Your car’s paintwork has to put up with a lot – freezing ice, roasting heat, UV rays, dings, dents and damage (accidental) … it should be more of a surprise that we don’t need to give our paintwork more treatment to keep it looking good; that’s testament to the quality of the paintjob from the factory in this modern era.
Even when you make a special effort to care for your car, light paint damage can happen – either with a minor scrape, stone chips from the road or even just washing & detailing – you really need to be super careful to avoid those dreaded swirl marks – but you can’t stop it from happening, no matter how hard you try – it really is only a question of time.
So what can you do to help?
There are products like ceramic paint protection which can help or paint sealer, however, they’ll only help with washing and cleaning (and even then, they’re not infallible), but no amount of protection will help to avoid accidental damage – someone brushing the car with a shopping cart for example.
Table of Contents
- Car Scratch Remover or Cover Up?
- No Magical Cure-All
- The Best Car Scratch Remover
Car Scratch Remover or Cover Up?
A quick online search will give you possibly hundreds of products to sort a scratch. But it’s important to differentiate between something that removes scratches and something that covers them up, because they are entirely different products, that give similar (visual) results.
Covering a scratch is really only a temporary measure, and it’s achieved by using some sort of cream or polish that helps to fill the paintwork or clear coat and blend the color. You’ll often find that this type of cream is color matched to the car, or at least within a range of color.
Removing the scratch takes more work, and needs some level of skill. It’s the best long term result as you’re actually correcting the paintwork rather than masking it. I say that it needs some level of skill, and that is true, but you can learn a lot from online tutorials, and most scratch removers come with pretty detailed instructions.
See also this: How to Fix Paint Scratches on a Car
With all of that said, if you’re really unsure, then take some professional advice, because the very nature of these scratch removers means that you’re cutting in to the clear coat or paintwork. You could end up with a mess that could potentially costs thousands of dollars to correct.
No Magical Cure-All
You need to realise that whatever product you choose, it’s going to have its limitations … if your car has been shunted by a semi, no amount of scratch remover will polish that out, you get what I’m saying?
A simple test as to whether a scratch removing polish or cream will work for you is the thumbnail test … run your thumbnail across the scratch and if you can feel a marked difference where the scratch is, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to remove it entirely, although of course you may be able to lessen the damage.
And remember … the average thickness of a car paint job (from factory) is around 4 – 5 mils (thousands of an inch), around 1.5 mils of that is clear coat. To put that in to perspective, a typical business card is around 3 – 4 times thicker … paintwork and clear coat is thin!
Also, you should be aware that most manufacturers will void a paint warranty if more than 20% of the clear coat has been removed, and removing anything more than that could lead to problems with the paintwork and premature failure.
The Best Car Scratch Remover
Any scratch remover will need to be applied and worked vigorously – most can be done either by hand or with a dual action polisher (DA), although some are designed to work better for one method over the other. In extreme cases, you may need to use a cutting compound first – it really is dependent on the damage.
All of these auto scratch removers are designed for light to medium scratches or swirl marks – they won’t remove damage such as deliberate keying of the paintwork.
In no particular order.
1. Meguiar’s G17216 Ultimate Compound
The exclusive micro-abrasive cream found in the Meguiar’s compound helps to cut and polish the paintwork and one easy step – it will remove stubborn paint marks, stains and light scratches or swirls with minimal effort.
They say it cuts through the damage as fast as a regular cutting compound (which being honest, I can’t see that being the case), but it also leaves the paintwork with a high gloss shine – sort of like a hybrid between a polishing finish and scratch remover. Thanks to the nature of the abrasive, it’s safe to use on all finishes – top coat, clear coat, single layer paint and of course, multi-layered paintwork that you’ll find on all new cars and vehicles.
It works equally as well when done by hand or with a dual action polisher, but it must be said that it does need some effort to get right when you’re finishing by hand.
The Meguiar’s G17216 is a great all-rounder, giving easy and fast results – one of the best car scratch removers and refinishers on the market right now, and given the size vs price, it’s cost effective too.
2. 3M 39044 Scratch Remover
Having worked alongside a number of paint shops over the years, I can tell you that 3M tend to be used by the professionals more than any other brand. They have a reputation for delivering the right product that works exactly as it should.
If you’re working by hand, it’s easier and faster to use than a regular rubbing compound, mainly because it blends a medium cutting with fine finishing capability, and it doesn’t contain any wax or fillers – this is all about scratch removal, not blending or filling. 3M say that it delivers professional results at economy rates, and that’s partly due to not needing any further polishing or waxing compounds when finished, although of course you may want to seal the paint properly.
Another great all-rounder, and if you don’t have access to a polishing machine, then this is probably the best choice for you.
3. Chemical Guys COM_129_16 Scratch and Swirl Remover
Similar to the 3M cream, this is designed purely to remove scratches and blemishes, not hide them or fill them in with wax or silicone; it works on all colors and has been designed for use on moderate to heavy scratching, surface imperfections and spotting.
Again, it’s a sort of hybrid all in one cream that acts like a rubbing compound, polish and cleaner that removes swirling and scratches, shines up the paintwork and leaves it all with a nice shiny finish – there’s no real need to wax after.
It’s best used on a dual action or rotary polisher, but the Chemical Guys do say that it can be applied by hand if you really want to (it does give best results with a machine). Completely safe for use on clear coat, single stage paint and ceramic finishes, and of course, all modern paint finishes.
4. Turtle Wax T-241A Polishing Compound & Scratch Remover
This is different to the other products here in that it’s a paste rather than a cream, which makes it ideal for heavy duty use – whether that’s through oxidization, dull paintwork or scratches and blemishes. Turtle Wax also say that it’s ideal for use for rubbing down in-between new paint coats and lacquers, though.
Despite being a heavy duty paste, the compound is actually designed for lighter scratches and swirl marks or stubborn stains. It’s particularly good for restoring faded paintwork and bringing it back to a ‘like new’ finish, if you’re prepared to put the work in.
It can be used for hand finishing, but ideally you should be looking to use a machine polisher to get the best results, or you may find that it takes quite some time, and needs a lot of elbow grease – any light polishing compound will always take a bit of work to make it successful.
The only real thing with the Turtle Wax compound is that it seems to need a little more ‘finessing’ than the other products here – that extra ten minutes with a microfiber towel, just for the best results. It isn’t the easiest or quickest compound to use, but it does give great results.
5. TriNova Scratch Swirl Remover
This is actually a little kit that comes with a buffer pad, although I’d guess most of you will be using a machine polisher anyways, but nevertheless, it’s a nice touch and could work well for that final bit of hand finishing.
It’s completely clear coat safe, and uses only high end chemicals and formulations to achieve great results every time, whether that’s finishing by hand or dual action polisher (or rotary). Primarily used for lighter scratches and swirl marks, the TriNova kit cuts through blemishes and swirls with relative ease – it’s simple and fast.
There’s no tricks or gimmicks here, just a quality formulation that’s been designed to work exactly as you’d want it to.
You probably need more finishing after you’ve used this product, but depending on your viewpoint, that could be a good thing – it hasn’t been designed as a ‘one product, fits all’ polish, rather than a specialist product for a specialist job.
If you’re happy finishing off the job with a little extra work with waxing or sealing, then the TriNova swirl removal cream is the product for you.
As with most things, there’s an easy route or a harder route, but the thing to bear in mind is that when a product is made to do more than one job, it’s usually a slight compromise on its main function. So, in the case of these scratch removers, they could probably be made to cut that little bit harder, which would mean less elbow grease, but then they would need extra work after to make it all shiny and new again – a bit like the TriNova cream.
You need to decide on just what kind of car care regime you have. If the regular clay bar treatment and separate waxing or sealing is your thing, then pick a product that needs extra hand finishing, if you just want the scratches or swirls to be gone with minimal effort, then a product that leaves a glossy finish is right for you.
Personally, if I was spending my own cold hard cash, I think I’d choose the Meguiar’s scratch remover, just because it seems to be the best of both worlds, without needing lots of extra work to make it look right afterwards, however … you pays your money, and you takes your choice.