Have you ever noticed that in many cases the color of a vehicle’s bumpers doesn’t exactly match the color of the vehicle body?  I noticed this recently on one of my own cars after the bumper was painted by a body shop as a result of a minor parking lot fender bender.  The repainted rear bumper was, to me, clearly a different color than the rest of the body.  This color disparity heightened my awareness of the issue – to the point where I see it on all types of cars everywhere I go.  So, I started to dig in to the issue, trying to find out what causes it and, more importantly, how we can limit the issue all together here at Automotive Quality Solutions.

Photograph showing an automobile bumper cover that appears to be painted a slightly different shade than the original factory color

Here we see a repaired bumper cover that was painted using the optimum variant of the original OEM specified color – clearly we need to do more work to get the color right.

My initial thought was that the body shop performing the repairs on my car either didn’t mix the paint correctly, or chose the wrong color variant.  Every vehicle color has a particular code designation.  For example, the paint code on my car is NH701M (found on a sticker inside the driver’s side door jamb).  An auto body shop would type this code into a computer software and would receive a list of tints and dyes to mix together to re-create the original factory color.  Seems easy enough, right?  Well, not always.  Vehicle manufacturers mix large volumes of paint for spraying vehicles on a particular assembly line.  Yet what happens if the manufacturer has multiple assembly lines, or if they have to mix a new batch of paint?  Variance.  That is, even vehicles painted by the factory with the same paint code can have slightly different colors.  Manufacturers periodically publish the formulas for mixing variants using somewhat cryptic descriptors such as, “darker”, “lighter”, “yellower”, “dirtier”, etc.  So it is then up to the body shop to determine which color variant is closest to the original factory color of the vehicle.  But what about an older vehicle on which the original factory paint is slightly faded?  Painting the a repair area with the original factory color clearly won’t match the existing paint in this case.  So, in the case of variants, or aged paint, it is up to the body shop to determine the best color to spray.  This is done by mixing a batch of paint and spraying a small test card.  Once the paint dries on the test card, it is held up next to the vehicle to see if the color matches.  The painter determines if a new variant should be mixed, or if adding different tints will match the existing paint.

So, now let’s say that the body shop has determined the best color match and they spray the new or repaired bumper cover on my car – but the color still doesn’t match!  Well, then we need to look at the substrate (the surface that we are painting).  Most of the vehicle surface is metal whereas the bumper covers, mirror covers, mud guards, etc., are all plastic.  Applying the same paint on plastic and metal can often result in a slightly different color appearance.  This can be due to several factors.  First, the plastic dissipates heat more slowly than metal (the paint dries slower), and drying time can be a key factor in paint appearance.  As paint dries more slowly, metal flakes in the paint have more time to settle at different angles, and volatile chemicals have more time to evaporate – causing slight variance in the paint color.  Another factor is that plastic can hold more static electricity charge than metal and, if not properly discharged before spraying, can cause metal flakes to align differently than on a metal surface.  Substrate differences require different spraying techniques to minimize paint color variations.

Well, now we have the color matched and we’ll use different spraying techniques to minimize the difference between the factory paint and the newly sprayed paint – the color must surely match now!  Not necessarily.  Most modern factories use electrostatic spray equipment to paint the metal surfaces of an automobile.  While they use conventional spray equipment to paint the plastic surfaces.  So, even vehicles coming off of the factory line can have slight variations in color due to the differences in spray equipment.

Photograph showing an automobile bumper cover that better matches the original factory color

After manually tinting the variant of the original OEM specified color, and altering our spray technique – we’ve finally come to the right color!

And even accounting for all of these differences, colors can still seem slightly different simply due to the way light reflects and refracts off of curved surfaces (like a bumper) versus the relatively flat surfaces of the doors and hood.

At AQS we’ve learned to take all of these factors into account when painting a repaired surface.  First, we take the time to properly prepare the repaired surface for painting.  Next, we research, formulate, and mix our tints and dyes with a computer controlled mixing system.  We then spray test cards to find the exact color match.  Finally, we alter our spray techniques to account for environmental conditions (such as humidity and air temperature), and will often blend the new paint into the existing factory paint of neighboring panels.  All of this to ensure that the final repair is seamless and invisible.

We believe that if we take a few extra minutes to properly repair and prepare a surface, and take the time to really find the exact color match, we save time and money in the long run by not having to repaint a surface multiple times.

Now if I can just get the body shop that originally repaired my bumper to read this article!

25 Comments
  1. Avatar

    Now I should check the repair on my car!!

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    Thanks, appreciate the depth you’ve gone to in order to explain this issue. My car has come back from a well known national accident repair branch and the bumper matches the vehicle on one side but not the other.

    I’ve always thought that the issue was with the bodyshop as the bumper has been incorrectly sprayed, and thought they were fobbing me off when saying that bumpers come pre-painted from manufacturer and that fading of paint can occur on vehicles making it seem like the colour doesn’t match.

    In conclusion, I guess there are a lot of things to consider in these circumstances and the process to achieve a repair to a satisfactory standard is quite an intricate one, as described above. However, I’m not sure how much of that the garage actually followed anyway as my bumper on my vehicle does look odd!

  3. admin

    Thanks for the comment Mr. Dhami! You are right there is a lot to consider when painting. If you aren’t satisfied with the paint work – we suggest that you bring it back – any reputable shop should repaint a vehicle to get it right. It sounds like they may not have sprayed the entire bumper – perhaps only the damaged corner. This would account for the color matching on one side but not the other. This is a common practice – but can often lead to the results that you see. If you look carefully, you may be able to detect a blend line in the bumper – either at the corner or in the center (near the license plate bracket). Best of luck to you! And please keep us posted!

  4. admin

    Wait… Didn’t we do the repair on your car?! 🙂

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    And now to check the panel alignment in the 2nd pic again…

  6. admin

    Thanks Konrad – you are absolutely correct! We should have taken a final photo after the job was complete. In the second picture, the bumper cover was just placed on temporarily to check color – and the hood was not latched. On difficult color matches we’ll often bring the car outside to check the color in the sunlight – before we bolt everything back together again.

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    I got this problem too. Just picked up my 2013 lexus es two days ago. they repainted the front bumper too white. should I contact my insurance to have them take a look? thank you.

  8. admin

    Hello Simon – Sorry to hear about your bumper. I would definitely contact your insurance company and/or the shop that did the work if you aren’t satisfied. In some instances the color may change slightly as the paint continues to cure – but I suggest documenting what you see with the shop and your insurance company in the event that the color doesn’t “settle in” within a few weeks.

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    I just got my car back from the New Century BMW collusion body shop yesterday and notice that the front and back bumper they replaced were slightly lighter in sunlight when i got home. Brought it back into the shop this morning (didnt have sunlight so could still see a slight color difference) and they told me to come back in 3 months and they will take a look at in again. He mentioned that i shouldn’t repaint it right away because its bad for the part since it hasn’t been slightly cured yet? He also told me in 3 months when i bring it back…he will polish it for me and most lightly the paint will then match the rest of my car…. or if anything in 3 months he will have the painter look at it and repaint it.

  10. admin

    Hi Tiffany – Thanks for taking the time to comment! It is true that fresh paint will take a few months to cure fully – and there could be some slight toning of color in the process. Paint consists of a liquid medium, color pigments, bonding agents, and chemical hardeners. Over time the liquid medium evaporates away allowing the chemical hardeners and bonding agents to do their thing. This evaporation process can allow the pigments to settle and may change tone slightly. You’ve done the right thing by documenting what you’ve noticed with the shop. If after three months you still see a noticeable difference in color, definitely bring it back and have them try again. Best of luck!

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    The bumper on my 2016 CX-5 needed to be replaced after being rear-ended (just five weeks ago). The collision shop was great – very focused on customer satisfaction. An OEM replacement bumper was ordered, painted (metallic silver), and the car repaired. I went on a 10-day vacation shortly after the repair and upon returning it seems to me that in certain lighting the bumper appears a hair lighter than the factory paint. My wife and kids don’t notice, but I do and it is a bit bothersome given the newness of the vehicle. That said, I don’t know if it is worthy having it resprayed again. Should I simply give it more time to cure, or move on and try to forget it?

  12. admin

    Hi Marty – Sorry to hear about your CX-5. What a bummer! It sounds like you have a good relationship with the collision shop and it may be worth just checking in with them to see what they think. If you see it, they’ll definitely be able to see it. At least have them take a look and then let it settle and cure for a few more weeks. This way, if things haven’t changed to your satisfaction after a few more weeks, you’ve already notified them and begun to build your case for them to try again. Having said that, silver is often one of the most difficult colors to match. As we indicate in this article, we’ve seen cars come off of the factory line with bumpers that don’t quite match the body. Having the repair also probably causes your eye to be hyper focused on any subtle differences that you might not have otherwise noticed. This may also dissipate with time. Again, we recommend notifying the shop and then letting it cure for a few more weeks. If after then you aren’t quite satisfied, have them try again. Best of luck – please let us know how it turns out!

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    I’m not really sure how I stumbled onto this site and this conversation but I thought I would take some time to enlighten everyone on this issue since I have been in the paint business for 13 years. First off, lets discuss the reason bumpers do not match. Have you noticed that your mirrors, ground effects, door handles and spoilers don’t match either? It has nothing to do with the fact that its different material, its because those components are subcontracted out to be painted ahead of time. go ahead and take that bumper off the vehicle and look behind it, how would the manufacturer have managed to paint it with the car and also get paint in behind the bumper? All the bolt on painted parts are sent out to large paint facilities and painted to the spec of the manufacturer. I know this for a fact because I was inside such a factory doing color sampling for interior dash components and witnessed it. The other issue that happens is the “spec” that’s sent out by the vehicle manufacturer to the paint facility is adhered to quite well usually (quality control) yet the manufacturer does not follow this so strict when painting the bodies of the vehicles. this is why you end up with variants and a bumper that does not match.

    Now for the repair side of this… I also operate a medium sized body shop as a sector of my business and I paint about 400 cars a year. When we are preparing to paint a vehicle we first go to the color retrieval system and pull up all the variant formulas available for the code posted on the vehicle. We then go and put the corresponding paint sample chips to the vehicle. If the vehicle is a “tri-stage” finish we spray out some let down cards to see how many layers of mid-coat should be applied to get best match. Once we have put together a best match plan we mix up the paint and go for it.

    I cannot count how many times I have know-it-all customers trying to dictate how I should paint their vehicle. “no I don’t want my door sprayed too, its just the fender I want done” is the most famous one then they complain when the fender and door doesn’t match. Simply put, a good painter can fade a color in and out seamlessly if given enough blending room. Colors that seem off by a mile can be blended in to be undetectable if done using body lines, curves, and distance to hide the shift. Also, nothing should ever be painted right to a body line and expected to be a butt-match to its adjacent panel.

    I read one reply above about one side of the bumper matching where the damage was repaired but not the other. So lets look at that in detail. Obviously the painter was into the fender for it to match on one side, but what if he carried the new color right around to the opposite fender? Then the customer would still be complaining because it likely still would not match with no blend! Next is whites… I don’t know how many times I have had complaints of white being “too white”. My response is always the same, buff the old paint…. Your brakes give off metallic fragments that stick to the cars paint and causes rust stains, over time on whites it makes them appear yellowish. Fortunately the rust stains buff right off with a good polishing compound. Also whites are very hard to control color on, but super easy to blend out. So if your bumper doesn’t match first try buffing the fenders up… if that fails have the fenders blended in or learn to live with it.

    Painting is not an exact science, one drip of paint can shift things a mile. So go easy on your painter, and listen to what he suggests. Don’t throw the handcuffs on him and make him do it your way. Most painters know their “problem colors” by memory.. and they differ from brand to brand of automotive paints.

  14. admin

    Thanks for the great insight Tom! We especially like your last point – be kind to your painter! Painting is not an exact science, it is more of an art form – getting it right is difficult.

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    Hi everyone, So i just got my car back from body shop for a minor dent along the edge of the driver’s side rear quarter panel and the rear bumper, right where they meet. The reapir work was great and the colors match as they blended the paint onto both sides. ….the problem…..i notice that as much as it’s shiny and smooth, it’s not a “mirror finish” on the bumper. A bit blurry with fish eye, yet it is shiny. on other parts of my car i can see a clear reflection of myself, hand or whatever i hold against it. On the bumper it’s, as i stated, shiny but blurry. what is the issue here? should i have it repainted? Just got it back last Friday so it’s been less than a week. Should i wait for it to cure more? Have it buffed? any suggestions?

  16. admin

    Hello Paul – Great question! In the final stage of the painting step, a clear coat is sprayed on top of the color base coat. This clear coat is what protects the paint and, when polished, creates the glossy look. Once the paint/clearcoat has cured/hardened enough it is usually buffed to a high gloss in the finishing step. Now, while automotive painters are great at all of the technical intricacies of painting, compounding and buffing is not their first love. It’s been our experience that automotive painters are great at painting and automotive detailers are great at compounding and buffing – but never the twain shall meet. We’d suggest having a reputable detail shop have a look at the paint on the bumper (let them know that the paint is fresh) and see what they think. They’ll be able to tell you if further polishing is possible and if it will give you the desired result. They’ll also be able to let you know if you should think about bringing it back to the body shop. Best of luck – please let us know how it turns out!

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    Hello, that was a great read and very informative. You mentioned slight alterations with color due to several factors..but what about texture? I see small differences in texture when zooming in. Is it normal because of metal vs plastic?

  18. admin

    Hello Ashneel – Thanks for your question. There are several factors at play here. One is the “perceived texture”, or the texture within the paint itself. The metal flaking used in many paints provides a bit of visual texture by laying at different angles and reflecting light in different directions. Our images above show a great example of this. And, as we mentioned in the article, yes, metal and plastic can have different electro-static charges which can cause the metal flaking to lay at different angles. The key is to match the amount and size of flaking when the paint is mixed and then to alter spray technique to achieve a visually similar outcome. The second factor is the actual texture of the clear coat. Often a sprayed clear coat will have some texture to it – often called “orange peel” (due to it’s similarity with the dimpled peel of an orange). A finish that has been correctly buffed will be mirror smooth and lack any orange peel. Though preferred, this can often be a sign of a paint repair as most cars come off of the factory line with quite a bit of orange peel present!

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    Hi, my 2012 outlander was involved in a hit and run in a parking lot and I had to use a collision repair shop that my insurance recommended. We ending up having to replace the entire rear bumper but when I went to pick up my car it was obvious that the paint color was different than the rest of the body. The shop is saying that because the bumper is plastic the paint settles and absorbs differently that its normal. Will the paint continue to change as time goes on to match better?

  20. admin

    Hello Grace – sorry to hear about your Outlander. We’re always amazed at how often people won’t own up to their mistakes in parking lots.
    It is true, based on what we’ve described in this article, that the plastic bumper cover has different properties than the sheet metal which can make color matching difficult. However, any body shop that says that “this is just the way it is” is not being honest with you. The plastic bumper cover CAN be painted to match the rest of the car – it just may take a few tries to get it right (it matched when it came from the factory!). There is a chance that the color will settle in and match better – if after a month or two you still see a marked difference, then give them an opportunity to make things right. Definitely let the shop and your insurance company know about your dissatisfaction now so that it is well documented. Your insurance company should advocate for you if the shop isn’t willing to give it another try.
    Best of luck and please let us know how things turn out!

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    I had the same issue… a second spray is still not right, they are telling me about shading differences between the bumper & the trunk – I said I’d get my adjustor to take a look. The adjuster said I didn’t choose their partner (I went to the dealer) so they aren’t doing anything. Are there any associations that I can go to. I paid $1000 deductible for a no fault (hut & run) and a bad paint job.

  22. admin

    Sorry to hear about your trouble Raven – it’s really unfortunate to hear that your insurance company isn’t doing the right thing here. We’re big proponents of the old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Definitely move up the chain with both the insurance company and the dealership until you are satisfied with the repair. A quick google search of “who to complain to about insurance companies” should pull up a listing of your local government administrations overseeing insurance companies and protecting consumers. We wish you the best of luck and hope that you keep us posted!

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    Hello Everyone. I know this thread is old… BUT. I have been an auto painter for 23 years. I can tell you. Whites never match 100%. I even put the recommended ground color on all panels being painted. This way you have the same starting point. I even try to place the bumper on the car when possible. I believe, alot of the reasons listed above. Its a shame that we have to RUIN cars. Over a bumper. Its ridiculous in this day and age . With all the technology. I still can’t answer this question. Especially with all the different application approaches and spray guns. It just is not the same. We use PPG DBC and have the newest computer with color match camera. It helps, but still no solution. I have used a few different paint brands over the years. Each have there own strong points. But unfortunately same results

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