Parkers Investigates: the hidden cost of car paint - expect to pay an extra £536

  • Revealed: the surprising cost of optional paint
  • Over 50% of the UK’s most popular cars only have one ‘free’ colour
  • The average cost of choosing an alternative hue is £536

Buying a new car is typically the second-most expensive purchase most people make, but a Parkers investigation reveals that over half of the most popular new models will cost consumers on average an extra £536 if they want to have a choice of more than one colour.

In addition to simply charging a fee for metallic paints, car manufacturers have reduced the palette of solid colours available to just a single offering on 30 of the country’s most popular cars.

For those brands offering only one free colour, consumers are charged on average an extra £292 for non-standard solid paints; metallic options rise to, on average, an extra £536.

As metallic and matt types of paint cost more to produce, and the application process takes longer with more layers of base- and top-coats, it’s reasonable to expect an additional charge for something more sparkly.

Sales data compiled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirmed that white was the most popular colour for new car sales in 2016, with 552,329 registrations. Of those 50 popular ranges of cars sampled, only 26 are available with solid white as a ‘free’ colour.

Black is closing in as the second most commonly-chosen colour with 542,862 registrations. Only 14 of those 50 popular ranges have black as no-cost option colour.

This doesn’t seem fair on Britain’s hard-pressed car buyers amid ever-increasing fuel prices rises and 2017’s VED car tax changes.

One manufacturer spokesman who asked not to be identified confirmed Parkers’ suspicions: ‘the policy of charging more for certain shades of solid paint became more widespread during the recession to boost profitability, especially on smaller, less expensive cars.’

White was the most popular colour of 2016

How are popular models affected?

Take the Ford Fiesta, Britain’s best-selling car in 2016. If you choose it in entry-level Zetec specification, the sole standard paint is Race Red.

If you want a Frozen White Fiesta Zetec, then expect to be liberated of an extra £250.

Fancy it in something glitzier from Ford’s Premium or Exclusive colour range and you’ll be looking to pay between £495 and £725 more.

MINI’s Hatch range is another big-seller in the UK. Surely you’ll have more than one ‘free’ choice of paint with a MINI? Well, no – but unusually, the standard colour is a metallic: Moonwalk Grey. Of the other popular cars in our sample with only one standard shade, only the Kia Sportage’s paint is metallic.

If you’d prefer solid paint in Chilli Red, Pepper White or Volcanic Orange, you’ll pay a £475 premium – the same price MINI charges for its other metallic colours – despite being cheaper to produce. If you’re hankering after solid Lapisluxury Blue, that’s £750 extra.

What's the hidden cost of car paint?

MINI’s spokesperson said ‘our customers love to customise their vehicles and there are hundreds of thousands of possible combinations. In order to offer this level of customisation, options are priced to reflect the manufacturing and logistical requirements to facilitate them.’

What of the darling of the crossover crowd, the Nissan Qashqai? Plump for the least-expensive Visia DIG-T 115 at £18,795 and solid Flame Red is your only standard shade, with all of the optional colours being metallic (£575 extra) or pearlescent (an additional £745).

Nissan’s spokesman was tight-lipped on the reasons behind the restricted ‘free’ choice but suggested that ‘around 95% of Qashqai buyers choose a premium colour.’ With such a large volume of sales those extra-cost colours look particularly lucrative.

Across all of the UK’s most popular ranges (including those with more than one free standard colour), premium paint finishes will set car buyers back an average of £808.

Car paint choices

*Colours above do not reflect your paint choices

What does Parkers advise?

We spoke to a number of sales executives and team leaders at new car showrooms to discover how car buyers are reacting to these paint charges.

Two things in particular struck us with the feedback.

In the majority of instances, the first a customer realised about the additional charges for solid paints was when they were told during the sales conversation. This suggests that while manufacturers aren’t hiding the costs on their online configurators and price lists, many buyers simply don’t spot them because they’re not expecting them to be there.

What’s also clear is that sales executives aren’t willing to lose a deal over the solid paint cost issue. Each of them stated they would sacrifice some of their profit margin on the car by throwing in the cost of an optional solid paint – but rarely a metallic – on the basis of recouping loss elsewhere in the transaction, whether it be via their finance package commission or by offering a slightly lower trade-in value.

Evidently someone is going to have to foot the bill for the additional cost of an optional solid paint finish, so how best to avoid it?

The key – as ever when buying cars – is to be savvy. Research all of the costs thoroughly before you set foot in a showroom so that you know exactly what you want, and play different franchises off against each other.

It’s also vital to be pragmatic about the paint issue. Is not paying extra for a different shade of solid paint and sticking with the ‘free’ one going to dampen your enthusiasm for the car? If it won’t, then keep that money for yourself.

However, it’s worth remembering that cars in metallic colours usually have a higher resale value than their equivalents in solid colours. Rather than spending that average of £292 for an optional solid shade that a used buyer is less likely to appreciate the premium for – if you can budget for it – spend the extra £244 average cost for a metallic colour for a stronger residual value.

What choice is available?

Percentage of models only available in one standard colour

  • ·         2017: 60% of Parkers’ selection of 50 popular model ranges
    ·         2007: 32% of the nearest equivalents to those 50 model ranges
    ·         1997: 0% of the nearest equivalents to those 50 model ranges

    2017: 60% of Parkers’ selection of 50 popular model ranges

  • 2007: 32% of the nearest equivalents to those 50 model ranges
  • 1997: 0% of the nearest equivalents to those 50 model ranges

Sources: Manufacturer data, SMMT

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