Thursday, April 12, 2007

Well, it's bound to be better than using a brush.

As you all know (yes, all both of you), one of the things that keeps my humble lump of iron from being as snazzy as it could be is the paint job. Or lack thereof.

The original owner loved and cared for his car as best he could, but twenty years of daily exposure combined with silver metallic paint have conspired to give the upper surfaces the appearance of something like gray flannel. When it's wet with rain or the sun is low in the sky at twilight (like in the photo over to the right) it still has a hint of shininess to it that hints about how nice it would look with a fresh coat of paint.


Painting a car is not cheap. Even the places that DO advertise cheap painting aren't really the best places to try to get a car painted. They don't call 'em "spray and pray" for nothing--the quality is highly dependent on what you pay--yes, they CAN paint your car for $99.99, but it'll look like someone painted your car for a hundred bucks. Or rather, painted it for five bucks, and then pocketed the other 95 to buy smokes and lottery tickets. If you do manage to get one of these places to give you a quote, you'll see that simple things like masking and taping and high kwality kristal kleer kote and "shop materials" and "environmental fees" and "guarantees" and tend to pile up dollars quickly, making even an ostensibly cheap paint job pretty expensive. These guys make money on volume--nothing really wrong with that, but you definitely get what you pay for.

Painting a car correctly so that you get a nice, even, durable, glossy coating requires a fairly large investment in labor to ensure a good substrate, and proper preparation of any damage, and an attention to cleanliness and shop conditions to give a good result. And again, all that labor isn't cheap.

There is a shop here in town that my family has used before who have a great reputation as one of the best and most honest shops in town, and I took the ol' Box to them last year sometime just to get an idea of how much a good paint job would cost. I'd already been to one of the major hi-volume/lo-dollar shops, and after much hand-waving and jiggery-pokery, the red-faced toupee-clad shark who ran the place finally arrived at a price of $900.

The good shop?

He wouldn't quote me a price.


Well, although the car is straight and has no rust, it still requires just as much effort and care to do a good job on it as it would on a car that is much more valuable. The estimator knew his estimate was going to be high, and in fact, probably about as high as the value of the car. But he wouldn't paint it for less, because it would have his company's name on it (so to speak) and he wouldn't put out any work that wasn't top quality. Best I could tell by reading between the lines, though, was that it was going to cost north of $2,000. Yep--too rich for me, and even if I could afford it, it still sorta doesn't make good sense to pour that much money into the car.

But it also doesn't make sense to waste $900 on a crappy paint job, either.

What I needed was a good quality inexpensive paint job. And about the only place to get something like that is akin to going to the barber school to get cheap haircuts, or the dental school to get cheap fillings. I figured, and the Honest Shop guy agreed, that maybe one of the local vocational schools could do a better job than the fast-talking slicks who barely have time to clean the spray gun between jobs. There is no premium placed on rushing jobs out the door, and generally you only pay for materials. The downside is that you've got someone learning on your vehicle.

Well, it needs paint, and it deserves a good quality job. Maybe the finish work wouldn't be that great, and there might be some drips or specks that mar the work, but at least there is some sense that the instructor will make sure the thing is properly sanded and sealed and wiped down and sprayed correctly.

ANYway, that was last year, and I'd pretty much let it go, until here lately. I've noticed that the oxidation is seeming to accelerate. Something needs to be done, and now. My memory was also jogged by the fact that my kids were going through their course selections for next year, and I'd noticed in their catalog that one of the local schools teaches bodywork and painting.

SO, I got out the magical Internet and found the school's website--they've got a nice little PowerPoint that shows some of the various voc-ed stuff they do--and found the instructor's e-mail address. After some back and forth messages, I took the car over to the campus Wednesday, and it looks like good ol' Järn might finally get a new suit of clothes!

They'll have to wait until August or September when classes are back in session, but otherwise, it's a go. The instructor explained that he orders the materials and by law (at least I think it's state law--it could just be board policy) has to charge a 25% surcharge to make up for the fact that the students don't get paid, and he said they can take only about four cars a month during the school year. He went over some of the stuff they'd have to do to get it painted, and finally gave me the cost. Again, it's material cost + 25%, and he said the maximum charge was going to be about $780. He wasn't sure of the exact cost yet, and said it would more than likely be lower, but he wanted to make sure he was covered. It's still kinda pricey, but I don't think I'd get a better deal unless I had a buddy with a paint booth and some time on his hands.

Now--time to start saving up some cash.


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