How to repair and remove scratches from your car's paintwork

man sanding car scratch


Posted May 07, 2024

Nobody wants to find a scratch on their car. Discover how to fix unsightly scratches from your car to save its shiny aesthetics and resale value.

Discovering a scratch on your car is invariably a disappointment – doubly so if your car is new. Many car owners want to know how to repair car scratches as quickly and easily as possible.

Figure out whether you need expert help or whether you can buff out a car scratch yourself with this handy guide to fixing scratches on cars.

white car with scratch

The severity of a car scratch depends on how many layers of paintwork the scratch penetrates. Image: Getty


How to remove scratches from cars

Car paintwork consists of several layers: primer, base paint, and topcoat (also called clearcoat). Some car owners also wax their car, adding a final layer of shine and protection. How detrimental a scratch is to your car depends on how many layers of paintwork it penetrates through.

Find out whether the car scratch is shallow or deep

Determine how severe the scratch on your car is by examining the mark and running a fingernail over the scratch. If your fingernail doesn’t catch, it means that that the scratch has likely only damaged your clear topcoat. If your fingernail does catch, then the scratch is deeper than the topcoat.

Car Scratch Test

Car Scratch Test

Fingernail test

Mark colour


Does not catch

Lighter or faded car paint colour

Basecoat damage


White or grey

Primer damage


Metal or rust

man polishing car

Microfibre cloths are the best fabric to use on cars. Image: Getty


How to prevent shallow car scratches

Tiny scratches and swirl marks are common, but they're also easily buffed out. These scuffs are generally caused by tiny particles of dust or dirt being wiped along your car during the car washing and drying process.

To avoid causing light marks on your car’s paint job, remember to:

  • Never use a towel or cloth to wipe dust off your dry car.

  • Only clean your car after thoroughly rinsing off the dirt.

  • Properly rinse your sponge or mitt while washing your car

  • Only dry your car with a clean, damp chamois, and only after thoroughly cleaning the car.

  • Avoid outdated or improperly maintained automatic car washes.

  • Avoid harsh cleaning, polishing or buffing products. 

While topcoat scratches might be so small that you consider ignoring them, they still impact the resale value of your car. These scratches also allow sunlight to fade your car’s paintwork: one of the topcoat’s purposes is to shield the colour from fading.

More: How to protect your car paintwork

How to fix a shallow car scratch

To fix a shallow scratch or a light swirl, you’ll need two clean microfibre towels and a scratch remover product, which you can find in automotive shops and some supermarkets. “There are many products on the market to remove mild scratches and swirl marks,” said IAG Senior Repair Specialist John Farrugia.

Scratch remover products cleanse and polish light marks, blending them seamlessly into the rest of the topcoat. They are also called light cutting compounds. “The deeper the scratch, the more abrasive a cutting compound you will need to use,” said Farrugia.

To buff out light scratches, simply:

  1. Wash and dry your car thoroughly 

  2. Apply a small amount of scratch remover product to the microfibre towel

  3. Spread the product over the mark, plus a 60cm radius around the mark

  4. Rub with moderate pressure and overlapping circular motions for about 60 seconds

  5. Allow the product to dry to a haze 

  6. Remove dried product with a fresh, super soft microfibre towel

  7. Repeat until the mark is buffed away.

“Make sure you do this in the shade, when the panel is cool and has been washed prior to polishing, as dirt will cause more scratches,” said Farrugia.


man keying a car door

If your car is vandalised by keying, you will likely need to repaint the basecoat. Image: Getty


How to fix a deep car scratch

Deep scratches or marring often look white because they have peeled away the topcoat and basecoat to show the primer. They can be caused by scraping your car against objects, from vandalism like car keying, or from environmental factors like hail or stone chips.

“If the paint has been damaged, exposing the primer, the only way to repair this is to paint the panel,” said Farrugia. “If you are not sure how much paint is on the vehicle, or if you can feel the scratch with your fingernail, or if the scratch is near a sharp body line, best to discuss with a professional.”

To repaint a deeply scratched panel, you will need a bit more equipment: 2,000 grit sandpaper, masking tape, automotive primer, a container of your car’s paint, a topcoat product, and a polish compound with a polishing cloth. You can pick up these supplies from an auto shop. To ascertain your car’s exact paint colour, look for the paint code inside the driver’s door or call your dealer or manufacturer for help. Manufacturers often sell small containers of paint to car owners if you ask.

To best buff out a deep car scratch:

  1. Wash and dry your car thoroughly

  2. Tape off the repair area with masking tape to protect the surrounding paint job

  3. Sand the scratched area in one direction with 2,000 grit sandpaper until you see metal

  4. Apply a layer of automotive primer per product instructions

  5. After the primer has dried, paint on the basecoat (coloured paint) per product instructions

  6. After the paint has dried, apply a topcoat per product instructions (spray over a wider area than the repair for maximum blending)

  7. After the topcoat has dried, polish the area with a polishing compound until it matches the rest of your car.

a rusty car scratch

Deep scratches may need to be repaired by a professional. Image: Getty


How to fix a rusty car scratch

If a scratch goes deep enough to reveal your car’s metal body, it has penetrated through every paintwork layer. Air, water, dirt and other particles will start gathering on the metal and will quickly develop into rust.

Rust is a serious problem that will require professional help. “Not only is rust unsightly and devalues your vehicle, but if left untreated can develop into holes,” said Farrugia. “Depending on where these holes are, this can cause other issues. If the trims get wet, mould may develop, which can be a heath issue. The trims may rot, causing an expensive repair. In the most serious cases, rust can cause structural issues to the vehicle, which may weaken the vehicle in the event of an impact.”

To fix a scratch that has dug into your car’s metal body, you should take your vehicle to an auto scratch repair shop.


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