Over the last decade, I’ve seen every type of car paint damage there is. Here’s my advice for how to approach car paint damage repair on everything from key scratches to road rash. I’ll give my opinion on whether it’s worth it or not, but really, that’s up to you!
Peeling or Cracked Paint
Eventually, the clear coat on a car will weaken and start to peel off. This happens most often when a car is kept outside in the sun for extended periods of time, or if it’s poorly resprayed. In my experience, this occurs more frequently on darker colored cars. I’m pretty sure that’s because they get hotter in the sun and then cool off at night, resulting in a more radical change in temperature throughout each day. Paint may also start to crack or peel from impact damage.
The only way to fix this is to have the area sanded down and resprayed, either at a body shop or by a mobile spray paint service. This can be quite expensive, especially if the damage is all over. So, I suggest that you don’t spend the money if the peeling has been caused by sun damage. By the time this happens on a car, it usually has too many miles on it for it to be worth it.
There are light, surface scratches that don’t go deeper than the clear coat layer, and then there are deeper scratches
that really get into the paint and beyond. Key scratches tend to be in the ‘deep’ category. You can tell that a scratch is only in the clear coat if it disappears for a moment when you wet it with water, wax, or rubbing compound.
It’s also possible that your ‘scratch’ is just transfer. Transfer refers to the residue left on your car from whatever you accidentally bumped into. A light rubbing compound or a soapy sponge should take it off if that’s the case. Never, EVER use a kitchen scrubbing pad or anything of that nature on your car. You’ll want to use something very soft like a t-shirt cloth (I use these) or microfiber cloth. Even a paper towel is a bit too rough. If it’s really stubborn, you can use acetone, but use very little (just a few drops) on a soft cloth. Be patient. As you rub, the acetone will loosen the transfer slowly, and then it’ll come off all at once. If the acetone dulls the paint, you can easily buff it out with your cloth and car wax.
If it’s not transfer and they are indeed surface scratches, use a very gentle rubbing compound, or even car wax if you don’t have anything else, and a t-shirt cloth to rub out the scratches. You can use a lot of pressure. You might inadvertently dull the finish. Simply polish it out with less pressure and car wax. Mequires ScratchX also works really well and can be found at most retail stores like Target and Walmart.
Scratches that go past the clear coat layer are a bit harder to repair. To make it look like new again, each panel that is damaged will need to be sanded down and resprayed. The cost is $350 per panel on average. So, if the scratch is only a few inches long but crosses two separate doors, the price can double. If the scratch is on a vertical surface, it can be done by a mobile repair technician. If the damage is on a horizontal surface, like a hood, you’ll need a body shop. The difference is that dust settles in the wet paint on a horizontal surface so they’ll need a clean room to prevent that.
If you’re looking for a cheaper fix that will look better but not perfect, a skilled touch-up company like PaintCraft can hide the scratch pretty well in most cases. The darker the paint color, the more effective touch-up will be. In contrast, a scratch on a bright silver car probably won’t look any better with touch-up in this case, unless it’s near the bottom of the car. The metal flakes in the touch-up paint will be going in a different direction than the flakes in the good paint around it, so it will stand out just as much as the scratch when light hits it.
With today’s push for MPG, most front bumpers are very close to the road to improve aerodynamics. This makes a great target for curbs – it’s a battle with your car’s paint right in the middle. You may have also hit a pole or the side of your garage. Luckily, whatever the cause, paint touch-up is pretty effective here. You can do it yourself or have a mobile touch-up company take care of it for you. It’s not going to look brand new, but unless you get down on your knees to look at your car, you’re probably not going to see it anymore. Check out our post on DIY bumper scrape repair here for more details.
Using the Dr. Colorchip paint system, we can usually make it look 80-95% better for $150-$200, depending on the severity. However, if there is severe damage to the plastic of a bumper, or the metal underneath, it’ll need to be replaced to look any better.
There are hundreds of dent technicians out there now. If you’re not sure where to start, call your local car dealership and ask the used car manager for their contact. If you’re in our service area (LA or Orange County), send us an email and we can give you a referral: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not go through the dealership to get the work done. This is my recommendation for all car paint damage, actually. They’ll double the price and you’ll have to take your car to the dealership. Dent technicians are mobile, so they will come to your house and charge half of what the dealership will charge. It’s usually around $75 per panel, not per dent. So if you have three dents in your front door and one in the back door, it’s $150.
If the dent is on a crease in the design of your car, it’s exponentially more difficult to repair. In that case, look for someone with a lot of experience and good reviews.
Chips on your car door’s edge are actually really easy to fix. You can get decent results with a touch-up kit. As always, I recommend Dr. Colorchip.
When you’ve got a bunch of little chips on your hood and front bumper, you have similar options to the ones mentioned above: body shop respray, mobile touch-up, or DIY.
If you or a touch-up professional are going to do it, you must use Dr. Colorchip. It is far and away the best for this type of damage. The paint is designed to stick in the chips but not the existing finish. Their kits come with a special blending solution that allows you to remove the excess paint like magic! This is what I use exclusively. I’ve worked on some of the most expensive cars in the world and I wouldn’t trust any other touch-up paint, especially what you’d get from a dealership. For a more detailed walk-through of how to fix paint chips yourself, check out our post here.
Car Paint Damage in Conclusion
You generally have 4 options when it comes to car paint damage:
- Body shop (most expensive and thorough)
- Mobile repair technician
- Do it yourself
- Forget about it
My general rule of thumb is this: It’s not worth it to spend money on aesthetics if your car has more than 75,000 miles, there are major mechanical issues, or if you’re hurting for money. If you want help deciding whether your car needs touch-up to avoid further damage, check out our article here or send us an email!
Be well and happy. 🙂