How to remove scratches from car paint

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Have an annoying scratch on your car’s paint? Read our guide on how to touch up and remove minor scrapes and scratches.

It’s almost impossible that car paint won’t get damaged in some way or another. Usually, it’s a scratch.

With many new cars now being bought on finance, there’s extra motivation in protecting a car’s future value by keeping it looking clean and scratch-free. Many novated lease agreements will contain small print explaining that any damage incurred will either reduce the amount the lender will offer you for your vehicle at the end of the contract or that you could incur other financial penalties as a result.

While it can be an annoying, additional cost to fix, not all paint scratches will need to be repaired at a panel repair shop.

Depending on how severe the damage is, there’s every possibility that you can do it yourself and fix the damage for minimal effort and outlay. There are different levels of damage of course, but there are plenty of aftermarket products and repair kits that can help, while specialist repairers can tidy up larger dings and scrapes.

To understand which repair is best for different types of scratches, we’ve explained how you can fix varying levels of damage.

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Paint swirls

So you’ve just finished washing your car. It’s gleaming, but all is not well, because as you move around the car, you can see sunlight playing across swirls in the top coat of the paint lacquer. These marks will be caused by particles of grit and dust getting stuck to the cleaning cloths and sponges that you’re using. The best way to avoid this happening in the first place is to use a grit guard in the bottom of your wash bucket. This will prevent the sponge from picking up debris and dirt in the water and moving it back onto the car.

But if the damage has already been done, there are ways of making these swirls look better. One quick technique you can use to see how deep the damage is, is to run a thumb or fingernail over the scratches. If your nail doesn’t feel them, then you should be able to use a scratch remover, such as T-Cut to smooth them out.

Scratch remover is a super-fine abrasive liquid that cleans the top layer of lacquer and can smooth out any swirls. Simply apply a small amount of scratch remover to a cloth, and run it gently over the affected section in a circular motion to make it look like new. If you can get the light at the right angle to see the swirls, it should be obvious as they disappear.

Go easy with the amount of scratch remover you use, because essentially what you’re doing is removing a layer of paint. That’s fine if it’s a layer of clearcoat that you’re working on, but if the cleaning cloth starts to turn the colour of your car’s paint, that means you’re down to the paint layers, and you’ve removed the protective lacquer that’s on top of it.

If you’re regularly restoring paintwork, then it might be worth investing in a paint depth gauge. You can pick one up for around $40, and this will tell you how much paint and clearcoat you have to work with before you get through to the lower layers, or even the basecoat, primer or bare bodywork.

Nowadays you can buy scratch remover that is coloured to match your car’s paint. Not only will this tidy up any scratches, it will also boost the colour of your car. However, these products really work best on solid colours rather than metallics, and may give your car a slightly different tint if you don’t quite get the colour match right.

If it’s a really small ding to your paintwork, then you can get scratch pens that can fill in a minor scrape. Simply apply the pen to the damage, then clean your car and the scratch should practically disappear.

After you’ve removed the scratches, it’s time to get your car clean again. Use a clay bar to remove any lingering particles from your bodywork, then make sure the affected area is well waxed to keep it looking shiny and protected.

Fixing a car park scrape

If you’ve had a light brush with a wall or post in a car park, there might be a bit more damage to contend with. You can still use scratch remover to tidy up the looks, but if the colour coat has been damaged – or you’ve scraped down to bare metal or plastic – then you’ll need something more substantial to fix the damage.

Fortunately, there are kits available that allow you to carry out your own DIY repairs. These kits will come with a variety of polishes, treatments and brushes to get damage looking like new.

While some products give you paint that you need to mix to match your car’s paint, you can also get kits that come with your car’s specific paint colour in them. All you need to do is find your car’s paint code (usually on the vehicle’s VIN plate) when you buy one of these kits.

These kits generally follow the same procedure: clean the affected area, paint in the damaged section with a brush, allow the paint to dry, then polish the area down to get the affected area smooth with the rest of the paint. After that, you can clean the car with wax to give the damaged area some additional protection.

Specialist repairs

Sometimes some scratches and scrapes are just too big to hide. A local repair specialist might be the best port of call. These businesses will usually come to you to fix any damage, and as they are professional they will be able to bring the damage back up to showroom standard far more quickly and easily than you could – and yes, that will be at a price.

Specialist repairers will be able to fix most kinds of scratches and even minor dents, too, while alloy wheel refurbishment is also possible. And while they’ll be a bit more expensive than buying a repair kit, the work should be guaranteed, and it’ll cost far less than a visit to a bodyshop.

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