How to repair deep auto paint scratches

Updated March 30, 2017

Deep scratches can occur when you dent your vehicle from an auto collision or from scraping against a building. Deep scratches on your vehicle can make you car stick out like a sore thumb. You can repair the scratches on your car's paint job at home using simple automotive supplies. Repairing the scratched paint area at home not only saves time but money.

Confirm the temperature is between 13 and 26 degrees Celsius. Any colder than 13 degrees C makes the paint and clear coat take a very long time to dry completely. Temperatures over 26 degrees Celsius can degrade the process of repairing the auto paint scratch.

Verify that you are matching the original auto paint to repaint the scratch. Find your car's paint code by looking in your car manual, in the door wedge, under the hood, under the spare time or even inside the engine bay. Purchase touch-up paint from an automotive paint specialist.

Wash your the scratch area on your car with either auto soap or mild dish detergent. Use a sponge or rag to dip into a bucket with soap and water and rub the scratch in a circular motion. Clean the dirt and grime from the scratched area and rinse with water. Allow to air dry or use a cloth to dry.

Look for any rust inside of the scratch. When the bare metal of the car is exposed, oxidation starts the rusting and corrosion process.

Sand the scratch area with 220 grit sandpaper or a wire brush to remove the rust. Smooth the area afterwards with 600 grit sandpaper and then follow with 800 grit sandpaper. If rust is still present, there are products available at auto stores that remove rust. Apply the product to the rust spot as directed on the product label. You may also use wet sandpaper to sand down the scratched area. Repeat until the area has been smoothed out.

Dust or wipe the scratched area of sandpaper dust and use newspapers and masking tape to tape the scratched area so paint doesn't get sprayed or splattered onto the rest of your vehicle. Use masking tape that is clear-coat safe. Verify the scratched area is completely visible so that it can be primed.

Shake the primer can and spray the primer evenly on the scratched area. Spray two to three coats and allow to properly air dry. If painting on a rubber surface, use a rubberised primer, if painting on a metal surface, use a metal primer and if painting on a plastic surface, use a plastic primer.

Sand the primed area once it is dry with wet or dry 800 grit sandpaper. Sand and smooth the outer edge of the scratched area with wet or dry 1,500 grit sandpaper.

Paint the area with a base coat. If repairing large, deep scratches, use paint in a spray can. For smaller deep, scratches, use a small paintbrush. Shake the can or spray can, apply the paint in multiple thin layers. If using a spray can, hold the can about 30 cm (12 inches) away from the area.

Wait long enough for each paint layer to dry before applying another paint layer. Specific directions for usage can be found on the product labels. The deeper the paint scratch, the more layers you will need to apply. Blend the new paint with the old paint without a bold edge that stands out. You may also blow dry to speed up the paint drying process.

Apply a clear coat of paint once the base coat has dried. Apply two to three layers of paint in even layers and allow to dry.

Sand the clear edge lines if the clear coat left marks with 2,000 grit wet or dry sandpaper. Be very careful and sand slightly to remove any left over imperfections or scratches.

Use an automotive rubbing compound to polish the area. Use a foam applicator pad to apply the rubbing compound. Apply a few drops of the compound to the foam applicator pad and rub the area in a circular motion until the compound is dry. Remove any leftover residue with a lint free cloth. You can use a polishing compound to add even more shine to the area if you would like.


Sanding the scratched area is very important and it is advised that you thoroughly sand the scratched area to a smooth surface. Applying paint on a scratched surface magnifies the appearance of scratches. Avoid using duct tape when applying tape around the scratched area because duct tape leaves sticky residue. If applying a wax coat, wait one month after repairing the scratched area.


Proper gloves, eye goggles or glasses and breathing masks should be worn when using primer and auto paint. The fumes from these paints can be toxic.

Things You'll Need

  • Wet or dry sandpaper in 220 to 2,000 grit
  • Primer
  • Touch up paint
  • Clear coat
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Foam applicator pad
  • Masking tape
  • Automotive rubbing compound
  • Automotive polishing compound
  • Automotive wax coat
  • Bowl
  • Mild dishwashing detergent
  • Water
  • Sponge or rag
  • Newspapers
  • Bucket
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About the Author

Cassie Skelley has been writing articles about computers, electronics, video games and personal care for the Ikana Kai newsletter and Bon Losee Beauty College since 2005. Skelley majored in biology at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and in cosmetology at Bon Losee.