Few things can ruin a good day quicker than approaching your vehicle and seeing a new scratch or ding!
Scratches are annoying to deal with—and if left untreated, they can ultimately damage your vehicle or reduce its resale value by compromising the paint or even causing rust. But don’t worry, most minor scratches can be repaired through a process known as buffing.
Read on to learn tips for buffing out a car scratch.
1. Understand how a scratch damages your vehicle’s paint.
Before talking about removing a scratch, it’s important to know how a scratch actually affects your car’s paint. Why is a scratch a big deal? Well, paint not only provides a decorative and stylish look, but it also protects your car’s body from environmental elements.
A car needs to be able to withstand those damaging elements and most of today’s cars achieve this with a three-layer formula:
- Metal base and primer: The primer is typically white or off-white in color.
- Paint: This can be almost any color. If you ever need to repaint your car, make sure to reach out to the dealer. They’ll be able to give you exact specifications for your car.
- Clear coat: This keeps everything covered and protected, offering an additional layer of protection against the sun’s UV rays. Clear coat is also the thickest layer.
A scratch occurs when your car’s coating is disrupted in some way. This makes your car more susceptible to further paint and rust damage. There’s a wide range of scratch types, but depth (how many layers) will help you determine the best repair method.
Minor scratches will only disrupt the clear coat layer, while deep scratches may expose the metal. An additional layer of protection—like Scotchgard PPF or Ceramic Pro Paint Protection—will give your vehicle added resistance against scratches and other damaging environmental elements.
2. Determine the severity of the scratch.
The severity of the scratch to your vehicle’s paint will determine the steps you take to remove the damage. We determine the depth in three levels:
- Level One: If you’re noticing scratches but the car color is still visible beneath the scratch, then it’s probably only disrupting the clear coat.
- Level Two: If there’s a white discoloration, then the scratch may have gone all the way to the primer.
- Level Three: If you can see metal, then the scratch went through all of the layers.
If the scratch has reached metal, it’s important to consider professional repair because the scratch will lead to eventual rusting, which can hurt the overall integrity of the car and drastically impact your vehicle’s resale value.
A quick way to assess the level of scratches present on your vehicle is to run your fingernail over it. If your nail catches on the ridge of the scratch, then you likely need some kind of repair as the scratch has broken through the first layer of clear coating. If your nail doesn’t catch the ridge, it’s likely a minor scratch that you can easily buff out.
3. Buff out a car scratch.
Buffing and polishing are two terms that commonly get tossed around in the industry. Polishing removes grease, dirt, scrapes, and scratches that you can’t remove from just washing a car. However, polishing is only a surface-level treatment, and it does not provide any additional protection for your vehicle.
Buffing on the other hand works by removing a small layer of coating (typically the clear coat) from your car in order to work out the scratch. For deeper scratches, new paint may be necessary before adding a protective coating to bring back your car’s shine.
Minor car scratches are not technically removed, but rather hidden as you smooth out the paint. Hiding a scratch can be as easy as a little time, elbow grease, and the right product. The process is simple:
- Wash and dry your vehicle. This removes dirt and grime and also gives you a chance to look for any additional scratches you may have previously missed.
- Apply a dime-sized amount of scratch remover to a microfiber towel.
- Spread the product in a circular motion over the scratch.
- Apply the scratch remover with firm pressure and rub the area for 60 seconds, then let it dry.
- Wipe the area and remove the dried product with a new, clean microfiber towel.
- Repeat the process until the scratch is no longer visible (about two or three times).
4. Prevent future scratches.
Keeping your vehicle’s paint and paint coating intact and clean with regular washes and an added protective coating layer is the best way to safeguard your car from unwanted scratches and dings. Ceramic wax, paint protection film (PPF or clear bra), and ceramic coatings are all like a second skin for your vehicle, protecting your paint from damage.
Hand-washing your car and getting regular vehicle details are the most effective cleaning methods, as your local automatic car wash brushes can actually leave minor scratches behind. A clay bar or wax treatment every once in a while can also help strengthen the coat of your car and remove surface-level scratches.
Scratches are annoying and, if left untreated, can cause lasting damage to your vehicle’s paint. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about buffing your vehicle yourself, or if the scratches are deeper than you realized—contact a professional detailer for guidance and assistance.