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How to Avoid Paying a Lot for a Bad Paint Job

Auto painters readily concede that they have an image problem.

“We don’t like it when people like (consumer advocate) David Horowitz say nasty things about us,” said George Squyres, owner of Gordon’s Body Shop in Redondo Beach.

“The field of auto body and paint is one in which a consumer should be extremely careful,” said Susan Cowan-Scott, an information officer for the state’s Bureau of Automotive Repair. Often, she says, the shops don’t do what they promise or charge more than estimated.

Scott said it pays to ask friends, family and co-workers about their experiences at certain auto paint and body shops. “The major number of complaints are in workmanship and paint quality,” she said.

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The Los Angeles area is brimming with more than 4,000 paint and body shops. Prices for a paint job range from $100 to $5,000 or more. Some painters strip off the old paint and remove doors and bumpers--a costly and time-consuming proposition. Others simply sand the surface and mask windows and moldings before painting.

In general, a car’s value often determines whether you will pay $500 or $5,000 for a paint job. “You are not going to spend $800 on a $1,300 car,” said Kenneth R. Zion, professor of automotive repair at El Camino Community College.

There are also a numbing variety of paints and sealers to chose from--polyurethane, synthetic enamels, acrylic enamels and acrylic lacquers, to name a few.

To simplify matters, Zion suggests that owners of off-road vehicles might want to use acrylic paints with hardeners--substances that protect the paint from stains, smog and heavy-duty wear and tear. Owners of older cars driven mostly in town might want to stick with acrylic enamel paints without hardeners, Zion advises.

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Other bits of advice:

* Call the Bureau of Automotive Repairs, 800-952-5210, to discover complaints that may have been filed against a shop. Spanish-language assistance is available. The bureau also helps mediate disputes between consumers and shop owners.

* Shop owners must provide customers a written a estimate, Scott said. The shop must inform the customer before exceeding the estimate.

* Take a photo of the auto before handing it over to the paint shop, Zions said. It can come in handy if the shop damages the car.

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* Ask to look at a shop’s finished product, said J. R. (Rick) Uribe II, marketing director for 1 Day Paint & Body Centers. Check for “over-spray"--paint spots and splatter on trim, windows and chrome. That’s a sign of a sloppy shop. “Consistency is the key to make a car look good,” Uribe said. “Look to see if the car shines the same all around.”

* When picking up a car that has been partially painted, check the side that hasn’t been repainted. Then, compare the undamaged side to the repaired side for any imperfections. Check windows for grind marks left by paint sanders.

* Take a look at the interior of the car after it has been painted. More damage is done to the inside of the car than the outside, Zion said. Some repair shops store parts inside the car.

* Check the radio, air conditioner and other electrical systems. Sometimes, wires are cut or not reconnected when doors or other parts are removed.

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* As a final test, drive your car around the block before taking it home.


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