Paint scratches are part and parcel of car ownership, but it doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Almost any scratch, to some extent, can be repaired at home and for minimal outlay. In this article we provide a straightforward method for scratch repair at home, and the preparation beforehand, along with some tips on avoiding scratches in the first place.
Types of Scratches
Not all scratches are the same or require the same level of repair because it depends on how deep the scratch goes and which layers of the painting process are affected.
There are a few typical things that will scratch your car; vandalism, parking, and minor accidents. The damage caused is wide and varied, but can be broken down into four major groups:
- Key scratch – Surely the most rage-inducing, when a car is keyed the scratch can go all the way down to the metal (or plastic) if it’s aggressive enough. The resulting scratch can be uneven and require more work to level off the peaks that are left behind before repairing the scratch.
- Paint transfer –Normally caused in car parks or parking lots, paint transfer can hopefully removed be with some moderate polishing.
- Scuffs – Normally the result of grazing walls or parking bollards, these are a step beyond just paint transfer. They can be unsightly but normally not very deep, and with enough time can be repaired at home (though it is easier for a body shop).
- Stone chips – While they may not be as unsightly as a long scratch, a chip is still an imperfection and can be repaired just the same.
Substrate (vehicle surface)
The unpainted surface of the car. It will be metal, plastic, fibreglass, or body filler. The worst scratches can be deep enough to damage the panel itself.
Primer (base layer)
Primer, or undercoat, is used to provide better adhesion for the paint while increasing both the protection of the substrate and the durability of the paint. Primer requires some preparation before painting, using very fine (800-1500 grit) sandpaper.
Colour coat (the middle layer)
The colour coat contains the tints and colour; it is applied directly to the prepared primer.
Clear coat (the top layer)
Clear coat scratches are relatively superficial and to some extent can be polished out (either by hand or with a DA polisher). As long as there is a minimum amount left, the clear will continue to protect your paint from damage.
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The most minor scratches in clearcoat can be dealt with using a DA polisher, or even a good scratch remover like Meguiar’s Scratch X 2.0.
If you plan on only repairing one or two scratches, the best approach tool-wise is a readily available body filler/scratch repair kit, like this one from Isopon. It comes with everything required, even primer if you plan to go to that level of work.
Additionally, here are a few other things that will be necessary (and useful):
- Touch up paint. A paint code (normally obtainable from your vehicle’s build plate) is a good start for getting a match, but even better is taking something like a fuel filler flap to a paint shop to get an even closer match. They are often pre-mixed with the tinted paint and a hardener.
- Ultra-fine paintbrush. The brushes that come in a touch up paint kit are relatively thick and on many scratches will be too cumbersome. Using a thin detailing brush may require more time but, with a steady hand, it will give a better result.
- Clay bar. To prepare the surface before repairing.
- DA polisher. To finish off the repair, using a DA polisher will give the best result possible, in combination with a rubbing compound or polish, and buffing pad.
If you don’t buy a scratch repair kit:
- Body filler and hardener. Necessary for the deepest scratches, filling compound will fill the scratch so the surface is prepared for wet sanding before paint.
- Spatula. Used to apply the filler; normally plastic and available in a range of sizes.
- Sandpaper. Buy a pack of various grits, to use by hand. Having sanding pads to use on a drill or sander will also be handy if it is a large repair.
Process for fixing deep scratches at home
It is impossible to repair a scratch so that it is completely unnoticeable. The only way to reach that level of repair is to get the panel repainted by a professional repair shop.
However, with just a small amount of money and a reasonable amount of preparation, a repair at home can get you to within 80% of a perfect repair and, at the very least, should protect the rest of the paint and panel from further damage.
Step 1- Preparation I
Wash and dry the vehicle, especially around the scratch and the surrounding panel. Using a clay bar will remove any debris that didn’t wash off beforehand. Clean the scratch specifically with rubbing alcohol to ensure the area is clean and contaminant-free.
It might be necessary to wet sand the scratch, depending on the type. Evenness is essential in ensuring the repair is as good as possible, and removing these almost-microscopic peaks that make up the edge of the scratch will get you closer to perfection.
Use masking tape (and plastic sheets on larger areas) to protect the paint and surrounding area around the scratch. Be as precise as possible, ensuring only the scratch is uncovered. Ideally, the original paint around the scratch is untouched during the repair process.
Step 2- Preparation II
Using a filler is an effective and fast way to repair a deep scratch. The trouble with only using touch up paint is the time required; it must be layered very thinly and allowed to dry between each layer on the repair area. If a filler is used from the outset, a lot of time can be saved and the final pre-paint result will make painting easier.
Apply the filler using a spatula, making sure to apply with enough force to fill the scratch. It doesn’t need to be flush with the surrounding paint, but close.
Some fillers require time overnight to dry, but many can be dry in as little as 30 minutes. Sanding with an 800-1200 grit pad or paper will prepare the surface for the new paint.
Step 3- Paint
Using the touch-up tool or your detailing brush, very carefully paint over the filler or fill in the scratch. Take your time, and allow plenty of time for drying between coats. You want to build up the paint to a level that is just very slightly higher than the surrounding paint.
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Over the repair area, use a very fine (1500-2000 grit) sandpaper to level the now-dry paint. Depending on the size of the scratch repair, you might want to go over it with a clear coat as well. Finally, buff the repair with a DA polisher and top off the paint job with a protective wax layer.
Scratch prevention and protection
Paint protection film (PPF) has come a long way in the last decade and is a very effective way of preventing scratches, both minor and serious. Gone are the days when PPF adhesives would yellow and pull off the paint with removal. For a new car, PPF is an investment worth considering.
Waxes, while soft, can also provide some protection against minor scratches but their soft nature makes them unsuitable for preventing deep scratches.
Ceramic coatings last much longer than wax but are similarly thin so deep scratches can still be a concern and unavoidable. PPF is really the best form of prevention if the budget allows.
Can deep car scratches be repaired?
Yes, but the results will vary depending on the level of preparation beforehand. A professional repair of the damaged area will ensure a perfect result.
How much does it cost to fix a deep scratch on a car?
It depends on the amount of damage as most repairs will go down to the undercoat, if not the bare metal or plastic. Repainting a front guard will cost between $500 and $800, depending on the prep work beforehand and if blending with surrounding panels is necessary.
How do I permanently fix a scratch on my car?
Painting the scratch at home, or taking it to a body shop for a professional repair on the damaged panel are both permanent fixes. A repair isn’t just aesthetic; it is also to protect the paint and panel from further damage.
Is it worth it to fix a car scratch?
It depends on the age and value of the car, but fixing a scratch protects the surrounding paint and the panel from further damage from water ingress and rust.
Does toothpaste remove deep car scratches?
Any abrasive product will remove minor scratches in the clear coat, not scratches through the paint. Toothpaste is a mild abrasive product at best, so it might remove fine swirl marks but an actual scratch remover will be more effective in both time and the overall result.