Repairing Scratched Paint

So many types. What works best?

Scratches in a car’s paint finish can be aggravating. Knowing how to fix them can be maddening. So we’re going to try to address the various types and what may work best to make them go away, or at least be less visible.

Light Scratches In The Clear Coat

Such scratches usually appear white, regardless of the paint color – other than on white cars, which generally don’t visibly exhibit this variety. A clear coat scratch is generally very difficult to feel with your finger nail. You see it, but you can’t feel it; or you feel it very slightly. It’s not a deep groove that catches your nail. These types of scratches can usually be wet-sanded and buffed. Or sometimes just buffing will work. You can do this by hand or use a random-orbit polisher. We suggest you avoid circular buffers unless you are familiar with them, as they can easily leave swirl marks, further complicating the situation.

There are many retail products available to address clear coat scratches. If you don’t have a buffer, you can use a soft cloth, diaper cloth or even a microfiber towel and apply the buffing compound vigorously by hand, using even pressure, rubbing in all directions. Follow the instructions on the product label. Some quality brands are Meguiar’s, Mothers, 3M, to name a few.

Mid-Depth Scratches

These are usually the trickiest type of scratch to address. They are too deep to be buffed, but too shallow to hold paint. They often begin as a clear coat scratch and progressively get deeper into the finish, then fade out on the other end again as a clear coat scratch. In many cases, the ends of the scratch can be buffed, but the middle needs to be painted. And then there are the points in between those areas that neither process does a great job.

In such situations, we’ve found the paint needs to be diluted just a little with some acetone and applied with a micro brush, or even better, a fine line paint pen. Using either applicator, you’ll want to apply and leave the paint as is. If you apply too much paint, just remove it and start over. Dilute 10 drops of paint with 3-4 drops of acetone. This isn’t an exact science, but the goal is to make the paint slightly watery. After applying, the acetone will evaporate, leaving a diluted, and therefore less pronounced ridge of paint in the scratch. You can always use your finger nail and rub along the edges of the scratch to remove any excess paint where not needed.

The paint pen is a great tool to use for horizontal or vertical scratches as it holds the paint in the cup even when turned on its side, yet allows the paint to be precisely applied. See our Products Page for this item.

Deep Scratches

This type is where the paint has definitely been removed from the panel. In such cases, you may be able to use our standard technique for repairing chips. Apply the paint as usual, wait a good 10 minutes or so – longer than addressing chips. When you blend the excess paint away from the panel, rub the cloth along the outer edges of the scratch to avoid removing the paint inside it. As scratches are typically shallower than chips, you will likely pull some of the paint if you pass over the scratch with the blending cloth.

Repeat the process after an hour, or better yet, wait a day or so. You may be able to increase the volume of paint held in the scratch, getting a better repair.

Another way to often get a very good repair is to use our paint pen. It’s made for “filling” scratches with paint, as well as addressing multiple scratches in an area. Be sure to dilute the paint with some acetone as noted above. Mix the acetone and paint in a separate container, then transfer the solution to the cup in the paint pen. Don’t pour either component directly into the cup or it won’t mix thoroughly and you’ll clog the tip with paint.

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