August 1

How to Fix Scratches on a Car


Last Updated on August 18, 2022

At one point or another, everyone has either asked or Googled the question – how to fix scratches on a car. Scratches to your vehicle’s paint can be disheartening and paying to repair them can be costly. Fortunately, repairing car scratches yourself can be cost-effective and easy.

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The first step is to assess the damage. How long, wide, and deep is the scratch?

A vehicle has four coats applied to its body:

  • A wax coat (the top coat)
  • A clear coat
  • A paint coat
  • A primer coat (the bottom)

A surface scratch only impacts down to the clear coat and can probably be fixed with toothpaste. You can determine whether a scratch is surface-level with a fingernail test. Run your fingernail over the scratch. If your nail doesn’t catch on it, then you have a surface scratch. 

A paint scratch can impact every level down to the primer and will require paint-matching. If the car body color is absent from the scratch area, you have a paint scratch. 

Of course, if the damage goes all the way through the metal, you have a very deep scratch and will need a body repair kit. 

Silly surface scratches

Since surface scratches don’t affect either of the paint coats, you may not need a scratch kit, and definitely don’t need to buy paint.

Here are a list of items you will need:

fixing surface car scratches -infographic
  • Toothpaste
  • 2-3 Clean microfiber cloths 
  • Sponge 
  • Hose
  • Bucket
  • Water 

The first step is to clean the scratch and the surrounding area using water and a hose and either a sponge or a microfiber cloth, because you don’t want to rub any dirt or debris into your car’s paint while repairing the scratch.

Next, dry the area. 

Pour about a quarter-sized amount of toothpaste onto the clean microfiber cloth. 

Then apply the toothpaste to the scratch (whitening toothpaste works best). Rub the toothpaste into the scratched area using either a circular or a back-and-forth motion. Never choose a back-and-forth direction compared to the direction of the scratch, since this will enlarge the scratch cross-directionally, and make it more difficult to conceal with paint. Also, never switch from back-and-forth to circular or vice versa, because this will make applying the paint across the scratch more difficult. Use only low to moderate force when applying the toothpaste. Continue until the toothpaste is well distributed on the surface.

Once you’ve completed buffing out the scratch, remove the excess toothpaste by rinsing the area thoroughly.

Dry the area with a microfiber cloth.

Check to see if you’ve fully removed the scratch. 

If satisfied with your work, clean up because you’re done. If the scratch isn’t fully removed, repeat the process again.

Failing the fingernail test 

If the scratch on your vehicle didn’t pass the fingernail test—that is, your fingernail catches on it— then you will need to use a scratch remover. 

Here are a list of items you will need:

fixing deeper car scratches -infographic
  • Scratch remover
  • Sandpaper and wooden block 
  • 3-4 Clean microfiber cloths 
  • Sponge 
  • Hose
  • Bucket
  • Water

If you purchase a scratch-removal kit, it may come with a buffing tool and “pen”—used for applying the scratch remover—cloths, etc., as well as scratch remover.  

Thoroughly wash the scratch and surrounding areas using water and a sponge or clean microfiber cloth.

Then, use a clean microfiber cloth to dry the area. 

Sand the scratch to remove loose paint and other debris.

Wash the area again and use a clean microfiber cloth to dry it. 

Apply about a quarter-sized dollop of scratch remover to a clean microfiber cloth (or buffing pad) and evenly distribute it on the cloth. Begin rubbing the scratch area using light to medium pressure and either a circular or a back-and-forth motion. 

If while applying the scratch remover, you discover you don’t have enough of it, add more product to the cloth (or pad). Evenly distribute it on the cloth, and continue. 

Once you’re done buffing, use a clean microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess scratch remover.

If satisfied with your work, clean up, because you’re done. If the scratch isn’t fully removed, repeat the process again. Don’t repeat the process more than twice, because you may start damaging the clear coat applied by the manufacturer. You may want to check the manufacturer’s directions for how many times this process can safely be repeated on the same area of a vehicle. 

Returning color

Paint scratches require paint application and paint matching. You may not be able to match your vehicle’s paint color exactly, but there are a lot of body paint suppliers who carry something very close to your exact color. You may even be able to get the exact color paint from the manufacturer, especially if your car is on the newer side

Check the car’s manual for the color code of the vehicle body. This will help you find your exact color or the one closest to the color of your vehicle. Most suppliers use these color codes, since names for colors assigned by the manufacturer can sometimes be misleading or sound similar to another color offered by the manufacturer. 

Here are a list of items you will need:

fixing car paint -infographic
  • Car paint (aerosol)
  • Base coat (aerosol)
  • Car wax
  • 3-4 clean microfiber cloths 
  • Sponge 
  • Hose
  • Bucket
  • Water

The first step here is the same as the last two methods—thoroughly wash the area and dry it using a clean microfiber cloth. 

Buff the area, wash it, and dry it. 

Using a back-and-forth motion, spray a sandable primer (that is similar in color to your vehicle’s paint color) onto the area you buffed. If the ambient temperature is hot, wait 10 minutes to allow for the primer to dry before spraying on another layer. Primer applied in cooler temperatures less  time to dry. Apply the primer three times.

Then spray the paint coat onto the same area in the same fashion as the primer. Wait for the paint to dry inbetween coats. 

Finally, apply car wax to the area by putting a dollop of car wax onto a clean microfiber cloth and rub it on the area in a circular motion until your car shines.

Keep in mind, scratches won’t always come from nature, other cars, or even your own mistakes. When you remove decals from cars, such as in the case of buying a used ambulance or fire truck, you run the risk of leaving behind small marks and scratches. The process outlined in this list still applies.

With some knowledge on fixing car scratches, you can feel more at ease the next time your ride gets a little knick. You may even feel more comfortable buying used cars knowing that with some DIY knowhow and experience, you can turn something others question into something you use.


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