Buffing out Moderate Scratches from your Car

Auto repair near me: Finding a bad scratch on your car can be frustrating, but fear not—repairing even the worst scratches can be a fairly simple fix, provided you have the right tools. Depending on just how deep the scratch is, you may be able to buff it out by hand using a scratch repair kit. If that doesn’t do the trick, fill in the damaged area with glazing putty and apply a little touch up paint to hide it from sight.

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Wash and dry the damaged area. Before you attempt to repair a scratch in your car’s exterior, it’s important to make sure the surrounding area is completely clean. Spray the scratch with a gentle stream of water from a garden hose. Once the surface is spotless, pat it dry using a microfiber cloth or chamois.

  • If you begin polishing without cleaning, it’s possible to pull small particles of dirt into the scratch, potentially making it worse.
  • Avoid using dish soaps to wash your car. These contain powerful de-greasers which can strip the protective sealant from the clear coat.

Tip: To save time, you can can also wipe the scratch with rubbing alcohol to remove dust and dirt particles.

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Pick up a scratch repair kit from your local automotive supplier. There are many different products on the market designed to help automobile owners easily fix cosmetic imperfections at home. One of these kits will come with everything you need to buff out a bad scratch in a matter of minutes, including a liquid scratch remover polish and soft buffing pad.

  • On average, a complete scratch repair kit will cost you around $10-30.
  • Many car care experts recommended products like 3M Scratch & Scuff Removal Kit or Meguiar’s G17216 Ultimate Compound, which can be used to erase mild to severe scratches in the clear coat. For details on using rubbing compound to fix car scratches,

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Apply a small amount of scratch remover to the damaged area. Squeeze the polish onto your buffing pad or a clean microfiber cloth rather than applying it directly to the car itself. This will help minimize messes and make it easier to use just the right amount.

  • Check the directions on your scratch remover to see how much polish the manufacturer recommends using.
  • Buffing pads come in various shapes, sizes, and textures. If you don’t like the one that came with your scratch repair kit, you can always shop around for another that suits your needs at any auto parts store.

Work the scratch remover using your buffing pad. Buff the damaged area thoroughly, moving the pad in smooth, tight circles from one end to the other. The idea is to massage the polish into the the scratch, where the tiny abrasive particles it contains will gradually wear down the rough edges to produce a uniform surface.

  • Keep buffing until most of the polish has disappeared from the surface of the car.

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Use a clean microfiber cloth to remove excess polish. After buffing for a couple of minutes, carefully wipe away the remaining scratch remover. This will give you a better look at the scratch so you can determine whether it needs more attention.

  • Once you’ve wiped off the scratch remover, fold your cloth in half to get a clean surface ready in case you need to apply more polish.

Survey the scratch and repeat if necessary. If the scratch is no longer visible, congrats, your problems are over! If you can still see it, however, spread on a little more polish and try buffing the spot a second time. This should be enough to erase most moderate scratches that don’t reach down to the actual paint.

  • Scratch remover liquids work by taking off thin layers of the car’s outer finish, so be careful not to buff too hard, or for too long. If you start seeing traces of paint on your buffing pad, stop immediately.
  • Basic scratch repair kits won’t be able to get rid of every scratch. If you can still see the scratch after a couple rounds of buffing, you’ll need to move on to applying touch up paint.

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Clean the scratch with rubbing alcohol to remove dirt or wax. Wet a soft cloth or sponge with alcohol and go over the scratch and surrounding area until they’re free of foreign substances. Starting with a spotless surface will help ensure that debris doesn’t find its way into your repair materials.

  • Giving your vehicle a preliminary wipe down is especially important if you’ve recently had it waxed or resealed.

Fill the scratch with glazing putty if you can see bare metal underneath. Squeeze a dime-sized blob of putty onto the finish beside the damaged area, then use a small hand squeegee or spreader tool to spread it into the gouge. The putty will build up the deep depression from within, restoring its original structure.

  • You can pick up a tube of glazing putty for spot repairs from your local automotive retailer or hardware store for around $5. A single tube should give you enough putty for 10-20 repair jobs!
  • If the scratch isn’t deep enough to expose the metal of the car’s body, you can skip straight to applying touch up paint.

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Let the putty cure for 2-3 minutes. As it cures, it will harden into a solid inside the scratch. In the meantime, avoid touching it or any part of the scratch. Doing so could cause you to accidentally rub off the putty, creating gaps or inconsistencies.

  • Exact curing times may vary depending on the product you use. Be sure to consult the packaging for more accurate instructions.

Wipe the scratch with liquid paint leveler to remove excess putty. Pour 1–2 fluid ounces (30–59 mL) of paint leveler onto the center of a detailing towel or clean microfiber cloth. Work the towel back and forth over the resurfaced scratch using light pressure. Continue wiping until the scratch appears as a colored line and the area around it is clean.

  • The leveling liquid will clear the dried putty off of the finish but leave the putty inside the scratch untouched, resulting in a level surface.

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Tip: Wrapping your detailing towel or cloth around a rectangular backing block can make it more comfortable to handle for time-consuming jobs.

Apply a thin line of touch up paint to the scratch using a fine brush. Use the tip of the brush to dab the paint into the gouge rather than brushing or wiping it on. Aim for a light, thin coat, and work carefully to make sure the scratch is completely concealed.

  • If your touch up paint doesn’t come with its own applicator, an inexpensive micro detailing brush will offer you the precision and control you need to get the job done right.
  • Touch up paints are also sometimes sold in pen form. When using a touch up paint pen, all you have to do is drag the nib along the scratch slowly to disperse the paint inside.

Tip: To find an exact match for your car’s paint color, refer to the paint code listed on the label inside your driver’s side door. If you don’t see it there, talk to the original dealer.

Allow the paint to dry for 8-12 hours. Most types of touch up paint dry to the touch within a few hours. If possible, however, it’s a good idea to let your freshly-applied paint sit overnight to give it ample time to set.

  • Resist the urge to touch or make modifications to your touch up paint as it dries.

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Use additional coats as needed. If there’s still damage visible beneath your initial coat of touch up paint, you can add 1-2 more thin coats to finish the job. Dab on your follow-up coats the same way you did the first coat, then allow the paint to dry overnight when you’re done.

  • For best results, plan on using at least 2 coats to cover especially deep scratches.

Seal the painted scratch using a clear coat applicator. Glide the tip of the pen down the length of the paint line to slowly cover it with a thin, even layer of sealant. Be careful not to bear down too hard, or you could accidentally take off some of the unprotected paint.

  • When it comes to deciding how much sealant to use, err on the side of excess—you’ll be sanding the clear coat later to level and blend the repaired surface, anyway.
  • After applying enough clear coat to cover the new paint, allow it to dry overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

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Wet-sand the repaired scratch smooth with 1,500-2,000-grit sandpaper. Wet a sheet of wet/dry sandpaper with clean water and run it over the raised ridge created by the dry sealant. To avoid removing too much of the clear coat, apply gentle pressure and use light, swirling motions. Continue sanding until the damaged area blends in with the surrounding finish.

  • Wet-sanding is better for detailing jobs, as the wet surface lifts away loose particles as you work, and can even wear down tiny scratches caused by dry sanding or polishing.
  • Not all types of sandpaper are intended to be used wet. Make sure the sandpaper you buy is made specifically for wet-sanding.
  • Wrap your sandpaper around a backing block to make it easier to grip.

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Things You’ll Need

Buffing out Moderate Scratches
  • Scratch repair kit or scratch remover polish
  • Buffing pad
  • Water
  • Microfiber cloth or chamois
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)

Filling Deep Gouges

  • Spot glazing putty
  • Liquid paint leveler
  • Hand squeegee or spreader tool
  • Detailing towel, microfiber cloth, or sponge
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Backing block (optional)

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Painting over Repaired Scratches

  • Color-matched touch up paint or paint pen
  • Clear coat applicator pen
  • 1,500-2,000-grit wet/dry sandpaper
  • Water
  • Micro detailing brush (optional)
  • Backing block (optional)

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More tips

  • Lighter scratches caused by tree branches, bicycle handles, or car doors can usually be removed with a little polish and elbow grease.

  • Buffing a deep gouge with scratch remover can be a good way to fill it in temporarily until you can make more permanent repairs.

  • It’s a good idea to always deal with scratches as soon as you discover them. If left untreated, they could worsen or leave the body of your vehicle vulnerable to rust and deterioration.

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