Fixing car paint scratches made simple

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2011 Chicago Auto show custom painted Scion.

If you love your car's paint job, learn how to fix car paint scratches the right way. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Chris Favero/Flickr)

If it isn’t already, your car’s paint job will eventually be scratched – it’s almost inevitable. Having your car resprayed when just a touch-up is required is a huge waste of money, so car owners should learn how to fix car paint scratches themselves.

Assess the damage

If the scratch appears thin and white, it more than likely hasn’t gone through the vehicle’s clear coat. If metal is visible, the problem is deeper.

Inspect your area

Prepare for a touch-up job indoors, in an area with proper ventilation and comfortable temperature. Relative humidity should less than 60 percent so evaporating solvent involved in the touch-up process doesn’t cool the body panel to the point that moisture can condense on the surface. This makes it difficult to achieve a good surface finish.

Find the code

Under the hood or in the door sill, there should be a sticker or metal plaque that displays the car’s factory paint code. This will help you find the correct touch-up color. If you can’t find the code, bring an example of the paint, such as a photo, to an auto paint dealer.

Things you’ll need, besides matching paint

  • Polishing compound
  • Wax and grease solvent remover
  • Clean, soft rags
  • 600- or 1,000-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper
  • Touch-up paintbrush
  • Auto body wax to reseal the surface

Getting started

Before starting, thoroughly clean away surface dirt. Use a wax and grease remover as part of the process. Then apply masking tape if necessary, then either primer or color to damaged area. Work carefully, and don’t worry too much about paint overlap — that’s what the sandpaper is for. Tomorrow, you’ll sand away overrun until it covers only the bottom of the scratch to achieve the best adhesion and to inhibit rust.

Wait before sanding

Allow the paint to dry overnight, if not longer. Then, slowly wet-sand the area with 600- or 1,000-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper until the new paint is sanded down to the level of the surrounding paint. Don’t rush this step; stop often to clean away sanded off paint. You may even need to apply more paint to the area and repeat the steps up to this point.

Once this is done, remove any residue with a clean rag, then apply polishing compound in a back-and-forth motion. Wax and buff dry, and repeat if needed. At no point should you rub through the clear coat.

Speaking of clear coat, some scratches go all the way through. Check back soon for more on repairing clear coat scratches.

Repair minor surface scratches


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