The paint code on a car contains important information about the factory original paint color used by the manufacturer. Knowing the paint code can be useful for various reasons, such as matching the color during body repairs, finding touch up paint, or determining the original configuration of a classic car.
What is a paint code?
A paint code is a series of letters and numbers that identifies the precise paint formula used on a specific vehicle. Each vehicle manufacturer has their own coding system to catalog the hundreds of different colors they offer. The code itself does not contain information about the color, but rather serves as a reference. To determine the actual color, the code must be matched against a color chart from the manufacturer.
Paint codes are assigned at the factory when the vehicle is manufactured. The code is typically printed on a sticker or plate that is located in the glove box, inside the doors or under the hood. The location varies across makes and models. On General Motors vehicles, for example, the paint code is usually found on the Service Parts Identification sticker located in the glovebox. Ford often puts it on the vehicle certification label located on the driver’s side door jamb. Japanese brands frequently have it under the hood on an emissions info sticker.
Why is the paint code important?
There are several reasons why the factory original paint code is useful to have:
- Match the color for body repairs – During repairs of body panels, the shop will need to exactly match the original color. Otherwise the repair will be visible if the new paint doesn’t blend. The paint code provides the precise color information needed to perfectly match it.
- Find touch up paint – Small chips and scratches in the paint can be fixed with touch up paint pens or bottles. Touch up paint is available from dealerships and auto parts stores by providing the color code.
- Identify the original configuration – On classic or specialty cars, the paint code can provide helpful information to owners and collectors about how the car was originally equipped from the factory.
- Order replacement body panels – If body panels such as fenders, doors or bumper covers need to be replaced, new factory-original panels can be ordered if the paint code is known. This ensures the replacement parts match the rest of the car.
- Sell or purchase used vehicles – during a private party sale or purchase of a used car, the paint color is commonly used in the description. The paint code provides definitive proof of the color name.
Where are paint codes located?
As mentioned above, paint codes are not found in a standardized location across all vehicle makes and models. However, there are some common locations to check when trying to find the paint code:
Many manufacturers place the paint code on the Service Parts Identification sticker located inside the glovebox. This sticker contains information used by dealerships to identify the correct parts during repairs and maintenance. Along with the paint code, it lists the VIN number, transmission type, engine size and other data unique to that specific vehicle.
Driver’s door jamb
Another frequent place to find the paint code is on the certification label located on the driver’s side door jamb. Open the driver’s door and look for a sticker or metal plate attached to the exposed door jamb. This contains government-required categories like the VIN, tire pressures, maximum load weight and the paint color code.
Under the hood
Some automakers list the paint code on the emissions control information label located under the hood. Honda, for example, typically puts the paint code on a sticker near the radiator support. While checking under the hood, also inspect any exposed body panels for a sticker or stamp with the code. These are sometimes found under hoods, trunk lids or door panels.
Trunk lid or door panel
In addition to sheets metal stampings under the hood, paint codes are also commonly stamped on interior sections of body panels that are hidden after assembly. Check under both rear trunk lids and interior door panels on the edges that would be visible during manufacturing. Use a flashlight to carefully inspect where the panels overlap or come together.
How to read a paint code
Paint codes are formatted in a couple standard ways by vehicle manufacturers:
Letters and numbers
A typical format is two letters followed by one or two numbers. For example, WA3824, RB15, YY_44. The letters are a shorthand painted color while the numbers differentiate between identical colors.
Some manufacturers use a longer string of numbers as a computer code to represent colors. For example, BMW uses a 3 digit number followed by 3 more digits. Mercedes-Benz uses a 9 digit number. In these cases, the numbers themselves do not indicate anything about the actual color.
Less common are actual color names spelled out, such as Shadow Blue Metallic or Insignia Red. Color names are more often listed as identifiers on the color code sticker rather than the code itself.
Tips for finding the paint code
- Check all the common locations mentioned earlier, don’t give up if it’s not in the first place checked.
- Look for any stickers or plates that include vehicle data – the paint code is often listed with other codes.
- Carefully inspect where exterior body panels meet interior structure underneath hoods and trunk lids.
- Use a flashlight to help find stamps or stickers attached to dark sections underneath panels.
- Check enthusiast forums related to your specific vehicle make and model for insights from other owners.
- If no code is found on the vehicle, the car’s title or registration paperwork may list it in some states.
- As a last resort, contact the manufacturer’s customer service with the VIN to try to retrieve the code.
What if no paint code is found?
In some rare cases, the original paint code sticker may have fallen off or was improperly left unattached at the factory. On older vehicles, the code may have worn off over decades of exposure to conditions underneath the hood. And collision damage or improperly performed repairs sometimes require panels to be replaced, eliminating existing paint codes. There are still steps that can be taken to try identifying the color on vehicles without an existing code:
- Compare the color against automaker touch up paint color charts to visually identify it.
- Take a paint sample to an auto paint store for electronic color matching.
- Consult forums and enthusiast groups to try to find comparable vehicles with existing data.
- Some professional auto detailers offer paint color analysis services.
- Order a replacement VIN tag with fresh paint codes from the manufacturer.
Paint code examples
Paint codes come in many formats across automakers. Here are a few examples:
|Toyota||1F7||Super White II|
|BMW||354||Alpine White III|
Being able to locate the unique paint code for a vehicle is important for numerous reasons, from collision repair to historical documentation. While the codes are not standardized across automakers, they can typically be found in a few common locations if you know where to look. With the right painting code in hand, you can then access valuable information to precisely match the original color for repairs, touchups, and restorations.