Step-by-Step Tutorials on How to Repair Deep Car Scratches

In this car paint repair tutorial, I will tell you how to fix deep car paint scratches and chips. Most deep scratches are the result of some sort of accident with another car or an object.

Usually, it’s a combination of scuff marks, chipped paint, and log scratches. The photo on the right has a great example of a large damaged area. The best painting technique to repair this kind of damage would be a spray painting. Applying paint by brush will make it look uneven. Don’t worry, it is very easy. Just follow these steps.

Items You’ll Need:

Here is the list of items you’ll need to fix a large damaged area. If you have a small but deep scratch, you can repair it by brushing the paint on. Get a small bottle of touch-up paint, primer, and a clear coat. I also provide you with links to the products I personally like, but you can use any products you want.

  • Assorted Wet/Dry Sandpaper – This pack includes 5 sheets of assorted sandpaper (1 sheet each of 180, 320, 600, 1,000, and 1500) and can be used for sanding primer, clear coats,  and automotive paints.
  • Primer (aerosol spray)
  • Touch-up Paint (aerosol spray) – Custom paint matching your car
  • Clear coat (aerosol spray)
  • Auto masking tape and Old Newspapers
  • Prep solvent – It removes oils, road grease, dirt, car wax, and other surface contaminants and also improves adhesion to the surface.
  • Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound – You can use any rubbing compound you like, just make sure it is clear coat safe. Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound is the best car scratch remover I’ve ever tried. It removes light-to-deep clear coat scratches, swirl marks, stains, and heavy oxidation in just a few minutes. It’s clear coat safe and inexpensive.

Optional Items:

  • Rust Remover
  • Respirator, Gloves, Goggles
  • Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish – Use your favorite polishing compound. I like Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish because it uses diminishing abrasive technology, meaning the tiny abrasives break down gradually as you rub. The paint color will look bolder and brighter with a smooth, sleek shine. It is high quality, inexpensive, long-lasting, and clear coat-safe.
  • Meguiar’s Tech Wax – Use your favorite wax. I like Meguiar’s NXT Generation Tech Wax. This product is amazing because not only does it give the deepest and clearest shine you’ve ever seen, but it also acts as a paint sealer giving your car long-lasting protection.
  • Microfiber Towel – Avoid using other materials such as bath towels, paper towels, or washcloths, as they might leave scratches on the clear coat.
  • Applicator Pads – These pads are used to apply rubbing compound, polish, and wax.
  • Dual Action Sander/Polisher – I found a nice beginner polisher on Amazon for a reasonable price that will give you amazing results. There are a lot of professional polishers, but they cost over $200. This Black & Decker polisher got great customer reviews.
  • Tack cloth

Step 1: Temperature

Before you begin, make sure the temperature is at least 55F degrees. If the temperature is lower than 55F degrees, it might take forever for the paint and the clear coat to dry. On cold days it is better to work in the heated garage.

The perfect temperature for this job would be 72F with 50% humidity. Temperatures above 80F might compromise the repair job. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the perfect weather, but try to get as close as you can. Avoid painting in direct sunlight and windy conditions.

Step 2: Getting the right paint

This is the most important step. Having the right matching touch-up paint is half of the job well done. Before ordering touch-up paint, you need to obtain the car’s paint code. Even experienced painters can have a difficult time finding the paint code because not all car manufacturers keep paint code locations consistent.

For color code start by looking on the side of the door jamb. If you don’t find it there, check other places like the glove box, trunk, under the hood, passenger side door, inside the engine bay area, or under the spare tire cover.

Don’t go to the mega store or auto parts store for touch-up paint. These stores usually carry a small number of universal colors. You need to get a custom touch-up paint made specifically for your make and model.

You can buy custom paint at the dealership or to save time and money order it online. I buy all my paint from Automotive Touch-Up.

Step 3:  Personal Safety

As I’ve mentioned before, deep scratches usually need to be spray painted and that requires some basic safety steps. Primers, paints, and finishes are very toxic. To protect yourself, you’ll need a mask, goggles and gloves. Don’t forget to read product labels before applying.

Step 4: Wash Your Car

You need to wash the scratched area before starting the touch-up process. Use dishwasher soap or auto soap that is designed to remove wax, sealers, and oil.

To ensure the best quality paint job, you want to start with a clean area free of grease, dirt, and other contaminants, otherwise, touch-up paint won’t adhere properly. Follow it with prep solvent to ensure a clean surface. After washing the scratch area, dry it completely.

Step 5: Check for Rust

Surface preparation is very crucial in the car painting process. The condition of the surface prior to painting can directly affect the end result. Small sanding scratches, dirt, or other tiny flaw is magnified to a great extent after the paint has been applied over it.

That’s why you want to spend 70% of your time preparing the surface and only 30% on the actual paint application.

Start by checking if there is rust inside of the scratch. Once the bare metal is exposed, oxidation attacks it starting the rust and corrosion process. If there is rust beneath the paint, start by sanding it with 180-grit sandpaper or a wire brush.

Smooth it out by using 320 grit and follow it with 600 grit. There are a lot of rust-treatment products on the market that replace sanding and scraping. I would recommend sanding it first and if the rust is still there, apply the rust remover.

Step 6:  Sanding

If there is no rust, sand the surface with wet/dry 600-grit. There are a lot of conversations about wet vs dry sanding. You can go either way. I personally prefer wet sanding because it cuts quicker and doesn’t clog.

Before wet sanding, place sandpaper in the bowl of cold water and let it soak for 10 minutes. Adding a few drops of dishwasher soap will make it more slippery. Make 4 or 5 sweeps and stop to wash off the sandpaper. Keep checking the area with your fingers for smoothness.

Step 7: Masking Tape

After you are done sanding, clean the dust with a tack rag. The surface should be smooth and dry. Mask off the area with old newspapers and a masking tape. Use auto masking tape that is clear coat safe. Avoid using duct tape, as it can leave sticky residue.

Step 8: Apply Primer

Paint doesn’t stick well to the metal. Primer is designed to stick to the metal and paint is designed to stick to the primer. Applying primer is even more crucial when you are painting larger areas.

Different primer is made for different surfaces. If you are painting rubberized surface you need rubberized primer. If you are painting a plastic surface, get a primer for plastic.

If you are painting metal surface, you need metal primer. Some companies sell universal primer that works on all kind of surfaces.

Make sure to read instructions on the back of the primer. Process may vary from brand to brand. First, shake the can of primer. Hold the can 10-15 inches away from the surface and spray in even strokes.

Apply 2-3 coats of primer giving each coat enough time to dry. Drying time depends on the product you use. If you are using the primer I’ve recommended, it should take only 15 min for each coat to dry. After you are done with the primer, wait for 30 min before sanding.

Step 9: Sanding the Primer

After the primer is dry, remove the masking paper. It is good idea to slight sand it. Use wet/dry 600-grit sandpaper. Wet sand the primer smoothing the outer edges with 1,000-grit. Try not to sand in one place for too long. Sand the entire repair area with enough water to remove dust.

Note: Base coat will cover 600 grit scratches and clear coat will cover 1,500 grit scratches.

Step 10: Masking

After you are done sanding the primer mask the area before applying paint. You should mask a larger area than you did for the primer to ensure a good paint blending.

Step 11: Applying Paint

When it comes to touch-up paint, you have multiple options depending on the size of the scratch you are trying to repair. Touch-up paint comes in spray cans, paint pens, or in a bottle with a brush.

Do not try to use the paint pen on areas larger than a pencil eraser. For areas larger than a dime you need to use spray paint. If you try to brush the paint, the area will look uneven.

For the scratch above, we’ll use spray paint. Shake the spray bottle well before applying the paint. Test the paint first in the hidden area to make sure that the color is matching.

Apply multiple thin layers, holding the spray can approximately 12 inches away from the surface. Give each layer enough time to dry. Drying time is indicated on the paint label, but it could be anywhere from 15 min to 4 hours. If you are using touch-up paint that I recommend, it will take only 15 min for each coat to dry.

The number of layers of paint depends on how deep the chip or a scratch is. The deeper it is, the more layers you need to apply. I think 3 layers should be enough.  The idea is to blend the new paint with the old paint without definitive edge.

To achieve this, you want to lightly spray the surface around the repair area with feather coats of paint. This is called feathering. It is done to help new finish blend in with the old paint.

This process requires some patience. A lot of people make a mistake of doing all layers at once. This results in a paint bubble, because the top layer dries faster than the bottom layers.

Let the paint dry for 30 min before applying the clear coat. Keep in mind, if the temperatures are less than 70F it might take a little longer for the basecoat to dry.

Tip: To speed up the paint drying process use a blow-dryer.

Step 12: Applying Clearcoat

When the paint is dry, apply a clear coat. Clear coat makes the paint shiny just like the rest of your finish. It also protects the paint from friction, weather, chemical resistance, and from chipping. Apply 2-3 layers giving each layer enough time to dry.

Drying time should be indicated on the label of the product. For the product that I use, it takes only 15 min for each coat to dry. Surface should be smooth and look wet on each coat. After 3 coats the surface should be as smooth as glass. Leave the clear coat overnight to dry. If the temperatures are less than 70F it might take a little longer.

Step 13: Sanding Clear Coat

After applying clear coat you may find a slight edge on the patch. Rubbing compound may remove it, or use very fine wet-or-dry sandpaper to feather in the borders.

Very gently sand the area with fine wet/dry sandpaper 1,500 grit to smooth all imperfections. Use a lot of water with a few drops of dish soap, periodically checking with your fingers for the smoothness of the surface.

A lot of people get scared of the concept of sanding the paint thinking that it will scratch up the repaired area. Don’t worry about scratching surrounding paint, if you use enough water these marks will come right off when you polish. You are almost done. After clear coat is dry, remove the masking paper.

Step 14: Rubbing Compound

Right now you can still see where the scratch was. Use foam applicator pad and automotive rubbing compound to polish the area. Don’t use bath towel, wash cloth or any paper products.

Wood fibers of the paper products will scratch the paint. Rubbing compound makes the surface smoother, and shinier and is also great for removing oxidation from the finish. Rubbing compound is like an extremely fine sandpaper.

Place a few drops of the rubbing compound on the foam applicator pad and make a few sweeps. Keep rubbing the surface using  firm circular motions until the rubbing compound is dry. Remove the residue with a clean microfiber cloth.

Step 15: Polishing Compound

To give your paint repair area more shine use polishing compound. You can apply it by hand or with a buffing machine. If you thinking about buying a buffer, I would recommend the Dual Action Polisher.

Step 16: Wax

Wait for about one month before applying wax.

8 thoughts on “Step-by-Step Tutorials on How to Repair Deep Car Scratches”

  1. Hey,

    Someone recently hit my car in the parking deck at my college and I have ordered the products you recommend on your website. My car is a really light blue/green color and I ordered a grey primer. However, the primer/bumper color is black so I worry that I should order black primer to be consistent with the color currently under my paint to have a more consistent final color. Any thoughts?


    • Hi Amy. Gray primer will work just fine. It doesn’t really matter what primer you use since it will be covered with paint layers. The closer the primer color to your paint the less layers of paint you will need to apply.

  2. Hey,
    Great looking tutorial( which I will be using) I’m considering freshening up my bumper. I have a black car and my bumper Looks Glossy black when it’s wet but very hazy when dry. Could I get away with a light 600 sand and repaint?

    P.s. I’m not trying to tell you how to run your site but….. Maybe you should have a gallery so folks can show the results with your methods and possibly a forum.

  3. Hi,
    I need repaint the whole front cover of my Ford Focus since it was peeling. But I don’t know how much primer and paint I should order. Do you have any suggestions?

  4. Hey,
    I liked your tutorial , i have 2 quastion if you please

    1.After sprying primer, what sandpeper is best is it 1000 grit or 1500 grit ?

    2.Can you please repeat the color blending process explanation in a more simple manner ?


  5. Hi.
    My job has gone badly. Can I sand a coat a little bit on edges and finally put last layer with a proper feathering before a clear coat?

  6. Hey,

    I have been scratched up by 2 different vehicles this week my bumper was in perfect condition and now is very scratched. I previously have had a larger scratch on my front bumper and I am looking to clean all of them up. My car is a Impala and its a silver/blue. I was wondering if you have any suggestions on where to purchase the correct color for the job?

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