Car Touch Up Tips - Paint, Dents and Scratches

After all the hard work to get a showroom finish for your car, it might as well have a bullseye painted on it. Every stray shopping cart, angry flock of crows, careless bike rider and the rusty door of your co-worker's '75 Le Sabre seems to have your car locked on target.

Sooner or later scratches, door dings, oxidation, pitting from gravel and other imperfections will appear on that once-pristine finish. Most typical car owners can't afford a new paint job every time this happens. Typically they will use a more affordable automotive touch-up paint to fix these minor blemishes.

At first glance, touching up a paint job may seem as simple as changing oil or replacing wiper blades. Nothing could be more wrong--at least if you care about the quality of the finish. Preparation, matching paint and applying it properly are all critical to restoring the car's appearance.

The first step is to get the right supplies. You'll need fine sandpaper, 180, 320 and 600 grit, some degreaser, filler, primer, paint and clearcoat. If you don't have it already, you'll also need dishwashing soap. Assuming that your car still has factory paint on it, the color of paint you choose should match factory colors. If you look at the car and try to guess the best match, you'll probably be disappointed in the results. Even neutral colors like black and white don't match up by eyeballing and guessing. Factory colors are typically found on the factory sticker inside the driver door.

The area that needs to be repainted must first be clean and dry before any work is performed on it. Use degreaser then dishwashing soap mixed with water to clean the area. Sand areas with small dents using 180 grit paper and use filler to even out dents and scratches that sanding alone won't help. Sand a larger area than the actual damage to make blending possible.

Be sure to follow the instructions on preparing the filler so it does not have air bubbles and develop an 'orange peel' effect after you apply it.

Sand the filler and blemished areas with 320 grit paper. This allows the primer to adhere to the treated areas better. Apply two or three coats of primer to sanded areas, waiting usually about 10 minutes between each coat. After the final coat, sand all primed areas with 600 grit paper or finer. This allows the paint to better adhere to the primer.

Apply two or three coats paint to the primer area. Since the primer area is larger than the blemished area, this should make blending more possible. The outside of the blend area should get thinner coats than the area near the actual blemish.

Apply the clearcoat. Like the paint, two or three coats should do. Once the clear coat is dry, rubbing compound can be used to improve the shine, but you should wait a month to wax the newly painted area.

When applying primer, paint or clearcoat, it’s best to err on the side of applying too little, rather than too much. You can always apply more coats later which is preferable to having to correct a run.

Touching up small dents and scratches is a job that should be done with adequate care and preparation to get the best results. The extra effort to do the job right will last longer and is the best way to make the car look as close a showroom finish without repainting the whole vehicle.