How to Remove Scratches From a Car

Much like a record scratch, the beat drops when you find that someone keyed your car. Let’s fix that.

byMay 22, 2020 7:00 AM
How to Remove Scratches From a Car
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Scratches in your car’s paint are similar to birth, death, and taxes: inevitable. You’re out getting groceries and a mouth-breather dings your door, scrapes your fender, or worse, keys your car. Want to remove those scratches yourself? Perfect. You’ve come to the right place.

Paint scratches range from light surface scrapes that only affect the clear coat to deep gouges that reach the car’s metallic dermis. The rule is, if your fingernail doesn't catch on it, the scratch is superficial and can usually be buffed out with a polishing compound. Surface scratches (the nail-catching kind) are commonplace; the market is full of scratch-removal products to handle these. For to-the-metal cuts, given the time, knowledge, and perseverance, you can do it yourself and save hundreds or thousands of dollars. 

The Drive’s crack How-To team is here to help you remove pesky surface scratches and deep cuts, and get your car looking factory-fresh. You game?

Basics

Estimated Time Needed: One to two hours

Skill Level: Intermediate

Vehicle System: Exterior

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Safety

Working on your car can be messy. It can also be dangerous. Paint, solvents, and other hydrocarbons can irritate the skin—hello, rashes. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless, and your bones intact.

  • Nitrile gloves (to repel chemicals used).
  • Long-sleeve shirt to protect your arms.
  • Safety Glasses
  • Ventilator

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You still won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking, that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street. 

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Everything You’ll Need

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List 

Parts List 

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Here’s How To Remove Scratches From Your Car’s Paint

Let’s do this!

Surface Scratches (w/Scratch Filler Kit)

  1. Wash the area you’ll be working on with a car-specific soap.
  2. Using a microfiber towel, dry the area thoroughly.
  3. Apply a small dab of isopropyl alcohol on a clean microfiber towel and gently wipe the scratched surface to remove any wax, polish, and debris that could affect the scratch repair solution.
  4. Use easy-release tape to mark off an area around the scratched surface.
  5. Using a scratch repair kit, apply the filler (usually a type of resin) to the scratch as directed. 
  6. Allow the resin to dry, as directed.
  7. Spray the affected area with sanding/buffing lubricant provided.
  8. Using a selection of sandpaper provided with the kit, buff the area in stages, starting with the coarsest and ending with the finest. Make sure to moisten both the sandpaper and work area with lubricant provided. 
  9. Polish and wax the affected area as directed to match the surrounding finish.
  10. You did it. Give yourself a round of applause.

Large, Deep Scratches

  1. Wash the area you’ll be working on with car-specific soap.
  2. Using a microfiber towel, dry the area thoroughly.
  3. Apply a small dab of isopropyl alcohol to a clean towel and wipe the scratched surface to remove any wax, polish, and debris that could affect the scratch repair solvent.
  4. Let dry.
  5. Using the painter’s tape, tape off an area surrounding the scratch.
  6. Put on the ventilator.
  7. Using 1,200-grit sandpaper or sanding pads and a random-orbit sander, remove the clear coat and paint from the affected area. Sand down to bare metal.
  8. Remove the painter’s tape.
  9. Rinse the area with water to see if further sanding is needed.
  10. Rinse and dry the area thoroughly. Wipe with isopropyl alcohol.
  11. Tape off and cover all exposed paint surrounding the affected area.
  12. Apply an even coat of primer to the affected area.  
  13. Wait for the primer to dry (15 to 20 minutes depending on area size).
  14. Wet a section of 2000-grit sandpaper and sand the affected area until smooth.
  15. Wipe the surface with isopropyl alcohol.
  16. Using the code-correct paint, apply an even coat to the affected area.
  17. Wait for the paint to dry (15-20 minutes).
  18. Wet a section of 2000-grit sandpaper and sand the affected area until smooth.
  19. Wipe the surface with a clean rag.
  20. Apply another coat of paint to match the rest of the car.
  21. Wait for the paint to dry (15-20 minutes).
  22. Apply clear coat to the affected area.
  23. Remove painter’s tape.
  24. Wait for the clear coat to dry and cure (overnight, or as recommended).
  25. Once the clear coat is dry, polish and wax as directed.
  26. You’re done!
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Tips From a Pro

For this job, we asked Larry Kosilla, owner and operator of AMMO NYC, and the detailer for Bugatti, to give us his top tips for removing scratches from your car’s paint. You’ll want to pay attention. 

  • If the scratch is thin and deep, use a glazing spot putty to fill the void or crater before applying touch-up on top. Squeeze a bit of putty next to the scratch, then using a small squeegee, spread the putty into the scratch. 
  • Allow the glaze to dry for 2 to 3 minutes. Once dry, wrap a towel around a wet-sanding block and apply a liquid paint leveler to the towel. The leveler will remove the putty surrounding the scratch. 
  • Gently wipe the towel over the scratch, switching up your movements so as to not favor one direction or another. You’re then free to touch up the scratch using the code-correct paint.

Life Hacks

Since you may not have access to the right tools, we also compiled a list of hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.

  • Toothpaste can be used to remove superficial (non-fingernail) surface scratches. ash and dry the affected area. Lightly wet a microfiber towel and apply a dime-sized dollop of toothpaste. In a circular motion, rub the toothpaste into the scratches until it’s evenly applied. Rinse the affected area. If the scratch is still visible, repeat the process once more. Don’t exceed three times as it could cause further damage.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair A Deep Scratch On A Car?

Scratch removal pricing can vary depending on the depth of the scratch, whether or not it can be buffed out, size and location, and if you’re doing it yourself or having a professional take care of the removal. Smaller, DIY scratch removal jobs like the one detailed above, can cost as little as $20. Large-scale scratch fixes where a certified professional is required can cost upward of $1,000, again depending on a number of factors.

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