What Are the Best Tips for Fixing Car Paint?

Alicia Sparks

Successfully fixing car paint requires a combination of steps that include preparation, repair, and final touches. Each step takes time and, depending on the owner’s skill level, a bit of research. Since the time, and even some of the steps, required depend on the severity of the car dents or dings, the owner should begin the process with the full understanding that fixing car paint usually isn’t a daylong, or even weekend, project.

Using a professional painter can help maintain the resale value of a car.
Using a professional painter can help maintain the resale value of a car.

Before he can begin fixing car paint, the car owner should analyze the damage. For many, fixing a few shallow car dings at home is manageable. Deeper car dents, on the other hand, might require a professional auto body repairman. It’s better to analyze the damage before beginning the repair job. Otherwise, the car owner could underestimate the damage, or his skill level, and end up with a bigger and costlier mess.

A dealership that sells the model of car being painted can be helpful for fixing car paint.
A dealership that sells the model of car being painted can be helpful for fixing car paint.

If the owner decides he can handle the car dings, he must then find the right paint color. Generally, a vehicle’s paint color is listed on a sticker somewhere on or near the driver’s side door. Sometimes, manufacturers include the paint color in information included with the owner’s manual. Car dealerships that deal with his particular vehicle might be able to locate the appropriate paint color. Of course, the dealership or the car owner can always contact the vehicle’s manufacturer.

The actual job of fixing car paint begins with properly prepping the damaged area. A prep solvent, available at most auto supply stores, is needed to remove oils, grease, dirt, car wax, and other debris. Once the area is clean, an automotive polishing compound can be used to soften any ragged edges. Depending on how deep the car dings are, however, the owner might need to gently sand the damaged area to make it smooth. Afterward, it’s sometimes necessary to wipe the area with alcohol to remove any remaining dust and debris.

An auto primer can decrease the number of coats of paint necessary when fixing car paint. Generally, the owner determines whether he needs a primer based on the desired results and sometimes the size of the car paint chips. Primer can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight to thoroughly dry. Once the primer is dry, the owner can gently sand it to ensure the surface is level and to smooth out any rough edges.

It’s important to choose a paintbrush that’s the right size for the damaged areas. Sometimes, paint kits include a small variety of brushes in different sizes. If not, the owner might find brushes in different sizes at an auto supply store, an art supply store, or even in the auto repair, home, or art supply sections of a department store. Also, if the owner is repairing car paint with a spray paint, he might consider using a paintbrush instead of spraying the paint directly onto the car. He can do this by spraying the paint into the can’s cap or another small container, and then applying it with a paintbrush.

Generally, fixing car paint takes more than one coat of paint. Since the paint needs to dry for at least 24 hours before the final color appears, the owner should try two or three coats each time until the desired color is achieved. The wet paint must be protected from the elements during this time. Ideally, the car should be kept in a garage or other indoor area. This isn’t always possible, and other means of covering the wet paint are acceptable as long as nothing touches it.

Once the paint is completely dry, the owner can reapply the clear coat and wax. Both clear coat and wax are more easily managed in moderate temperatures and away from the sun. Applying clear coat requires patience, as each coat needs at least 10 minutes to dry before applying the next coat. The clear coat container will come with instructions, but it’s a good idea to practice applying it on some other surface, such as a smooth piece of metal, before applying it to the car. Also, it’s best to wait 30 to 45 days after applying clear coat to wash the car or apply the wax.

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Discussion Comments


My grandfather had an auto mechanic garage and body shop, and use to fix car paint scratches for customers. He always recommended using a small, soft object like a cotton swab for dabbing small amounts of paint onto scratches, scrapes, and chips on the finish. He had an steady hand and cautious eye for these tedious paint jobs, and always made the cars look like new.

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