How To Remove And Repair Car Scratches [For Less Cost]

Car scratches, in particular deep scratches are annoying to say the least never mind the cost of the repair in an auto body shop!

But there are many ways you can remove or repair them your self. In this blog post I will detail the best way for each type of scratch that is detracting your car from that ultimate shine.

Types of scratches

Each scratches needs to examined to plan the best course of action to restore the car door, wing or panel back to its former glory.

Swirl marks

These fine scratches are caused by washing a car with a sponge using circular motion. If the grit and grim has not been washed off first using a foam cannon wash or as least a hose rinse then often particles of dirt become trapped in the sponge. 

They then get pulled across the car paint with a similar effect to sandpaper. This causes these circular swirl marks which in turn dull down your cars paintwork by defecting light away from your eye.

Showing swirl marks on metal

These are easily removed with use of a Scratch and Swirl Remover. Simply clean down the damaged area and apply the remover with a good quality microfiber cloth

Use a circular motion to apply the compound and wear down the fine clear coat scratches. The use another clean microfiber cloth to buff off the polish.

You can get varying degrees of abrasiveness in Swirl Removers but if it your first attempt go for a lesser figure rather than a higher one.

You can tell how abrasive the compound is if you are using a Meguiars product. As you can see on the left hand side there is a 1-10 scale.

One being the least abrasive making it ideal for very light scratches and ten being a very abrasive product to cut a layer or two of the clear coat right off.

picture showing abrasive scale on polish bottle

It is therefore best to closely examine the damaged area and choose they least abrasive swirl remover you think will do the job so as to minimise the chance of anything too harsh.

Scuff Marks

These are marks or marrs left on the paintwork when something like a branch or another car has been in contact with the panel.

With these types of scratches there will be a deposit left on the surface of the top coat. If another car has caused it there will be a deposit of paint left on the surface.

If it was a sappy type of branch there will be a smear of sap left. 

Best way to test if these are surface deposits are to run your finger nail down the panel and see it catches on the area. If so then it is standing proud and is a surface deposit.

Car scratch scuff marks

Removing Scuffs

You are in luck! These scuff marks are very easy to remove with use of simply WD40 spray and a good microfiber towel.

Simply spray on the WD40 and allow a minute to be absorbed into the area, then buff it off with a short fiber microfiber cloth.

You may need to repeat this a few times depending on the amount of deposit.

NB: WD40 can remove light scratches too but it is only a temporary fix. The reason being it fills in the top coat scratches which then removes that scratches but once given a good wash the WD40 will be removed and the scratch will reappear.

WD 4o Oil spray onto panel

Light Scratches

These are a grade more than swirl marks and scuffs. These occur when the object that created the scratch has cut through the clear coat layers and into the base color layer.

These types of minor scratches will require a touch up paint the same as your car's base coat.

These can be obtained from an auto body shop or a main dealer for the make of your car. They often come in a pen form that includes an abrasive tip to sand down the damaged area before applying the touch up paint.

The paint is usually contained in the lower section of the pen along with some primer which would not need to be used on this type of scratch as the scratch has not cut completely through the base coat.

Primer would only need to be used if the primer coat or bare metal was exposed. Which is what we will cover in the next section.

Car light scratches

Prepare the area

With the swirl marks we use a very general approach to the affected area, often treating the whole panel. 

But with a minor scratch more specific attention to just the scratched area is needed.

Start by using the abrasive tip on the pen to smooth out the edges of the scratch. If you do not have a touch up pen with an abrasive tip then fold a piece of sandpaper in half and pinch it together to form a fine edge.

It is s good idea to use masking tape a few millimeters away from scratch so that the good paint around the scratched area is not damaged.

Once smoothed out to blend in then apply the smallest amount of touch up paint and allow to dry before applying another coat.

Build up the coats to fill in the base coat layer and then apply some clear coat to the area. Or you can add more base coat until it stands proud and sand down until a smooth surface is attained that is level with the original base coat.

Then apply a good coat of carnauba wax to protect the new paint.

Deep car scratches

Deeper Scratches

These are the most severe type of deep paint scratches, often caused when the car comes in contact with another metal object or you have a keyed car.

This means that someone unscrupulous person has dragged a key across your car door causing a deep groove in the paint work. 

The sharp edges of the key have cut through the top coat, base coat paint layer and into the primer causing the usually white primer to be visible. Some deeper scratches may even reach the bare metal of the panel.

With the increased damage to the scratched area a professional repair is needed by an auto body shop and the expense of the repair often requires use of an insurance company.

However, if the damage is not too extensive you can repair these yourself using a scratch repair kit and some simple tools.

Diagram showing layers of paint affected by a deep scratch on car paint

Deep Scratch Diagram. All layers penetrated right to bare metal

Repairing Deeper Scratches

This degree of damage requires at the minimum a best car scratch remover kit as these supply all the primer, paint and top coats to match your car, often also including the repair and wet sanding tools.

As mentioned earlier the depth of scratch will need to be assessed in order to decide what level of paint layer it has damaged, you can then decide on the best way to proceed.

The method will be similar to what was outlined in the fine scratches section of this post, but more preparation is needed.

This time we need to smooth back all the paint layers to form a smooth channel as highlighted in this diagram.

Diagram to show the preperation of a deep scratch on car bodywork

We will then use a primer layer to start, especially if the bare metal is exposed. Take note that some scratch repair kit paints already have primer mixed in with them, so check the directions on the box, pen or bottle supplied with the kit.

You will need to allow each layer around ten to fifteen minutes to dry before applying the next layer. Up To four or five layers may be required.

The aim here is to build up the paint layers until they stand proud above the paint work. 

Diagram to show how layers of touch up paint fill in and stand proud of paintwork in a deep scratch

Once this is achieved then you can start sanding down the paint until it reaches the same level as the original par paintwork.

Start with a fine but relatively coarse paper such as 2000 grit and then move to 3000 grit and finish with 5000 grit.

Then you will need to use some polishing compound to take the fine 5000 grit scratches out of the surface to allow the shine of the base coat to show through. This may again take a few goes to attain the best results. 

Once you have attained the best result with the sandpaper then the final polishing stage will need to be with a polishing compound.

This is a type of polish with more abrasive qualities than a normal polish. Many of them come in different grades of abrasiveness as you can see by the scale on the bottle below.

Sanding deep scratch area with sanding block

It is best to use the minimum number grade you can to minimise and damage to the surrounding area. As with the sanding this may take a few application to attain the desired smooth surface with a perfect match to the car color.

To finish the repair the whole area should be washed and a coat of good carnauba wax applied to give and added layer of protection.

Apply polish to car scratch


I have shown you that many types of car scratches can be removed or repaired with just household items such as the WD40 etc.

Give the methods a try on a scratch that isn't in the most obviously visible place so that you can perfect your techniques ready for the middle of the car door or fender repair.

By practicing these methods you can save hundreds of dollars and even make hundreds by purchasing scratched cars, repairing them and reselling.

As you do more and more repairs your experience will grow along with your armoury of polishing products such as varying grades of sandpaper, touch up paints that match the color of your car and polishes.

You could then easily become the go to person in your area for car owners who want annoying scratches removing or repairing.

I hope you have enjoyed the post and if you have any comments or questions please ask them in the comments below.

 Also if you have any car paint repairs products you recommend then also please mention those as I am always trying new products and methods and would be pleased to try them out and review them to help other detailers with their repairs.