Touch up Scratches on Your Car

Small scratches in the paint of your car can be unsightly, and if left untreated they may result in rusting that can cause serious damage to the body of the vehicle. Repairing scratches in the paint will not only improve the look of the car, but it will prolong the lifespan of the body’s components. First, assess the severity of the scratch, then take corrective action to repair it.


Preparing to Repair Scratches

  1. Assess the depth of the scratch. The proper way to touch up a scratch is best determined by the depth and severity of the scratch. In a well lit area, inspect the scratch. Determine how many layers of paint the scratch has penetrated. If it is just through the clear coat, you may be able to buff it out. If it is down to metal, the process will be different.[1]
    • Look for signs of bare metal or any rust that may have developed on the scratch.
    • Scratches in the clear coat can be buffed out, whereas scratches through the paint will need new paint applied.
  2. Purchase the correct color touch up paint. Automotive touch up paint comes in a wide variety of colors, so the best way to find the right replacement paint is to look for the paint code in your car’s owner’s manual. Once you have the paint code, you can purchase touch up paint with the identical code and rest assured that they will match.[1]
    • Heavily faded vehicle’s may not match with their original paint code, but this shouldn’t be an issue for small touch ups.
    • You may also be able to find your car’s paint code inside the driver’s door on the same panel as the VIN number.
  3. Clean the area around the scratch. Use automotive soap and clean water to wash the scratch and the area immediately surrounding it. Make sure there is no debris or dirt stuck to the scratch. Once done, rinse the area thoroughly.[1]
    • Use a hose to rinse the entire area and ensure there is no dirt or debris stuck to the car’s paint.
    • Dry the area completely using a towel, or just wait for it to dry.
  4. Use sandpaper to remove any rust that developed. Use 120 grit sandpaper to sand away any rust that has developed on the paint or metal. Be extremely careful with where you use the sand paper to avoid damaging the surrounding paint unnecessarily.[1]
    • Remove all rust from the metal before repairing a scratch, otherwise the rust will continue to spread beneath the touch up paint.
    • If the rust has penetrated the metal, that panel will need to be professionally repaired or replaced.
  5. Choose the right conditions to repair it. It is best not to touch up scratches while working in direct sunlight. Instead, find a shady area to work on the vehicle, or choose an overcast day. The shade will allow you to choose how to light the area to best identify and repair the scratches, as well as keeping things like soap from drying on the paint.[1]
    • Allowing soap to dry on the paint will dull its finish and possibly damage the paint.
    • Direct sunlight could make the metal on the car hot, which isn’t optimal for applying touch up paint.

Using Paint to Repair Scratches

  1. Apply automotive primer to any bare metal. If the scratch has penetrated all the layers of paint down to bare metal, it’s important to add a layer of primer. The primer will prevent rust from developing beneath the surface of the paint, as well as providing a good surface to apply the touch up paint to.[2]
    • Use a small brush to apply a thin layer of primer to any exposed paint.
    • Be sure to apply the primer to any metal you sanded rust off of.
  2. Add a coat of paint to the scratch. Allow the primer to dry completely. Then, take your automotive paint and apply a layer of it over the area you painted with primer. If the scratch is fairly small, try dabbing the paint onto the scratch and allowing it to spread and settle on its own.[2]
    • Dabbing the paint often yields the flattest finished product. A toothpick may work for thinner scratches.
    • Most automotive touch up paints will not require multiple layers.
  3. Put a layer of clear coat of the dry paint. Once the primer and the touch up paint have both dried, you may want to add a layer of clear coat. Because most clear coat comes in a spray can, it’s important that you take steps to prevent over-spray, or accidentally applying clear coat to areas you didn’t intend to. To prevent this, cut a hole through a piece of cardboard and hold it between the can of clear coat and the scratch, then use the cardboard to help direct the flow of the clear coat spray.[2]
    • Unlike a nozzle, the hole in the cardboard will allow the clear coat to mist onto the surface of the paint, rather than striking it as a jet and dripping.
    • Immediately dab up any dripping clear coat with a clean rag.
  4. Use rubbing compound to make the area shine. Ensure the clear coat is completely dry, then apply some polishing compound to the area. Use a polishing wheel to polish the paint with the compound, in order to ensure it appears uniform with the rest of the car’s body.[3]
    • The rubbing compound will remove any small gaps in the paint and create a more professional finish.
    • Stop polishing the area when the shiny paint is revealed by the polishing wheel.
  5. Wash and wax the car. Rinse the car, then use a bucket of water mixed with automotive soap to wash the entire car. Once done, rinse and dry it, and apply a layer of automotive wax to the entire vehicle so there is a uniform shine to all of the paint.[2]
    • The polishing process can remove some of the protective clear coat over your paint, so applying wax adds a layer of protection for your paint.

Fixing Scratches in Clear Coat

  1. Clean any dirt away from the scratch. Scratches in the clear coat can be repaired without adding any additional paint. Before you can get started, wash and dry the area around the scratch to make sure there’s no dirt or debris that could result in new scratches during the repair process.[4]
    • Bits of dirt could cause additional scratches in the clear coat as you buff the scratch out.
    • Make sure the paint is dry if the scratch remover you purchased requires dry paint.
  2. Buff the sanded area with scratch remover. Apply a small amount of scratch removing compound to a buffing pad and apply it to the scratched area in a circular motion. Continue to rub the compound into the scratch firmly until the compound is dry.[4]
    • Read the instructions on the scratch remover your purchase, as some will have variations in their application methods.
    • You can purchase scratch remover at your local auto parts store.
  3. Clean away any excess scratch remover compound. Once done, use a clean rag to wipe away any excess scratch remover compound that remains on the paint. There will likely be a build of the compound around the outside edges of the portion you treated.[5]
    • Make sure you to wipe the compound away completely.
  4. Wash and wax the vehicle. Fill a bucket with water and a small amount of automotive soap. Then rinse entire vehicle paying close attention to the area you just repaired. Wash the entire car thoroughly, then wax the car. Waxing the entire car will ensure an even finish to the paint.[4]
    • Once the wax is dry, buff it off with a microfiber towel.
    • The repaired scratch should be invisible once the wax is buffed off.

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