How to spot-repair the paint base coat and clear coat

Written by samantha volz
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How to spot-repair the paint base coat and clear coat
Spot repair can return a car to its regular shine. (a car in a car show image by Gary from

Popular Mechanics offers some assurance for those who find ghastly scratches on their cars: Many of these scratches can be repaired with some buffing and sanding. In general, most car scratches penetrate only the clear coat and base coat of the car; the primer, and ultimately the steel of the body, remain untouched. Repairing this base coat and clear coat scratch can return your car to its normal beauty.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Water
  • Soap
  • Bucket
  • Sponge or rag
  • Clean towel
  • Shoe polish
  • Bowl
  • Sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Rubbing compound
  • Terry cloth rag

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  1. 1

    Clean the scratched area with warm water and mild soap. Mix the water and soap into a bucket until they form suds; clean the area with a sponge or rag soaked in this mixture. Dry the scratched area thoroughly with a clean towel.

  2. 2

    Rub contrasting shoe polish into the scratched area with a clean rag. Make sure the colour of the polish contrasts with the car so that you can clearly see it stand out. This will help ensure that you do not cause more damage with too much sanding.

  3. 3

    Fill a small bowl with cold water and two to three drops of mild soap. This soap-water mixture will help lubricate your sandpaper and make the job cleaner and safer.

  4. 4

    Wrap ultra-fine, wet/dry sandpaper (2,000- or 3,000-grit) around a sanding block. Dip the sandpaper into the bowl and allow it to soak for two to three minutes, until it is thoroughly soaked.

  5. 5

    Sand the scratched area at alternating 60-degree angles in short, light strokes. Stop frequently to re-wet the paper; the sandpaper must stay wet at all times.

  6. 6

    Sand in light strokes until you can see the contrasting colour disappearing. As this colour disappears, you are sanding the base coat and clear coat so that they cover the scratch. When you can see no more colour, stop sanding.

  7. 7

    Dry the area thoroughly with your clean towel and look for any signs of the scratch. Repeat the previous steps if the scratch still appears, until it is completely gone.

  8. 8

    Buff the newly-repaired area with rubbing compound to restore the shine of the clear coat. Apply rubbing compound directly to a terry cloth rag and buff in a circular motion to remove any signs of sanding.

  9. 9

    Rub the buffed area with a clean rag to remove any residual compound. Wash and dry the area again if necessary to remove streaks.

Tips and warnings

  • When the repair is complete, you may want to apply car wax to add even more shine to your finish.
  • Use a power buffer instead of a terry cloth rag to buff the area. Only use this tool if you are familiar with it, as improper use can cause damage.

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