How Do I Match My Car Paint for Touch Up Paint?

Cars and trucks come in so many color variations; the idea of matching touch up paint to one’s vehicle feels overwhelming to some people. And yet touch up paint is one of the few after markets where manufacturers agree on standards.

All vehicle paint is color-coded, and touch up paint products are marked to simplify the matching process.

If you want to match the paint in your house, you usually must take a sample to a store. They’ll scan your piece and mix a paint batch for you that closely matches the original color.

Although older (often faded) and custom automotive paint jobs require similar matching, current off-the-line production paint jobs are standardized. The touch-up color you need can be accurately mixed by a company that specializes in this type of paint.

All you need is the right code number, and you can usually get the paint you need.

Here are the ways you find the right touch up paint for your car.

Computerized Mix and Match

Some companies custom mix touch up paints for colors that are no longer used in the marketplace due to low demand. All they need is a color code, and they can mix up a batch for you.

Most manufacturer vehicle paints going back to 1984 models should be easy to match. If you can bring a sample to the mixing company, they can confirm the color code you give them. But often that isn’t possible because the touch up paint company isn’t near you. In this case, you’ll need to get the color code from the car – all cars have the color code printed somewhere. If you need to know where your automobile color code is located, start here:

Paint providers can still match older vehicles’ colors, although precision is not guaranteed. The most exact match is for cars repainted in modern colors. If you had the car repainted, your paint shop should have given you the information you need to buy the right touch up paint, such as the color code, or the formula.

Original paint jobs can be closely matched on vehicles going back to 1930. But even with modern computer technology helping you, don’t expect a 100% perfect match.

How to Verify Your Car’s Color

If you’re not the original owner of the car and you’re not sure it’s been repainted, do the following.

First, clean your car thoroughly. Remove any grime or dust that can alter the visible coloring of your vehicle’s finish.

Next, take a picture of a clean, well-painted area of the car. Park your vehicle where there is as little glare as possible. You want to take the photo straight on with as little ambient reflection as possible.

It would be best if you took your picture in natural light. The easiest way to do this while reducing glare is to drive your vehicle to a DIY car wash, clean the car, and then take the picture before moving out of the bay. Natural light comes from both sides of the bay on an average, sunny day.

Now visit your auto parts dealer with the color code you have and your picture. Use the paint guide to confirm that your vehicle still uses its original color. If you’re not sure, get a second opinion.

Custom paint mixers will take a photo if that’s all you have, but they don’t guarantee suitable matches. A better way to match the color would be to use a spectrophotometer color matching device. This is a tool that can be aimed at your actual color to analyze it and break the color down into the mixable paint formula. PPG makes such a device called the RapidMatch X-5 Spectrophotometer. If you can provide a sample of your car’s paint, or bring your car to the touch up paint company, they might be able to use this tool to get a very accurate formula for your paint. Most auto body repair shops will have such a tool also.

Your touch up paint container displays its color on the label. Hold the can next to your vehicle finish in natural light to confirm you bought the right product.

Where to Find Your Car’s Color Code

The first place to look is in the owner’s manual. If you don’t have the manual or cannot find the code, there are several places to look inside and outside your car.

A helpful resource is this web page, which describes the actual paint code location for every car brand, and has photos that show what the code looks like. Visit to find your color code.

Manufacturers attach plates with the information you need in various places. These locations vary by manufacturers.

The first place to look is in the glove compartment.

Next, turn to the driver’s side door jamb or the hinge. Some manufacturers also put the paint code in both driver and passenger doors.

If you don’t find the color code there, look under the driver’s seat while you have the door open.

The next place to look is in the vehicle’s trunk. The code plate could be on the trunk lid, under the deck, or in the wheel well.

Next, look in both front-wheel wells, starting with the driver’s side.

If you’re still searching by this time, pop the engine hood. Look under the hood. If you don’t see the code plate there, look at the firewall in front of the steering wheel.

What Do Paint Color Codes Look Like?

Manufacturers use proprietary coding systems, although their paint color codes all use numbers and/or letters. The plate should say “paint code,” “color code,” or provide some clear identification. Some manufacturers provide a name for their paint finishes. Some paint numbers may include special characters such as slashes or dashes. Vehicles with original two-tone finishes have two paint codes.

If You Must Replace a Fender or Other Panel …

If you’ve been unable to find the color code for your car, and if your vehicle was damaged in an accident, you may be unable to pay for a full replacement and repair job. It’s one thing to visit a junkyard and find a matching panel replacement, but matching the paint finish is more complicated.

You may get lucky and find a panel that matches your original color. This is an excellent first step toward replacing the damaged panel.

Before throwing the damaged panel away, clean it, and cut a piece you can use as a color sample. Use this color sample for comparison when you visit the junkyard.

If you need to have the panel professionally painted, the shop can match your vehicle’s finish. If you decide to paint the replacement panel yourself, the damaged panel serves as a good practice piece.

Don’t leave old car parts lying around the yard forever. Either get the job done or clean up the mess and find another way to fix the problem when you’re ready.

Should You Chip Some Paint Off Your Car?

If you can’t detach a part of your car and take it or send it in for sampling, does it make sense to chip some paint off your car?

Unless you work for a body shop, no. You’re damaging your car’s finish, stripping it of some protection, and making the repair job more difficult.

A good body shop has color matching tools such as the spectrophotometer mentioned above, and they can take a sample for analysis.

If you’re doing the touch up yourself, you want to match a clean finish to new paint. Don’t waste your time with flaky paint.

What if the Vehicle was Repainted?

Some owners repaint their cars, either because they don’t like the old colors or to restore repainted vehicles to their original finish.

As with everything else, the quality of paint jobs varies. Years of damage and environmental wear and tear may also degrade the finish on some parts of the vehicle more than others.

Whatever the cause, you may find yourself with a vehicle that has an uneven color. That’s not a reason to ignore dinks and scratches. The car’s paint is there to protect the car from corrosion.

The older the car, the worse the repaint job, the more difficult it is to find a body shop willing to do another repair job. You may have to do the touch up yourself or drive a little farther to get a reasonable estimate.

Repainted vehicles shouldn’t be left to wait out the storm. If the engine and body are in good condition, find the closest match you can to your existing finish. Preserve the car until you can afford to pay for a proper repair or repaint.


Matching a vehicle’s finish is easier now than it was one or two generations ago. Auto manufacturers learned many lessons about their customers’ repair and maintenance needs. They’ve settled on standardized systems that help aftermarket providers.

As daunting as the task may seem to a first-time owner, you can find everything you need to know about your car’s finish. Managing repair costs is essential for everyone. You benefit from several generations’ frustrations and innovations in car manufacturing and repair.

The hardest part of touching up your car’s paint is putting in the time to do it right. A lousy fix can usually be repaired but always take the time to practice.

If you’re not sure you bought the right paint and want to test the color one last time before applying it to your car, paint a spare piece of metal, let it dry, and then wax it to a car-like finish. If you can’t tell the difference when you hold that up next to your clean car, you should be okay.

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