Home Automobiles Removing Car Scratches: What Works and What’s Nothing More Than Snake Oil?

Removing Car Scratches: What Works and What’s Nothing More Than Snake Oil?

Removing Car Scratches: What Works and What's Nothing More Than Snake Oil?
Photo by Sarmad Mughal from Pexels

You buy a new car and treat it carefully, hoping to keep it looking like new as long as possible. And then, one day, you notice a scratch. It might not even be a large scratch. But it is a scratch in your car paint. Now, the car does not look new anymore. You might not even be able to figure out where this scratch came from. Did the neighborhood kids do it? Did someone get too close with a shopping cart by the grocery store or shopping mall? Was it just some nasty person with a key? No matter what or who caused the scratch, you just want it gone.

Can You Fix a Scratch Yourself?

Whether you can fix the scratch in your car’s paint depends on your level of DIY skill and the seriousness of the scratch. First, determine if you can repair the scratch without making it look worse. If you are not comfortable trying to fix the scratch yourself, go to an Auto body repair shop for an estimate. If the amount to fix the scratch seems reasonable and you have faith in the body shop, let them fix it. You will be guaranteed good results and an end to your scratch problem.

If you want to try to fix the scratch yourself, proceed with caution, good instructions, and a highly-rated repair product. You might want to take the car to a body shop you trust for an estimate. If the estimate is more money than you have or want to spend, it is time to consider repairing the scratch yourself.

At this point, a person must decide if they want to spend the money at the body shop or the money to buy the materials and then the time and effort required to fix the scratch properly. Where is the scratch? Is it in plain sight or pretty much out of sight? Can you live with this scratch, or will it always bother you? Will a good wax job make a minor scratch less visible? A deep scratch might lead to rust if it is not repaired and sealed properly.

Three Types of Scratches

There are three types of scratches that can happen to cars, and each requires a different approach.

  1. A shallow scratch in the top layer of the clear coating does not affect the paint layer or the primer layer.
  2. A paint scratch that is deep enough to go through the clear coat and into the paint layer.
  3. A deep scratch that goes through both the clear coat layer and the paint layer to the car’s metal is hard for car owners to fix themselves. This serious type of scratch requires professional attention at a body shop.

To find out which type of scratch your car has, you can test the area by running your fingernail over the scratch. If your fingernail goes right over it without catching it, it is a surface scratch, and you might luck out with a good wax and buffing. If your fingernail catches on the scratch, it is deeper and will require more effort. You will need a professional scratch removal product or the body shop. If the scratch is combined with a small dent, it is definitely a job for a trusted body shop.

The first Step Should Always Be Washing The Car

Before you decide as to the seriousness of the scratch or attempt to wax or rub it out, the first step should be to thoroughly wash the car and dry it. When the car is washed and dried, you can see the extent of the scratch better. If you attempt to remove a scratch while the car is dirty, you might be rubbing dirt or debris on the paint surface and make matters worse with additional scratches.

The proper way to wash a car is to spray the car with a hose first, then use a sponge or brush meant for car washing to apply car washing soap. Once the soap is rubbed in, and the soil loosened, rinse the soap off the car and dry it with microfiber towels. Or, run the car through a good car wash.

At this point, you can try waxing and buffing a minor scratch out as you wax the whole car. Or, You can try to remove minor scratches with toothpaste and a damp microfiber towel. Use a drop of toothpaste the size of a quarter on a damp microfiber cloth. Rub the toothpaste into the scratch area in a circular motion to spread the toothpaste on the surface and buff out the scratch.

Now rinse the area thoroughly to remove the extra toothpaste and dry the area with another soft towel. You might have to repeat this effort twice. If this does not remove the scratches, you need to move on to the next level of scratch removal. Note that this toothpaste method only works on minor scratches. It is like using a 3,000 grit sandpaper or polishing compound. But, if you don’t have car repair tools or products, this is a good start for minor scratch repair.

Choose The Best Professional Scratch Removal Products

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The internet is full of advice for scratch removal techniques and products. But, which product is the correct one for your problem scratch? Doing a little research online and visiting a couple of auto supply stores and your car dealer can give you an idea about what other people recommend and have had good results with. Scratch repair kits vary wildly in price, and the price doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how well they work. Once you have a product you trust, it is time to get to work on that scratch.

  1. Wash and dry the whole car.
  2. To remove small scratches, put a quarter-sized drop of scratch-removal formula on a damp microfiber or soft rag or car scrubbing pad and apply to the scratch with a circular motion until the scratch area is covered with the product, and the scratch looks better. Then rinse and dry the area to see if the scratch is gone. You might need to do this several times.
  3. If the scratch does not go away with buffing with scratch remover, you need to move on to the next method. If the scratch is deep enough to be through the clear coat and into the paint but not to bare metal, you still have a chance. There are several DIY scratch repair kits available. Look at car repair expert DIY sites that rate these scratch removal kits for guidance. These kits may come with rotary tools or have good polishing attachments that you use with your own drill.
  4. You might need to get matching paint from your car dealer to fill a scratch that goes into the paint layer. You will apply this paint with a toothpick to get a small thread onto the scratch. It might take a couple of thin careful layers. Then, you let the paint dry and use the scratch removal kit to polish the area, smoothing everything out. This process involves using very fine sandpaper such as 2,000 grit very carefully. Wet sanding is recommended. Carefully is the keyword.
  5. Once the scratch is filled and sanded, the instructions call for replacing the finish coat carefully and sanding or polishing it flat, or going straight to the buffing and polishing stage with a special polishing compound and pad. It is important to let each product dry thoroughly between steps. Follow the kit directions carefully for the best results. Don’t overdue any step such as sanding, or buffing, or polishing because you could end up with more damage and a mess.
  6. Have realistic expectations for DIY scratch removal. The scratch may still be slightly visible, the paint match may not be perfect, and the edges of the repair area might be slightly raised and visible. If it looks considerably better, be happy. If the car is driven every day, It will soon get dirty, and a car’s life is tough out there in parking lots and on streets with debris flying around.

The cost of repairing a paint scratch yourself can be as little as a tube of toothpaste or as much as $100++. The results can also vary depending on the car owner’s skill and caution. But remember, you can always cry “Uncle” and take the car to a good body shop to get the scratch and your failed or imperfect efforts repaired and the car looking like before the scratch.

The consideration here is to ascertain the depth of the scratch and the difficulty of repairing it. Then consider realistically your experience and ability level in DIY repairs involving sanding, paint, and polishing. Then, do you really have the time to spend on this repair? Finally, decide if the scratch is visible enough to need repair or deep enough to present rust danger. If you can live with it, you are done right here. If you can’t live with it, decide whether to attempt your own repair or take it to a good body shop for a professional repair.

One thing to consider is the likelihood of more scratches happening in the course of your daily routine. None of us can afford monthly trips to the auto body repair shop or the time to repair multiple scratches as they happen. A car that is kept clean and with a good coat of polish might get fewer scratches and hide minor scratches.

Featured Photo by Sarmad Mughal from Pexels