Matte-paint finishes – famous for their flat, non-reflective appearances and sandy, rough textures – have become an increasingly trendy part of the automotive landscape.
Take Andrew Fine's BMW, for example. The Toronto resident owned a factory matte-finished 2011 M3 Frozen Black Edition. The look was flat and fabulous. Cool, for sure. However, it was not without its challenges.
"After owning the car a while, it became more stressful trying to maintain it," Fine said. "I was told by BMW that if a bird pooped on it, and I didn't clean it within 15 minutes, it would eat the thin clearcoat and leave a stain."
Which is exactly what happened.
"The bird poop left a polished stain on the satin clearcoat – like a glossy spot," Fine said. "The clearcoat was very thin, and the poop ate right through it."
Fortunately, matte finishes have come a long way since then. Fine's M3 is an earlier example of a car with factory matte paint and auto makers say durability has improved, so much so they now meet the same standards as regular paint.
How does matte paint work? Exactly the same as conventional automotive paint, except for the clearcoat. In a matte finish paint job, that clearcoat dries to a rough texture, rather than drying smooth. This forms the unique surface texture responsible for the dull, sheen look of matte paint.
And whether the trend catapulted to popularity within the tuner scene, the hot-rod scene, in music videos or elsewhere, it's here to stay.
"We've seen this trend grow in recent years and we expect it to continue," said Chris Goczan, national product manager for Mercedes-Benz Canada. "A few years ago, our Magno paints [Benz's matte finish line] were available primarily on vehicles higher up in our lineup. Now, we have availability in many more products.
"Mostly, the Magno paint is available on our sportier coupes and convertibles," he said. "We don't offer it on the C-Class sedan, for instance, as there's no demand for it – but on the coupe and cabriolet, we do."
Goczan said matte-paint finishes are popular, despite a step up in pricing. "The average cost of a matte-finished paint job for most of our models is $2,500," he said. "It certainly tends towards customers who want to make more of a statement with their vehicle."
Numerous auto makers offer factory matte finishes, and there's a trend toward matte paint in the automotive aftermarket. Jeff Pabst, general manager of Pfaff Autoworks, has overseen the application of custom matte-paint jobs on many used cars.
"We've done about 20 matte-paint jobs in the past few years, on everything from Porsche 911s to Audi R8s to Audi TTs and even Range Rovers," Pabst said. "In each case, the customer is looking to be different from the norm."
But shoppers needn't spend big bucks on a high-end German car, or a custom paint job. Hyundai's sporty Veloster Turbo is available with factory matte paint for less than $30,000, and it's an increasingly popular option.
"The matte-paint option for our Veloster Turbo is growing in popularity," Hyundai Canada spokesman Chad Heard said. "In 2014, it represented just over 20 per cent of sales. In 2015, that rose to 21 per cent. So far, this year, matte-painted models represent 34 per cent of all Veloster Turbo sales."
Still, a matte-finished vehicle isn't for everyone.
Shoppers shy away from matte paint for several reasons: uncertainty about the long-term durability of the paint, skepticism about the unique care and maintenance regimen and some well-perpetuated misconceptions.
"There are a lot of misconceptions," said Celine Witherell, communications manager at Dr. Beasley's, a Chicago company specializing in automotive paint-care products. "Many of these come from dealerships inexperienced with the paint, who try to deter customers from buying matte cars. We've even heard of dealerships telling people matte paint cannot get wet, be washed or be protected."
Caring for matte paint isn't necessarily difficult, though it does require some extra effort . Special cleaners, sealants and polishes are required to maintain the texture and finish, meaning most matte cars are hand-wash only, and that drive-thru car washes are typically off limits.
Various matte-paint sealant products (not waxes) are available for protection and durability.
Witherell said that waxing, polishing or clay-bar treatment can permanently damage matte paint. "But we've also found that people who are buying matte cars are likely to do research about the finish, and ensure they'll be able to handle the care regimen, with specialty products available to help them do so."
Goczan said great strides have been made to address issues related to matte finishes. "We stayed away from matte paints for a long time, as early formulas several years ago were hard to maintain and repair, and failed to meet our standards for long-term durability," he said. "It was only when we had a process that addressed all these issues that we started offering Magno paints."
Jeff Major, a collision repair tech, repaints car bodies in Sudbury for a living.
"Matte-finish paint can collect swirls, scratches and other imperfections over time, like any other paint – but you can't remove these like you can on a gloss finish," he said. "Repainting, if required, is more costly, too, as an expensive additive is required for the clearcoat, to create the matte texture. It's also harder to replicate the exact texture and colour from one panel to the next."
So would Major ever own a matte-finish vehicle?
"Only if it was the sort of car I'd drive for low miles, to and from the car show on Sunday or for the occasional weekend drive on a nice day," he said. "For something I'd commute with in the middle of winter, or pull my boat with, or put my roof racks and bike on? Not a chance."
Fine, on the other hand, remains a fan of the finish.
"To me, the look was worth the hassle – and I'd do it all over again, I think."