Like death and taxes, scratches on your car are inevitable, no matter how carefully you drive or park. A nick or gouge on your vehicle is not the end of the world, though, and with a little time, patience and some elbow grease, you can safely remove most offending marks.
Diagnosing the Damage
A scratch sometimes may not be as bad as it first appears. To determine the extent of the damage, Popular Mechanics recommends running your fingernail on the offending spot to see if the mark really is a scratch or simply some material or paint left behind by a shopping cart or another car.
If the damage is just on the surface, Popular Mechanics says the following steps are effective: 1) Using a soft cloth, gently rub some acetone, adhesive remover or other solvent on the scratch; if the mark isn’t “skin deep,” it should disappear with just a little effort. 2) For more stubborn defects, use a one-two punch of car polish and rubbing compound. Clean the surface with soap and water and then apply the rubbing compound by using circular motions until the spot is gone. Car polish will then remove the marks left by the rubbing compound.
How Low Does it Go?
For deeper scratches, you will have to look below the surface and assess the damage. Like human skin, your car’s exterior has layers, starting with the clear coat that protects it from the sun’s rays followed by the color coat and primer.
To determine how deep a scratch goes, Popular Mechanics says to apply shoe polish or correction fluid to the mark (make sure to use a color that contrasts with the car’s paint color). With a rubber sanding block and some ultra-fine wet/dry sandpaper, gently and carefully rub the scratch until it disappears and then use rubbing compound to get rid of the sandpaper marks.
If all the marks are gone, pull out your favorite high grade car wax, which will help protect the newly repaired area from moisture and rust.
Using Touch-Up Paint on Scratches
For scratches that penetrate all the way down to the primer, touch-up paint is a real blessing to car lovers. Autopia.org recommends carefully cleaning the scratch or paint chip with a dishwashing liquid like Dawn to remove dirt, rust and car wax. Roughing up the area with sandpaper prepares it for the paint, which preferably should be applied with a small artist’s paintbrush.
One of the biggest challenges at this point is finding a paint that exactly matches the color of your pride and joy. Autopia says to look in your owner’s manual for the factory paint code or check with the dealer where you purchased your vehicle. The closer you can come to an exact color match, the better your repair job will look.
Commercially Prepared Scratch Removers
Most auto supply shops and retail stores carry commercially prepared scratch removers that promise to remove those annoying marks on your car’s finish. Consumer Reports did some tests and while these compounds are useful for removing light scratches, however, most of them had difficulty with defects that go below the surface.
Consumer Reports also reminds car lovers about some common sense ways to prevent scratches, starting with washing your car once a week. When washing or waxing your vehicle, use soft materials such as microfiber towels or cloth diapers that help you baby the car’s finish.
Scratching the Internet Rumors
When looking for scratch removers using Google or another online search engine, chances are good that you’ll come across the superglue solution. By using a combination of this popular adhesive, green wax, aluminum foil and a hair dryer, a chemical reaction will occur that fills in the unsightly scratch.
The Internet contains a few DIY videos on how to perform the superglue procedure on your vehicle, but most experts still recommend rubbing compounds and fine grain sandpaper for dealing with scratches. If all else fails, seek out professional help from car dealers and auto mechanics.