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How to fix scratches on cars

When you buy a car brand new, it comes with shiny, pristine paintwork. But even with the best of care, you can't keep your vehicle free of scratches forever. As you drive, small scrapes from road grit and dings from debris occur. You'll inevitably brush up against branches and even collect tiny swirl marks from grit as you wash your car. You can also collect scrapes on your bumper and bodywork in a car park. If you drive on loose gravel, stones can scratch through the paint layers, reaching the bare metal.

As well as being unsightly and reducing your enjoyment of your car, scratches can reduce its value in resale or cost you money if you are leasing as your car's return value is based on its condition. If the scratches have reached the metal, you should fix them immediately as they will collect rust. In winter, especially with salt on the roads, but even in summer, corrosion grows quickly on unprotected areas of your car. If you leave the problem for too long or treat it quickly but don't clean the area, rust can spread under the paintwork and eventually cost you a lot of money in bodywork repairs.

Protecting your paintwork

One of the best ways how to fix scratches on cars is to prevent them in the first place. Your car has three layers of paint on top of the bare metal: primer, base or colour, and clear coat. You can cause tiny scratches and paint swirls from washing as you swirl grit from your wash water across the surface with your cloth. You can prevent this by using a grit guard in the bottom of your bucket, which is a grid that lets particles settle and stops them from being collected by your cloth. A grit guard is inexpensive, and you can get them in any car care retailer or shop online.

If you can see paint swirls or other tiny scratches in your bodywork, but they don't catch your fingernail when you touch them, then that means the damage is only in the clear coat. All it takes to polish these out is some care and a scratch remover, such as T-cut or even toothpaste! Here's how to fix scratches on cars:

  • First, wash the area with warm soapy water to ensure that any grit particles are removed.

  • Rinse it down and dry it with a soft, clean cloth.

  • Put a small amount of car scratch remover on a microfibre cloth and gently rub it on the area in a circular motion.

Vehicle scratch remover is a specialised, very fine abrasive liquid that polishes away minor marks on your paintwork. For very fine scratches like this, you can also use a small amount of toothpaste (whitening toothpaste is best). However, do not do this more than a couple of times because toothpaste is more abrasive than a car scratch remover, so you will end up causing more damage than what you started with.

By looking at the area from a right angle, you can see the marks as they get smoothened away by the scratch remover. Because you are removing small amounts of the clear coat as you do this, you should take some care and stop as soon as you see that the scratches are gone. If your cloth starts coming up the colour of your paintwork, you should stop right away. You have polished through the clear coat and into the base coat if this happens. If you are regularly polishing away small scratches like this, you can get a scratch remover that is the same colour as your paintwork, but you should be careful with colour matching.

How to repair scratches

You can use dedicated scratch removal products for scratches and scrapes that have gone through the clear coat but have not yet reached the primer or bare metal. These are resin or paint fillers that you use to fill the scratch, which will remove the problem areas once you have polished the marks down again. You can buy them in bottles of liquid or even as touch-up pens. Using these products for smaller scrapes is an easy way how to fix scratches on cars without spending a fortune.

To use a scratch remover:

  • First, wash and dry the area to remove excess debris.

  • Then apply a small amount of the product with a microfibre cloth or paint it on as if it were a pen. Some products can come with an application tool or buffing pad.

  • Use circular motions in the same direction to apply an even coat or apply the product in strokes parallel to the scrape.

  • Once you have filled the scratch away, clean any excess product from the area with a dry cloth.

  • After applying the scratch remover and letting it dry, you can wax your car or clean the paintwork with a clay bar to remove grit and further protect the area.

Very fine grit and road dust will accumulate on your paintwork as you drive, which can cause swirl marks when you wash it. Specialist car detailers and finishers often use a clay bar after washing, waxing or polishing a car. Clay bars help remove rough grit, road tar, and fossilised bugs to improve your car's shine, giving your car's surface a nice, glassy feel. It is an inexpensive product that is usually worthwhile, especially if you've already gone through the hassle of fixing scratches yourself.

Simply rub down your vehicle's paintwork with the bar and let the clay pick up any fine contaminants still there after the wash. You can then finish the job with some wax to leave your paintwork as good as new.

How to repair deeper scrapes

If you have more damage to deal with, such as brushing a post or scraping a shopping trolley, you can treat the primer and even the bare metal. It is important to deal with scratches to the metal as quickly as possible because rust can rapidly form with road conditions and weather, especially in winter. If you allow this to happen, it can be a continuing problem because if you do not remove all the corrosion, it will continue to spread under repairs. It will then begin to cause pitting in the bodywork and make your paintwork flake away, leading to pricey garage charges for body repair work.

You can buy DIY kits to repair damage to your paintwork. These include paints, brushes, polishes and treatments. In some cases, you will have to mix the paint to match your car's colour, but you can also buy kits to match your car's paint code. You can usually find this on the VIN plate. As with the treatments above, you start with cleaning out the scrape and treating it to remove grit and any corrosion formed. You then paint over the damaged section and allow the treatment to dry. Then finish off by polishing your repair smooth and waxing the area to a shine.

how to fix scratches on car

You can get a quote from a SMART repair contractor for scrapes and minor dents beyond the scope of a DIY repair kit. These are small repair workshops that you can visit, or they might be mobile van-based specialists that can go to your home or workplace. Where a garage or bodywork shop will mask off or remove the whole panel for treatment, SMART repair techniques will colour match to make repairs to the panel. In some cases, they can also repair scrapes to alloy wheels, and unlike using a DIY kit, the repairs are guaranteed.

Protecting your car's paintwork is important because the quality of the bodywork is a factor in its lease or resale value. If you allow minor swirls from road grit or washing to dull the finish, your car will age prematurely and lose its value. If you do not tend to paint scratches and scrapes quickly, corrosion will spread under the paintwork, leading to expensive garage bills to restore, repair or even replace panels.


You now know how to fix scratches on cars. In short, you can treat dulled paintwork and scratches with a fine abrasive polish for smaller scrapes or a resin scratch treatment kit. Make sure to buy a kit that matches your vehicle's paint colour. You can still use a DIY kit for chips and scratches that have gone into the paint and primer layers.

Even scratches that have gone through the paint layers and have dug into the metalwork are still possible to treat yourself. For convenience, you can also contact a SMART repair contractor to perform the repair work for you at your home. SMART repairs are a great way how to fix scratches on cars, ensuring that the paint colour matches and providing you with a guarantee.


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