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How to fix a car paint chip

02 October 2019

Many small chips and minor areas of damage to car paintwork can be repaired, either professionally or on a DIY basis, with little effort and at almost no cost - here's how.

An orange Porsche with a scratch

A step-by step guide to removing a chip or scratch from car paintwork

• Rub the scratch in your car’s bodywork with a wet finger. If the scratch disappears then it can be polished out easily.

• Apply the buffing or polishing compound to a cloth or the mop of a polishing machine.

• Spritz the area with a fine mist of water.

• Buff the affected area applying moderate pressure.

• Check your progress regularly.

• When the scratch has gone, apply a protective costing of a good quality car wax or polish.

Getting a stonechip, scratch or scuff in your car’s paintwork isn’t only hugely annoying; it can also significantly reduce your car’s value too if it is left – and serious damage that breaches the integrity of its layer of paint can cause your car to rust too, which means that a relatively small knock can lead to serious corrosion in the long-term.

However, while a stonechip, scratch or scuff might be annoying, it needn’t mean you need a full respray, especially if you catch it early; many small chips and minor areas of damage can be repaired, either professionally or on a DIY basis, with little effort and at almost no cost.

Can every scratch, crack and chip be repaired?

Not all scratches, cracks and stonechips can be repaired. If they’re large you will generally need to book your car into a professional garage or bodyshop for them to take a look at it.

This remedial work might be covered by your car insurance policy, so it is worth checking as you might only have to pay an excess, which might help ease the strain on your pocket. However, do bear in mind that it might reduce your no claims bonus, and will almost certainly lead to an increase in your premiums for the next few years.

On a brighter note, the sort of irritating dinks and scratches you tend to pick up in car-parks and in the garage can be successfully removed, or at least mitigated to hide the worst of them, with a little DIY knowhow…

Initial checks - scratches

One easy way to see if a scratch can be removed without needing to paint the area is to wet your finger and then rub it over the scratch. If it seems to disappear when it is wet then it can be easily and cheaply removed.

The reason is that cars have multiple layers of paint, generally a primer or undercoat is applied to the bare metal, followed by a colour or pigment coat to give the car its colour. A final coat of clear lacquer protects the underlying layers and helps give the car its shine.

So, if water makes the scratch disappear, then it has done so by filling in the scratch in the top, clear coat, which means the damage is light and has only penetrated the first couple of layers of paint.

You can double-check that this is the case by seeing if you can feel the scratch with the edge of your fingernail. If you can’t, or if it feels only small, then it is worth trying to polish it out.

Deep scratches are repaired in the same way as you would for stonechips. Please see the stonechip section below for how to remove them.

Removing a small scratch

We all used to use T-Cut back-in-the-day, and while that still works there are better alternatives out there now. I’ve used Meguiars Scratch X previously and have been very impressed with its ability to remove even quite deep scratches. It costs between £10 and £15, depending on where you buy it, and it can be applied with a lint-free cloth if that’s all you have.

Better results will be obtained by using a dedicated car polisher, or even a wool mop or a polishing sponge on your drill. Simply apply a few dabs of compound or polish to the mop or sponge, and then rub it into the surface of the mop by hand.

You don’t need to apply much – you can always add more if you need it – and you will need to start with the machine set to a slow speed as it will fling any excess fluid off if you go at it like a bull in a china shop. Remember: you can always speed up if you need to once it has been spread across the area you are working on.

Take care not to press too hard and spritz plenty of water onto the affected area with a plant sprayer; you don’t want the area to get too hot and burn the surface of the paint. Keep checking the area regularly because you’ll be amazed at the difference a couple of minutes’ effort makes.

When the scratch is gone then all you need to do to finish the job is to apply a couple of coats of your favourite wax or polish and then sit back and admire the fruits of your labour.

If you have a lot of scratches, or like titivating car bodywork as a hobby, then it is worth investing in a proper car polisher. They’re available for £50 or so, and will last for years. I bought a cheap one from Amazon (£65.99) and it is worth its weight in gold.

Initial checks – scuffs

You will almost invariably pick up the odd scuff on the corners of your bumpers, either because you lost concentration for a moment when parking or, more likely, because some oaf decided that the only way they could squeeze their car into the space available was to park by touch.

No matter what the cause, a scuff is treated in exactly the same way as a scratch. So, if it is shallow – and a lot are nothing more than a transfer of paint from the surface of their car to yours – it can be removed.

Gouges are something different; if your fingernail catches on it then it will need to be professionally repaired.

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Removing a scuff

Light scuffs and paint transfer can be buffed out very easily, either by using a machine polisher if you have one, or by hand with a cloth if you don’t. Just go carefully and treat it like you would a scratch, applying compound to the mop or cloth and spritzing the surface of the affected area with a light mist of water.

You will be surprised at how quickly the scuff buffs away, so check every few seconds and don’t be afraid to wipe the area clean with a lint-free cloth to check your progress from time to time.

As always, finish the job with a couple of coats of polish or car wax.

Incidentally, the modern plastic headlamps that manufacturers fit these days tend to go yellow and cloudy with age. They can be buffed up in just the same way as removing a scuff from a bumper or a body panel. You can buy specific kits but I just use the same Meguiars compound I use for everything else.

Initial checks – stonechips and deep scratches

Most small stonechips and deep scratches can be successfully removed; if it comprises just a loss of paint, even if it goes right down to the bare metal underneath, then it can be repaired at home.

I’d be tempted to let a professional repair anything that actually dents or creases the metal, though.

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Removing a stonechip or deep scratch

The first job is to find the paint code for your car. It is usually on the chassis plate in the engine bay; if it isn’t then check the owner’s handbook for the car. The code can comprise letters, numbers, or a mixture of the two. Write it down and then Google the number to find out the name of the colour.

Armed with these two bits of information you will be able to buy a kit that contains the three paints you will need: primer, colour coat, and the lacquer. Again, Halfords can help but if it is a newish car then I’d be tempted to buy the official repair kit from the main dealer. Having said that, I’ve always had great success with the £10 kits you find on eBay. You pay your money and you take your choice…

Regardless of brand, the first job is to clean the chip out. I use a fibreglass pencil but you need to take care because the microscopic fibres that come off it are hugely dangerous and deleterious to your health, so wear a decent facemask and latex or rubber gloves. A small piece of fine wet-and-dry paper will do the job too.

Remember the three-stage paint we discussed earlier? Well, you’re going to replicate that process, albeit on a smaller scale. So, you’ll need to apply a small amount of primer and let it dry. You might need to add a couple of coats if the scratch or chip goes down to the bare metal, letting each coat dry before applying the next.

You then apply a couple of coats of the coloured paint coat, again letting each one dry before adding the next one. Finally, you apply the lacquer as a top coat.

It’s hard to gauge at first but you need to try and judge it so that the final lacquer coat brings the completed repair flush, or even very slightly proud of, the surrounding paintwork.

A shallow stonechip might need only one coat of each paint, while a deeper one might need a few layers of primer and colour coat to bring the repair up to the right level.

Take your time, and while the brushes that come with the kit work okay, some people prefer to use a wooden toothpick or cocktail stick to apply the paint as it lets you direct it more carefully; you are aiming to fill only the chip or scratch and not the surrounding paintwork. Don’t worry if you get some on there though as it can be buffed away later, but it will make your life easier if you take your time and do a neat job initially.

The hardest part is yet to come; when you are satisfied that you have filled the damaged area with the three layers of paint you must do nothing for a couple of weeks. This gives the paint time to harden properly.

If it sits proud after that then you can buff it down just like you did with the scratch we talked about above. Finally, apply some car wax to protect it.

And please don’t worry if you can still see your repair. This will be partly because it is all but impossible to do an invisible repair with DIY materials, and partly because you know that it is there; I can assure you that no-one else will notice it and that it isn’t half as visible as you think it is!

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The professional solution

Of course, there are plenty of folk out there who will carry out the repair for you if you don’t fancy doing the work yourself, or if you know that you won’t be able to live with a DIY repair, no matter how well it has been done.

Chipsaway is one such company, and it is able to repair damage to your car’s bumpers and alloy wheels as well as minor damage like scuffs, scratches, stonechips, and even dents to your car’s paintwork.

The operator comes to your home and will do the work on your driveway or the side of the road, which means you can have a nose at how they’re getting on when you take them a cuppa.

Its uses something called a SMART repair (which stands for Small to Medium Area Repair Technology), a technique that aims to seamlessly and almost invisibly blend the finished repair into the surrounding paintwork. I haven’t used its services, but have used similar companies and have always been amazed at how effective the finished job is.

Chipsaway offers Saga Possibilities members a discount on its usual rates, with 50% off a second repair when you book two to be carried out at the same time. You’ll be surprised at how many imperfections you’ll be able to find when you start looking, so qualifying for your discount should be easy and the ideal opportunity to get your bodywork tidied up at the same time as your wheels and bumpers.

Of course, valeting and repairing your car just before you sell it is a cast-iron way of improving the price it will fetch, so it’s worth getting a quote to smarten up the old jalopy before you sell it.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.