17 October 2014

The Right Touch

Chips and scratches are going to happen. While some would argue that these imperfections add to the patina and provenance of a car, most of us would prefer to repair them. Fortunately, there are several methods to repair or diminish the effects of this damage, and all can be performed at home.

For a light scratch above the topcoat, buffing is the solution. Compounds come in ranges of aggressiveness; the deeper the scratch, the more aggressive the compound. An electric buffer is fast, but also the fastest way to cause more damage if you’re not careful. Buffing by hand is slower but safer.

When the damage goes below the topcoat, it’s time for touch-up paint. Getting a custom mix is usually the first step. Even if a supplier has a formula for your car, a computer match is usually better. Ask for single stage, non-catalyzed paint like acrylic enamel.

For chips and small scratches, paint pens from a company like Automotive Touchup are an option, but a small paintbrush with trimmed bristles works well. Dab light amounts of paint into the chip or scratch to build up the thickness. Wipe away any excess paint outside of the damage with a rag. Layering the paint over a few days helps to fill the scratch.

If the damage is larger, it’s time to spray. If you’ve got access to — and experience with — an air-operated spray gun, that’s the obvious choice. If not, you can still spray the paint you had mixed. There are external propellants available, as well as companies that will put paint in a spray can for you, including many local paint stores. Or you can get a kit from Automotive Touchup. Just as with a brush, use several light coats and allow each to dry properly. Sometimes, you’ll want to fill damage with a brush first, wet sand it with 600-grit paper, then spray a few light coats to blend it in.

Whether you brush or spray your repair, buffing it afterwards helps blend it into the rest of the paint.

For any of these repairs, the lower on the car the damage is, the less critical skill and quality become. Practice on rocker panel damage before you tackle the front of your hood, for example.

What if your repair doesn’t work so well? You can always bring your car to a reputable bodyshop and have them take care of it. But it doesn’t hurt or cost too much to try it on your own first. You may just surprise yourself.

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