scratch on white car paint

How To Buff Out Scratches On Your Car

A deep gash in the side of your car might feel like the end of the world, but it does not have to be. Scratches can come from any number of places, like a neighboring car pulling away or a falling tree branch scraping up your paint.

Scratches are more than an aesthetic annoyance. They also take away layers of paint which protect your car, without which your car could begin rusting. Fortunately, most scratches can be easily buffed out, flawlessly fixing them without needing a visit to the body shop. Here is our guide on how to buff out even the most stubborn scratches.

In This Article

The Protective Properties Of Car Paint, And How Scratches Affect That

You might be temped to suck up a scratch, save your money, and just leave it alone. However, your car’s paint job is crucial to protecting the metal body, and a scratch compromises that protection. Even if you can accept a scratched-up car, you could be exposing your car to the elements and rusting the metal if you leave a scratch unattended.

With a good paint job, you car can withstand harsh weather, different temperatures, a range of moisture and humidity levels, and other elements like dust or mud. Almost all modern cars have three distinct layers in their paint job:

  • Primer: this is applied to the metal of the car body, and is usually white or off-white.
  • Paint: this is the main color of your car, and shows scratches the easiest. Contact your dealer if you need to repaint, as they can provide the exact shade to match your existing paint.
  • Clear coat: this is a thick transparent layer that seals the paint and protects it from fading under UV rays from the sun.

Scratches can be shallow or deep, sometimes cutting all the way to the metal base. When assessing how to repair a scratch, you can check how many layers of the paint job it has cut through. A minor scratch might only take off the clear coat, but severe scratches can expose metal. No matter how deep, a scratch damages some or all of your paint job’s protective properties and needs repairs to maintain your car’s integrity.

Types Of Car Paint Scratches

Different types of scratches can be determined with just the naked eye:

  • If the paint color is visible and uniformly colored, the scratch is only as deep as the clear coat and has exposed the paint.
  • If the paint color is tinged with white, then the cut has exposed the primer.
  • If the metal base is visible, then the cut has damaged every layer of the paint job and exposed the metal.

Clear Coat Scratch

clear coat scratch on ford kuga

These are the most common and easiest-to-repair scratches. Clear coat scratches are also called “spider webbing” because they form in circular patterns that look like webs. They are sometimes known as “swirl marks.”

Clear coat scratches are often caused by low-quality car washes. It does not take much to cause one of these scratches. It is important to buy a proper drying cloth for just this reason, to avoid causing clear coat scratches.

Paint Embedded Scratch

paint emabedded scratch on ford kuga 2

Scratches that go this deep are more difficult to repair, as they have damaged both the clear coat and the paint. These usually occur from scraping against another car or a metal pole. A simple buff is not enough to fix these scratches.

You can tell if the scratch is this deep by looking for a couple traits. They are wider than the hair-line clear coat scratches, but not deep enough to show the white primer or bare metal. If the paint color is uniform and untinted with white, you have a paint embedded scratch.

Primer Deep Scratch

Primer Deep Scratch on ford kuga

A scratch this deep is going to show a gouge and will be a pain to repair. Running your hand along your car, you can feel where the scratch dips inward. For this reason, DIY solutions are out of the question. Not only will you need to touch up the paint with the same shade, but you will also need a clear coat top-up to even out the scratch.

Bare Metal Scratch

bare metal scratch on alfa romeo stelvio

If you can see the metal at a glance, then that part of your car is fully exposed to the elements and may be beginning to rust. Air and moisture can reach the metal, leading to oxidation, rusting, or just plain old corrosion. For a scratch this deep, you should go to the body shop as soon as possible.

Watch the video for an in-depth explanation of various car paint defects.

How To Repair Swirl Marks and Minor Scratches

You can buy scratch and swirl removers for filling in minor scratches and touching up surface imperfections. These include small scuffs on high-traffic car parts like door handles, or just a section of your paint job that has lost its sheen.

How To Remove Swirl Marks

  1. Wash your car and allow it to dry completely.
  2. Apply the swirl remover polish to a soft microfiber towel. Begin spreading the polish onto the area of your car with swirl marks.
  3. Firmly rub the polish in with a back-and-forth motion for a minute.
  4. Let the polish dry (it will look translucent when dry) and wipe away any excess with a clean towel.
  5. Repeat with any other damaged areas.

Related: How To Polish Your Car by Hand or With a Buffer

How To Remove Minor Scratches

  1. Wash your car and allow it to dry completely.
  2. Use two strips of masking tape to mark out the scratch, placing them an inch above and below the scratch. They should be parallel to the scratch and to one another.
  3. Apply the scratch remover polish to a soft microfiber towel. Begin rubbing in onto the scratch with a back-and-forth motion and firm pressure, following the direction of the scratch.
  4. Rub the polish onto the scratch for 30 seconds.
  5. Use a clean towel to dry off the scratch. Check if the scratch is repaired or if it needs more work. If the latter, repeat the process up to five more times.
  6. Finish by applying the polish to a wider area around the scratch to help the repair blend in.

How To Remove Stubborn Scratches

Once you have tried to remove a scratch with basic polish and have seen no change, you can move up a step to heavier grit polish. Also try being more aggressive with your application, using more pressure and rubbing the polish in with faster motions.

Paste scratch removers are tougher than liquid removers. If the scratch will not budge when you use a liquid remover, or if you have an older car, it might be time to try a paste remover.

This video will show you how to repair stubborn clear coat scratches.

How To Repair Deep Scratches

Deep scratches present a new challenge, because you cannot simply fill in the clear coat. These scratches need paint to touch up imperfections, and usually need sanding and polishing to regain the paint job’s luster. For scratches this bad, you should take your car to a body shop and let the professionals repair the scratch.

How To Repair Scratches On A Black Car

black paint door with scratches

Scratches show up more easily on black cars than most. There are specialized products that include black pigment, so when you repair a scratch, the black paint job stays black. Such products can be used to remove swirl marks and scratches.

  1. Wash your car and allow it to dry completely.
  2. Test the black polish on a small section of your car to make sure the color matches.
  3. Apply the black swirl mark and scratch remover polish to a soft microfiber cloth and follow the previously listed instruction to repair the damage.
  4. After the polish has dried, wipe away any excess with a clean cloth and lightly buff the area until glossy.

Henrik Soke

Henrik has over 20 years of experience in various IT fields. Durability Matters is his passion project born out of his love for minimalism and high-quality products that last. He's an avid hiker, mountain biker, and outdoor enthusiast.

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