How to fix a paint scrape on a car

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Some paint scrapes should be entrusted to a body shop or a full repainting. Image: Flickr / orinrobertjohn / CC-BY-SA

New or old, your vehicle’s paint can make a huge difference on the value and visual impact of your car. Knowing how to fix a paint scrape on your car’s finish yourself can help save you time and money.

Anatomy of a paint scrape

Most modern vehicles have at least three layers of paint over the steel panel of the vehicle. Primer is painted directly on the steel panel. Then at least one layer, possibly two, of matte pigment is layered over the primer. Clear coat is then layered over the pigment, creating the shiny finish most of us associate with a vehicle paint job. The clear coat also protects the paint from UV light and most light scratches. Most minor paint scrapes only go through the clear coat, though how deep the scratch goes determines how to best fix it.

How to fix a clear coat paint scrape

If a paint scrape only goes through the clear coat on your vehicle’s paint job, then it can usually be easily fixed. First, try buffing the area with a standard car wax, which may be enough to fill in the scratch and hide it. If buffing the area with wax does not fix it, then try the next level of paint scrape fixes.

How to fix a pigment scrape

If a scrape cannot be easily buffed out with wax or a buffing cream, or it extends down into the pigment, then use a lightly abrasive polish or very fine-grit sandpaper lubricated with dish soap to work the clear coat down to the same level as the bottom of the scratch. Use a rubbing compound to rub out the sanding scratches, then polish, buff, and wax until the shine comes back. Be very careful to not scrape down past the pigment, or the metal will begin to show.

How to fix a deep scratch

Very deep scratches that show the primer or metal under the paint are the most difficult to fix, because it requires fixing the primer, paint, and clear coat in order to match the look of the paint. Comprehensive insurance will often pay to have deep scratches and scrapes that go to the metal fixed, so check with your insurance before trying to fix it yourself.

[Howdy Honda, Austin TX has vehicles without scratches.}

If you want to try to fix the paint scrape yourself, use an automotive sander to sand down the area around the scrape, down to the primer. Use a matched-color automotive paint and a sprayer to spray the paint on; brushing will look gloppy and will not match, because factory paint is always sprayed. Finally, spray an automotive clear coat over the paint, after it has dried. The fix will not look perfect, but it will be close.


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