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Car scratches are not a great look for your vehicle, especially a new one with nice paint. But what are the types of car scratches and how do you fix them?

Whether it's from a shopping cart, kids playing with rocks, or something more heinous, car scratches are not fun to find. Different types of scratches are also handled differently.

The depth and type of scratch determine your solution. You might have a scratch just in the clear coat, or it could extend into the base coat of paint. You'll also want to know a little more about scuffs versus scratches.

What kind of scratches are there, and how do you tell one from another? Is there anything in your garage that can help a scratch?

We've removed and blended car scratches – and had to take a few of them into a body shop to protect the paint. We'll explain what is going on!

Table of Contents

What kind of paint scratches are there?

We'll review a bit about how your paint works and what kinds of scratches you might see.

Clear coat scratch

While there is no such thing as an ideal scratch, this is about as close as you are going to get. The clear coat on your vehicle is an exterior protective layer meant to keep more solid layers of paint from harm. If your clear coat gets stretched, it has done its job.

A clear coat scratch will look more like white marks in the paint and is a sign of bleeding clearcoat. The easiest way to identify clearcoat scratch is with your fingernail. You can run a fingernail over the scratch and if nothing catches, only the clearcoat is affected.

Road debris readily causes clearcoat scratches, but a shopping cart, sleet, or hail can cause this kind of scratch too. Minor maintenance problems like not removing sap or bird droppings from your car can also stretch and scratch a clear coat.

How do I fix a clear coat scratch?

Your local automotive store probably has kits for it – and the reality is that the solution to fixing a clear coat scratch is nothing more than a more clear coat and a paid to apply it with. Read the instructions carefully in regards to how to apply so you don't get lumpy spots, but fixing it up should take no more than a few minutes.

Base paint scratch

Uh oh. That shopping cart, kids toy, or.. maybe key, cause a bigger, deeper scratch. Unfortunately, the issue will be more prominent to your eyes – you might see some mounding paint and a bit more color moving, unlike the clear coat scratch.

The base paint is the actual color on your vehicle, and since it is protected by your clear coat, it takes a hefty (maybe intentional) hit to get that clear coat up and go through the base paint too. In order to test if your base paint is scratched, you can use the same method with your fingernail – the difference here is that if your fingernail does catch something, you've got a base paint scratch.

It is also possible that a previous fix can make your base paint vulnerable. If you recently didn't repair the clear coat in an area, that area has less protected paint and is more likely to get scratched.

How to fix a base paint scratch

It is possible to use the polishing part of a clear coat scratch kit to clean this up. Other times, you might need to use some touch-up paint to get the surface nice and smooth. Touch-up paint is invaluable here, though you might experience a different problem: if your vehicle isn't exactly new and sits in the sun a lot, the rest of your car's color may have faded over the years. The touch-up paint might be brighter than normal.

Primer scratch

Ouch. This one hits hard. A primer scratch is a deep scratch that exposes the metal on your vehicle. In other words, something has been driven through the clear coat and all the way through the base coat. The color underneath is likely different from your car, so you'll likely notice this kind of scratch right away, and unfortunately, be able to identify it quickly.

A primer scratch is either a scratch from heavy contact or possibly because the paint wasn't taken care of for a light scratch. Accidents are a common source of heavy scratches.

Fixing a primer scratch

This isn't always possible to do by yourself. Try a color chip product. You'll also want to do this quickly, especially before your vehicle is further exposed to moisture. Rain or snow on a deep scratch can eventually lead to corrosion and rust.

A scuff vs a scratch

A scuff and a scratch aren't quite the same things. Scuffs and scratches can happen at the same time. The good news about scuffs is they are relatively easy to repair.

Scuffs are just surface damage, and might actually just paint from another vehicle or a bike left on your car as the result of a hopefully minor accident.

Get out your buffer for a scuff, because that's all you'll need. A buffer can either blend your paint back in as normal, or remove other paints, then ensure that yours gets blended back in.

Does insurance cover scratches?

Sometimes. If your scratches came from road debris, like rocks, gravel, or whatever else in your roads, then probably not. Did you get into an accident? The answer might be yes if you have comprehensive insurance.

The suggestions we made earlier regarding touch-up paint and paint kits are also far less expensive and well, involved than working with a body and potentially paying a deductible. If you don't have any automotive know-how – or any time, you might want to just work with a body shop. A body shop will also make your vehicle look the best unless you are a serious stickler for do-it-yourself work.

A word of warning: your vehicle insurance rates might go up after you use them to fix your scratches, so there's that too.

Other Scratches: Glass

Glass scratches are scratches in your windows or windshield. These are most commonly caused by sand, road debris, or even old windshield wipers.

How to fix a glass scratch

Sometimes a fine glass polish works well, along with its applicator pad. In some cases, you could actually just use non-gel toothpaste, though it might be get scratched again.

A new windshield will cost you a lot more – from $200 to $500 depending on the size and again, your insurance rates might go up.

Other scratches: Plastic

The exterior of your vehicle is covered in carbon fiber and plastic. Plastic is often used above wheel wells and above some joints on your vehicle to provide protection and visual contrast.

Polishing compound is fairly useful in removing scratch from plastic. Buffing these out with a polishing compound works well on small scratches. You might want to consider replacing the piece of trim if the scratch is too big – it is also possible to do it on your own without help from a body shop. Naturally, a body shop will do this for you if you want, at what will likely be a higher price.

Can I protect my vehicle from scratches?

Unfortunately, the answer is not yes. The clear coat on your vehicle provides much of the protection you need, but there isn't much you can do to prevent nicks and scratches, especially in the event of an accident. Our less realistic suggestions are to park far away from cart corrals and leave your vehicle inside when possible, but almost all vehicles eventually get some kind of scratch.

Types Of Car Scratches

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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