“It’s just a scratch.” That’s how people describe paint damage. Some will even buy a DIY kit, assuming they’ll fill the scratch in with some paint, and it’ll look as good as new. They are so wrong. Repairing scratches is completely different than paint chip repair.

The reason why scratches are so difficult to repair is that the gradation of damage varies. While the edges may only dig into the paint slightly, the middle gets pretty chunked out and then kind of smooth. This means you can’t simply apply the same amount of paint across the whole area. It also means you better know what you’re doing if you don’t want to make the scratch worse, possibly damaging the whole panel.

Like any repair job, before you can get started, you have to assess the damage. Sometimes the paint isn’t actually chipped. What can look like a scratch turns out to be whatever you hit stuck on top of the paint. When this happens, I try first to remove it with a light solvent, which requires special care, or you can damage the finish.

A lot of people make things worse by using a high-speed buffer on a simple scratch, especially on the side where the curves are. For a single scratch, I might hand-buff with an abrasive or a buffing compound so the edges disappear. The middle may still need to be painted, but this makes a scratch less visible. Hand buffing maintains the integrity of the clear coat all the way around, in addition to hiding the scratch. Sometimes, a scratch is shallow enough that if you make the sides look smooth and non-oxidized, you can’t see it anymore.

The rule of thumb most people follow is: if you can feel a scratch with your fingernail, then it’s through the clear coat.  But I think this is too general. You can still buff many scratches that you can feel, but you need to know exactly how far you can go. The industry term for sanding through the clear coat is burning. If you do this, you need to re-spray, which involves more than chip repair.

I use two processes for painting, or a combination of both. First, I’ll apply a big blot of paint at one end and use a rubber squeeze to rake it around. After some time in the sun, I’ll use the Dr. ColorChip solution to gently rub off the excess. To get the paint to stay, I take a fine brush and put a very light bead of paint across the top, to cover the scratch that much more. Once the color dries, a clear coat is applied. Painting, along with hand buffing, is where skill and experience most comes into play.

I repair every kind of paint scratch from chips on the door hood to mirrors, bumpers and front scrapes. I also work for car museums and collectors, including the Porsche crowd. After repairing well over 15,000 cars in the past six years, I have to say that good materials are essential to good craftsmanship. So many people come to me with paint bombs after trying one of those systems advertised on infomercials, like the clear pens. If you insist on using a paint system other than Dr. ColorChip, I’ll tell you how to use it best. Better yet, send me a picture of your car and a close up of the scratch, and I’ll advise you on how to fix it.