Cars have changed a lot since the old days. Today, the auto body industry is worth about $42 billion, and it is both more difficult to get significant car scratches than it used to be; and also more expensive to get them repaired. Where years and years ago Ford was famous for saying that any color was fine for a car as long as it was black, today you can get your car in any color you can imagine. When you get scratches and dents, you can not only get a generic paint touch up kit, but a specific car touch up paint kit for whatever brand of vehicle you’re driving: Mercedes touch up paint, BMW touch up paint, or Chevrolet touch up paint to name just a few. The world of automotive paint has changed immensely since Henry Ford’s day.
Anything before 1942 is basically the dark ages of automotive paint. Up until then, cars were being painted using the same methods that had been used to paint and varnish wooden carriages. There were multiple stages to the work, oil paints and pigments, primers and sealers, careful treatment and preparation of wood, repeated hand sanding and polishing, and lots of time for each coat to dry. Building the cars didn’t take much time, but painting them caused a huge backup in manufacturing.
A Happy Mistake
One day in 1921, a worker at DuPont was busy manufacturing movie film and left a drum of gun cotton out for a whole long, hot weekend. In the heat, the gun cotton turned into a liquid. That liquid became nitrocellulose lacquer, and from 1923 on it was the leading finish for cars and remained so for the next five decades. This allowed cars to be spray painted for the first time, and spray painting would change everything in terms of speed and production.
More Happy Accidents
At the end of World War II, Germany and Italy were–for obvious reasons–forbidden to use anything in ordinary manufacturing that could also possibly be used to make explosives. This meant that they couldn’t use nitrocellulose lacquer on their cars. In a bind, they were forced to come up with another solution, and they did. They worked with enamels. Their high-solid acrylic urethane paint was so durable that by the 1980s you could call it a full-on invasion of the American markets. The paints and lacquers available here simply had no chance, and it took American car paint manufacturers years to catch up. Of course, you couldn’t buy Mercedes touch up paint kits back then, but you didn’t need to nearly as much as you did if you were buying an American car.
American paint manufacturers were just starting to work out how to make great paint and finish for cars and catch up to Europe when new regulations about VOCs, high-solids paint, and air quality standards came in, changing the game again. EPA-compliant products didn’t work very well, and cars weren’t being protected as well even if the air was.
While paints and even equipment for applying them continue to evolve in response to constant regulatory changes, it’s preferences of the public that make the most difference. Colors go in and out of style, and the drive to have a unique look is one of the reasons you have to buy specific Mercedes touch up paint or Honda touch up paint kits even if both the vehicles in question are red. Mica and aluminum are used to make cars shine and reflect the light, and increasingly strong clear coats protect from scratches and UV rays.
One of the newest fads in car color is color changing technology. A simple switch manipulates the electrons in the chemical structure of the car’s paint, altering the color by causing the car to reflect light in a new way. People are also increasingly going to be interested in Mercedes touch up paint or other brand-specific paints as each brand mixes its precise colors in a proprietary way. We can also expect that car paint jobs will only continue to get more reliable and durable.