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How to Remove Scratches From a Car

Posted by Auto.com Staff | Dec 31, 2018

Scratches on your car’s paint can make the vehicle seem dirty and uncared for – and they can also detract from your cars value. It is often assumed that scratches mean the car needs an expensive paint job. However, not all scratches are created equal. What may look like a noticeable scratch on the car could be just a superficial blemish. If the scratch isn’t too deep, you may even be able to fix it yourself.

The first thing you should always do before attempting any repair is to give the car a good wash. Whether washing it yourself, or taking it to a car wash, a good sudsing will help remove excess girt and debris. It will also help clear up any small blemishes. Most do-it-yourself scratch repairs involve sanding, so you want to make sure you aren’t damaging the paint further by rubbing dirt and fragments into the paint.

Once the car is clean, you can check out the scratch. Lightly run your fingernail across the scratch: if it catches, then the scratch has etched into the clearcoat (or beyond). It your fingernail doesn’t catch, then the scratch is just superficial, and you should be able to remove it with some high-quality paste wax compound. Most automotive supply retailers will carry a variety of products. If you aren't sure which product to use to remove these fine scratches, don't hesitate to ask the sales associate for assistance. 

If the scratch has crossed into the clear coat, your next step is trying to figure out how deep the scratch is. Most cars are painted in three steps: a primer coat that is typically gray in color, followed by the base coat. The base coat is the color of your car. The third and final layer is a clear coat. This layer protects the paint below and gives your car that shine. Different manufacturers use different clear coat formulas. Some may be harder or thicker than others.

If the scratch doesn’t seem to deep, one popular DIY method is to use toothpaste. A mild abrasive, toothpaste can gently even out the clear coat around the scratch so that you cannot see the scratch anymore. Gently rub the toothpaste around the scratch, taking care not to wander too far away from the affected area. Once you have buffed out the scratch, you can gently wash the excess toothpaste off with soapy water in a spray bottle. Try not to wipe it off, as you don’t want to damage the rest of the paint. Once you have washed the excess toothpaste off, rinse with water and dry. Then follow with an application of high quality car wax.

If you prefer more commercial methods of at-home scratch repair, there are many different products at your local automotive supply store. They usually involve a few different products and compounds that are designed to gently even out the clear coat around the scratch and polish the clear coat back up so it looks good as new. Some may also recommend the use of sandpaper, depending on the severity of the scratch. Always make sure to follow the instructions carefully.

If you find that the scratch on your car has gone down below the clear coat into the base coat color, or even the primer layer, you will need to take more drastic measures. Deep scratches like this can be repaired at home using kits that are designed to match the color of your car. Keep in mind that no two manufacturers use the same color, so unless you are matching the kit to the specific paint code on your car, it may not be a perfect match.

Matching paint colors can be tricky, especially if there is a metallic hint to the paint. If you are worried about matching the paint and don’t want to risk it yourself, talk to a trusted auto-body repair shop. Fixing a deep scratch should not require a complete respray. It may be worthwhile to pay a trusted professional rather than risk a poor car paint repair job on your own.