Clear coat scratches on vehicles are extremely common. Small rocks, insects, or just everyday wear and tear can cause small, noticeable scratches on your car that can sometimes seem deeper than they actually are.
Rest assured, clear coat scratches are among the easiest flaws to fix and because you are simply removing light scratches, it doesn’t take too much time either. But let’s get one thing straight first – is it really a clear coat scratch or is it deeper?
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Determine the Depth of the Scratch
The general rule of thumb for figuring out if a scratch is only in the clear coat is the fingernail test. Lightly run your fingernail across the scratch, if it does not catch (even if you can feel it) then it’s in the clear coat.
If it does catch, that you are dealing with more than a clear coat scratch and will likely need a paint touch up done as well. Even if the nail catches, rest assured you will still only be removing minor scratches from your car.
Below your clear coat is your paint, your primer, and then the metal of the car. Minor scratches in your paint can sometimes be repaired by fixing the clear coat scratch above them, but it’s not always a guarantee. If you are in doubt, purchase touch up paint.
Anything deeper than the paint, like the primer or the metal (such as visible rust) will need much more TLC and is beyond the scope of this article.
Decide on Your Method
There are two main ways to remove clear coat scratches. One is mechanical buffing and it involves the use of an electric sander or buffer. The second way is to do all the sanding and buffing by hand. Each has their pros and cons.
Using an electric sander and buffer will cut down the time it takes to repair the scratch and may save you from some hand cramps, but if you don’t already have these tools handy they can be pricey.
Doing all of the work by hand will take longer, but is the most cost-effective option. You can purchase clear coat scratch remover kits online or from your local automotive supply shop that usually contains all of the tools you need.
NOTE: Some manufacturers offer a clear coat pen. This is essentially filling in your scratch with a new layer of clear coat. While this can work for very very light scuffs, it is not the recommended approach if you want to eliminate the scratch for good.
But regardless of what method you choose, the process will be the same. Prep, sand, buff, and polish.
How to Fix Scratches in Clear Coat
Once you’ve decided what method to use, gather all the necessary tools you need so you can get the project done in as little as 30 minutes if you work quickly. A few tools you will need are:
- Spray bottle
- Clear coat remover kit OR
- Buffing pad and buffing compound
- Polishing pad and polish compound
- Electric sander/buffer (optional)
- 1500-2000 grit sandpaper
It’s recommended you work in one area at a time and try not to repair multiple scratches in one go.
Prep the Area
It’s important to wash and dry the area before you start removing fine scratches from your car. Because you will be using friction while you buff and sand, you want to make sure no additional dirt or debris is present because these tiny particles can create new scratches in your clear coat.
A simple wash with car soap and a dry with a microfiber are all that is needed. Once you have cleaned the area, section off the scratch with some masking tape, leaving about one inch around every edge.
Use a 1500-2000 grit sandpaper square and start sanding the scratch in an up-and-down motion. Continue this process until you can barely see the scratch or it disappears completely. If you are using an electric sander (recommended for longer/excessive scratches), make sure to control the motion in the same way – up and down.
While it may seem counterproductive to sand a scratch, the purpose of this step is to “dull” the edges of the scratch so that they blend more evenly with the surrounding paint.
Clean Again and Evaluate
Using a spray bottle with some warm water and a microfiber cloth, spray down the area to remove the debris caused by sanding. Again, the scratch should be barely visible and should also barely be felt.
If you can still catch your nail in the scratch, you need to sand it just a bit more before you proceed.
From your scratch remover kit, apply a moderate amount of the buffing compound. Use the provided buffing pad (or your own buff pad if you are using an electric tool) and start going over the area.
An electric buffer will automatically rotate in the right setting but if you are doing it by hand, make sure you buff in circular motions, not back and forth. Do this in the entire area that you have taped off so that everything blends evenly.
It’s recommended you do this step in a temperate environment and not in full sun as heat will cause the buffing compound to dry too quickly thus rendering it ineffective.
Within your scratch removal kit, there should be a bottle of polishing compound. If you didn’t purchase a kit, you will need to buy this compound separately though it is rather inexpensive.
Apply in the same way you did the buffing compound, but use the polishing pad instead. This will help to completely remove the appearance of the scratch and restore shine to the area that you just sanded.
If you want to avoid these minuscule scratches in the future, you can opt to wax your car about 48 hours after you have finished buffing out the clear coat scratches. A wax every couple of months can help control shine and protect from minor scuffs in the paint.