not necessarily significant. Never forget that you have choices in products and suppliers.

Keep it simple and stay away from repairs that require making spray blends.

Get an experienced operator. The more I think about, it I’d have to say using an amateur is easily the single greatest cause for failure in doing paint touch-ups. It’s even more important than which touch-up system you choose.



Alan Squier has been serving the automotive collision and Industrial coatings markets in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah for the last 10 years. He can be reached at Alan.Squier@spscolorado.com.