Repair Tips – How to Fix Paint Scratches on a Car

The resale value of a car is determined by a large number of factors. And some of these factors can’t be controlled by the owner like depreciation, brand perception or supply and demand. There’s simply nothing you can do about the fact that Dodge Calibers are considered lemons and are hard to sell for a good price. Other factors, on the other hand, are direct correlations to the owner’s care level and driving habits, like the overall condition of the vehicle and the mileage.

The model year means almost nothing if the car has been kept in top shape by regular maintenance and good driving habits. But what good would it do if the exterior paint is damaged or the overall look of the vehicle is mediocre? Whether you are planning to sell your vehicle in a near future or simply want to plan ahead to get the best resale price when the time comes, keeping your car paint in the best shape possible is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to achieve that.

In this article, I’ll describe the different types of paint scratches, the tools you’ll need, the different techniques to repair them based on your skill level and the tools you have on hand, as well as how to keep your paint in the best shape possible once you fixed it.

Types of Car Scratches

First of all, scratches come in all sort of shapes and forms and they all require a different technique to repair them correctly. A bad scratch repair, a poor paint job with drips or an imperfect blend is even worse than no repair at all.

types of car scratches

Clear-coat Scratch

Only the clear coat is affected and that won’t require extensive repair. To determine if the scratch on your vehicle is a clear-coat scratch, simply run a fingernail over the scratch. If you can feel it with your fingernail, it’s not. Clear coat scratches are not deep enough to feel them with your nail.

Base-coat Scratch

These scratches can be felt when running a nail over them and will require a little more work. You shouldn’t be able to see the bare metal, i.e. the scratch should still be the same color as the rest of the car paint or primer color (usually gray or dark red). Get ready to sand, prep and spray new paint for this one.

Primer-coat Scratch

These are the worst case scenario. If you can see the bare metal showing through the scratch, you’ve got a primer-coat scratch. These will require more work than the two previous types of scratch but they still can be repaired quite easily with a little practice. Primer-coat scratches are also more expensive jobs if you get them repaired by an auto part shop, thus making it a lot more worth it for you if you can repair everything yourself.

How to Fix a Clear-Coat Scratch

If you are lucky and only the clear-coat is damaged, a quick buff with a polishing compound should be enough. Not all polishing compounds are created equal so get yourself a good one or you’ll have to work a lot harder and the result may not be as good as you’d like.

For beginners

If you are a beginner with little to no knowledge of auto body work, I suggest you get your hands on a small scratch repair kit and a drill.

For example, 3M makes a pretty good kit called the “Trizact Precision Scratch Kit” which is easy enough for everybody to use.

What to do:

  1. Wash the area to be repaired with soap and water.
  2. Start by gently sanding the scratch using a scratch pad (provided in the kit). As the scratch disappears, spray more and more water to wet sand the area until you can’t see the scratch anymore.
  3. Install the buffing pad onto your drill and apply buffing compound to the pad. This process is required to remove the swirls created by the wet sanding.
  4. Repeat the process using a polishing pad and polishing compound to bring back the original shine of the clear-coat.
  5. Wipe off the compound residue using a clean shop towel.

For Pros

If you already have some knowledge of auto body work or you already have some detailing tools and supplies at home, you may not need to buy a scratch repair kit. Here’s how to do it with tools you already have on hand.

Tools needed:

  • Scratchpads
  • Buffing pads
  • Buffing compound
  • Swirl remover compound
  • Buffer
  • Orbital polisher
  • Clean shop towels

What to do:

  1. Wash the area to be repaired with soap and water.
  2. Start by sanding the scratch using a scratch pad or high-grit wet sandpaper.
  3. Buff the area using a buffer equipped with a buffing pad and buffing compound.
  4. Repeat the process using a polishing pad and swirl remover compound.
  5. Wipe off the compound residue using a clean shop towel.
  6. To even everything out, wax the whole panel with an orbital polisher.

Be sure to use high-quality car buffers and orbital polishers for step 3 & 6.

Worth mentioning

Yes, this process will remove some of the clear coat. The buffing process is actually heating the clear coat so it becomes malleable again. Always polish only the minimum area you can and apply the minimum pressure possible. You don’t want to burn through the clear-coat or you’ll have to start over and spray more clear-coat.

How to Fix A Base-Coat Scratch

If the base-coat is damaged, there’s no easy fix. You’ll have to sand and spray and blend a new base-coat and clear-coat layer.

Tools needed:

  • Sanding block
  • P180, P320, P500 and P1550 sandpaper
  • Clean shop towels
  • Masking Paper
  • Spray gun
  • Automotive base-coat and clear-coat
  • Blending solvent
  • Tack Cloth
  • Orbital polisher
  • Polishing compound

What to do:

  1. Using a sanding block and P180 sandpaper, sand the scratch to give it a bevelled edge.
  2. Sand the surrounding area with a P320 sandpaper.
  3. Finalize with P500 sandpaper.
  4. Sand the blend area with P1550 grit sandpaper.
  5. Mask surrounding areas with masking paper.

Spraying paint:

Ok, here’s where it gets a little more complicated. Correctly spraying paint is more of an art than a skill. It takes a lot of practice to get it right but, when you do, you’ll be able to easily fix any scratch and paint damage no matter how deep it is.

  1. Mix the paint and reducer using a paint measuring stick.
  2. Pour the mixed paint into the paint filter.
  3. Before starting to paint, wipe the area with a tack cloth to remove any remaining dust.
  4. Start spraying and always overlap each pass by 50% to 75%.
  5. Always wipe the area with a tack cloth between each coat of paint.
  6. Repeat the process for the second coat (A third coat may be needed).
  7. Let the paint dry properly.

Blending the clear-coat:

Because we aren’t painting a whole panel, the trick here is that you will need to blend the new clear-coat into the old one so it looks exactly like the original paint job.

  1. Spray a thin first coat of clear-coat.
  2. Using a second gun, apply blending solvent in a fine shaded coat all around the area.
  3. Between each coat, wipe the area with a tack cloth to remove unwanted dust.
  4. Spray a second coat of clear-coat. The second coat should be what pros call a “wet-coat”, meaning it still looks wet while avoiding drips. Stop a little further than the first coat and completely cover your sanded area.
  5. Repeat the blending solvent process once again.
  6. Polish the blended area using an orbital polisher and a fine polishing compound.

How to Fix a Primer-Coat Scratch

The primer is what is allowing paint to adhere to the metal and any attempt of cutting corners here will result in flaking paint at some point in the future.

Tools needed:

  • Epoxy primer
  • Sanding block
  • Finishing glaze putty
  • P180, P320, P500 and P1550 sandpaper
  • Clean shop towels
  • Masking Paper
  • Spray gun
  • Automotive base-coat and clear-coat
  • Blending solvent
  • Tack Cloth
  • Orbital polisher
  • Polishing compound

What to do:

  1. Using a sanding block and P180 sandpaper, sand the scratch to give it a bevelled edge.
  2. Sand the surrounding area with a P320 sandpaper.
  3. Mix and apply a small portion of finishing glaze putty over the scratch.
  4. Once dry, sand using a sanding block and P180 sandpaper.
  5. Clean the panel with a clean shop towel.
  6. Mask adjacent panels with masking paper.
  7. Apply 2 coats of epoxy primer. Let dry between each coat.
  8. Once dry, sand the panel with P320 sandpaper and a sanding block.
  9. Finalize with P500 sandpaper.
  10. Follow the “spraying paint” and “blending clear-coat” instructions explained earlier.

Now what?

Now that your car paint is fixed and it’s shining as bright as it can, what can you do to prevent any further scratches in the future, you ask? Well, while no car is ever totally safe from unwanted scratches, you can apply different products to help prevent it.

The first thing to think of is to apply a good quality wax. Pretty basic right? But a good coat of wax can help prevent small scratches often called “Angel hairs” caused by brushing your jeans onto your car paint or washing your car with a dirty car wash mitt. Wax will also help prevent sun rays from burning your paint and will keep it brighter for a longer time.

Paint sealers are the next level in terms of paint protection. They provide a thicker layer of protection and will also last longer than regular wax. On the downside, however, they don’t look as good as a good ‘ol wax in my honest opinion… but that’s just me.

The ultimate protection is to apply a paint protection film over the part you want to protect the most from chips and scratches. The best example of this is the hood. Most car dealers are offering to install a transparent protection tape over the hood when you buy it to protect from stone chips. The layer can even be applied to the whole car if you’d like and can even be of a different color if you’d like. Please note that for a paint protection film to be applied correctly, the paint needs to be absolutely exempt from any scratch, dent, chip, etc, and that’s why they are usually installed when the car is still brand new.

Conclusion

Paint scratches will definitely bring your car’s value down and because they are quite expensive to get fixed by an auto body repair shop, making them disappear using your two hands is probably the best investment you can make. Most people are afraid of auto body work costs and adding this skill to your automotive skill set will definitely help you save money while keeping your car in the best shape ever!

Leave a Comment