Every car will inevitably wear a scratch in its lifetime, just as many owners of a scratched car will wonder if a scratch is worth repairing. When simple methods meet a careful beginner, even scratch repair can be a project anyone can tackle.


While repairing minor scratches takes a little time and a relatively dust-free place out of the sun to work at temperatures above 55 degrees (Fahrenheit), paint to match the car is needed to make the repair a success. Open the driver’s door of the vehicle and look for a sticker on the doorjamb near the latch. If the paint color code is not found there, most auto paint suppliers can match the car’s paint by referring to the VIN number. Purchase a paint pen in your car’s matching shade.

There are four classes of scratches: each requires a slightly different approach to repair.

The Un-Scratch
Some scratches are very slight; not even cracking though the colored surface paint. They look like smudge marks in the car’s paint layer that cannot be rubbed or washed away. These usually disappear with a fresh coat of wax after washing and drying the car.
The Noticeable Scratch
Scratches like those done by keys around locks uncover the layer under the paint. This protective layer is called the undercoat or primer coat. If only the top paint layer has been broken, the gray or brown color of the undercoat may be visible in the scratch. The car’s metal is still protected by this primer coat, but if the Noticeable Scratch is left unchecked, the car’s paint may begin to peel at the site of the scratch.

The Noticeable Scratch only needs a new layer of paint laid over the marks. See instructions for the Ugly Scratch.

The Ugly Scratch
Deep scratches that reach all the way to the metal layer show up as bright, shiny stripes of bare metal when they’re fresh. Because these deep scratches expose the car’s metal to the elements, it won’t be long before rust takes hold and begins to bubble the paint.

Carefully wipe over the scratch with some rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth, turning the cloth frequently to remove surface dirt and cut through any wax. Take a roll of 1/2-inch masking tape, and after running your hand across the length of the sticky side, gently press the tape into place along both edges of the scratch. Fold the tape ends into tabs to ease removal later. Repairing Noticeable Scratches don’t usually require taping. if scratches are small.

Shake the paint pen and practice with it first on a piece of scrap cardboard to get used to the flow. Then, starting at one end of the exposed scratch, apply the paint to fill the scratch, moving in one direction. Short, quick strokes work well, as will small dots laid side-by-side. Once the scratch is filled, allow it to dry for 20 minutes. Then remove the tape by pulling a tab backward over the tape, keeping the tab nearly touching the car. Lifting the tape at 90 degrees to the surface can cause it to break. Let the paint dry completely.

Once dry, cut a 2-by-2 inch square of 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper. Keeping it very wet, gently rub over the scratch with a very tight, circular motion. Once raised areas are smoothed equal to the surrounding surface, finish by wiping lightly in one direction along the length of the scratch with a dab of rubbing compound on a damp cloth. Rinse and dry well, then apply wax.

The Shrieking Gouge
This last scratch is more than a scratch; it is a veritable valley carved into the car’s metal. Called the Shrieking Gouge because a lot of yelling and blame goes hand-in-hand with discovery of this type of damage, the Shrieking Gouge is serious enough to call in the opinion of an expert.

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