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How to remove car paint scratches

A light parking ding can spoil your car's looks. Here's how to tidy up and remove car paintwork scratches

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As anyone who’s owned a car from new will know, it won’t stay looking shiny and pristine forever. Even if you regularly wash your car, its paintwork will inevitably fade over time and lose that factory fresh sparkle.

That aging process can be sped-up by a number of factors, too, such as leaving your car parked outside in the elements or having bush branches scrape the paintwork when you’re driving down a narrow country lane. Events outside of your control, like picking up scrapes and dents from runaway trolleys and inattentive drivers in supermarket car parks, can also rob your car of some of its lustre.

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You don’t just risk a visual hit from a car that’s been nicked and scraped over time – you could also lose out financially, as a scuffed or damaged car won’t be worth as much as one that’s been looked after better. This is especially worth bearing in mind if you lease a car or have bought one through finance, as the car’s predicted value at the end of the agreement will be dependent on what condition it’s in. If the scrapes and scratches are particularly bad, you could face hefty repair shop bills, too.

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Depending on how serious the damage is, you may not need to have your car brought back to its shiny best at a garage. If the damage is light and only affects the clearcoat top layer of your car’s paintwork, it’s possible to fill in the dings yourself at home, using repair kits and car care products you can find at your nearest supermarket or motor factor store. For bigger jobs, you can rely on the services of a qualified Small to Medium Area Repair Technique (SMART) technician who specialises in repairing larger scuffs, scrapes, dents and stone chip damage on cars.

If you’re a particularly handy DIYer, you can also use household items as a quick fix for superficial damage – for instance, it’s possible to use toothpaste to cover up small scratches on cars. However, it’s best to only use solutions like that as a one-off last resort: as those sorts of products were clearly never developed with car repair duties in mind, there’s always the risk of causing more damage with prolonged use or if you make a mistake when applying it to your car’s paintwork.

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But which repair is right for you? Below we round-up how you can fix varying levels of damage, depending on what it is, and highlighting what kit can get your car looking like new again.

Paint swirls 

So you've just finished washing your car. It's gleaming, but all is not well, because as you move around the car, you can see sunlight playing across swirls in the top coat of the paint lacquer. These marks will be caused by particles of grit and dust getting stuck to the cleaning cloths and sponges that you're using. The best way to avoid this happening in the first place is to use a grit guard in the bottom of your wash bucket. This will prevent the sponge from picking up debris and dirt in the water and moving it back onto the car.

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Best car wax and polish

But if the damage has already been done, there are ways of making these swirls look better. One quick technique you can use to see how deep the damage is, is to run a thumb or fingernail over the scratches. If your nail doesn't feel them, then you should be able to use a scratch remover, such as T-Cut to smooth them out. 

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Scratch remover is a super-fine abrasive liquid that cleans the top layer of lacquer and can smooth out any swirls. Simply apply a small amount of scratch remover to a cloth, and run it gently over the affected section in a circular motion to make it look like new. If you can get the light at the right angle to see the swirls, it should be obvious as they disappear.

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Go easy with the amount of scratch remover you use, because essentially what you're doing is removing a layer of paint. That's fine if it's a layer of clearcoat that you're working on, but if the cleaning cloth starts to turn the colour of your car's paint, that means you're down to the paint layers, and you've removed the protective lacquer that's on top of it. 

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If you're regularly restoring paintwork, then it might be worth investing in a paint depth gauge. You can pick one up for around £20, and this will tell you how much paint and clearcoat you have to work with before you get through to the lower layers, or even the basecoat, primer or bare bodywork. 

Nowadays you can buy scratch remover that is coloured to match your car's paint. Not only will this tidy up any scratches, it will also boost the colour of your car. However, these products really work best on solid colours rather than metallics, and may give your car a slightly different tint if you don't quite get the colour match right.

If it's a really small ding to your paintwork, then you can get scratch pens that can fill in a minor scrape. Simply apply the pen to the damage, then clean your car and the scratch should practically disappear.

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After you've removed the scratches, it's time to get your car clean again. Use a clay bar to remove any lingering particles from your bodywork, then make sure the affected area is well waxed to keep it looking shiny and protected.

Car park scrapes 

If you've had a light brush with a wall or post in a car park, there might be a bit more damage to contend with. You can still use scratch remover to tidy up the looks, but if the colour coat has been damaged - or you've scraped down to bare metal or plastic - then you'll need something more substantial to fix the damage. 

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Fortunately, there are kits available that allow you to carry out your own DIY repairs. These kits will come with a variety of polishes, treatments and brushes to get damage looking like new.

While some products give you paint that you need to mix to match your car's paint, you can also get kits that come with your car's specific paint colour in them. All you need to do is find your car's paint code (usually on the vehicle's VIN plate) when you buy one of these kits. 

These kits generally follow the same procedure: clean the affected area, paint in the damaged section with a brush, allow the paint to dry, then polish the area down to get the affected area smooth with the rest of the paint. After that, you can clean the car with wax to give the damaged area some additional protection.

SMART repairs 

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Perhaps the easiest way of fixing scratches on your car's bodywork is to contact a local SMART repair specialist. These businesses will usually come to you to fix any damage, and as they are professional they will be able to bring the damage back up to showroom standard far more quickly and easily than you could.

SMART repairers will be able to fix most kinds of scratches and even minor dents, too, while alloy wheel refurbishment is also possible. And while they'll be a bit more expensive than buying a repair kit, the work should be guaranteed, and it'll cost far less than a visit to a bodyshop. 

What are your tips for repairing small scratches? Let us know below!

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