If you ignore chips and dings in your car’s paint, they’ll turn into a much bigger problem: Rust. Here’s how to repair those irritating little imperfections before it’s too late.
Before we get into removing paint chips from a car, we need to understand the makeup of a car’s paint and the types of paint damage.
What Makes Up the Paint on Your Car?
The paint on your car is not like the paint on your room’s walls. It is made up of several layers. Each one of them has its function. Here’s a brief explanation of the paint of a typical road car. You need to know this before learning how to repair chipped paint on your car.
- The Primer is the first layer of paint that goes on to the body panels of your car. It is light grey. It smoothens the surface of the metal and provides a base for the color coat to stick. It also acts as an anti-rust agent.
- The Color Coat is the “paint” of your car that you can see. There can be up to 5 coats of the color coat to make the paint last longer.
- The Clear Coat goes on top of the color coat. It protects the paint underneath and gives it a shine.
- A Ceramic Coat can be found on some cars. It is meant to make the paint hydrophobic, and dust and mud resistant.
What are the Types of Paint Damage that You Can Repair at Home?
DISCLAIMER: These are just some tips that can help you do minor repairs on your car. The actual results will depend on your understanding and execution of the steps. If you are not experienced in this type of work or think that you might not be able to do it the right way, get the help of a professional.
There are three types of paint chipping/damage that you can tackle as a DIY project. We highly recommend you get professional help if the problem is beyond this. These issues include:
Small Paint Chips Caused by Stones
This is probably the most common type of paint damage. This is caused by the rocks that fly off the wheels of a leading car or truck. These can hit your car with substantial force and can result in localized yet intense damage to the car’s paint. You can tackle these paint chips at home.
Scratches on the Clear Coat
If you happen to scratch your car just slightly, but the color of the paint is intact, you can very easily fix it. Remember the clear coat we talked about? These scratches only affect that and the actual “paint” of your car is hopefully not damaged.
If your bumper or any other part of your car rubs against another car, the paint of the other car can be transferred to your car. This looks pretty bad, but it is the easiest to fix.
In this post, we’ll be focusing on repairing chipped paint.
Before we move on to discussing how to repair stone chips on car paint, there are some things that you need to steer clear of when fixing the paint on a car. Here’s when you DO NOT want to make paint repair a DIY thing.
When Is It Not a Good Idea to Fix Damaged Car Paint on Your Own?
It is tempting to cut the visit to the body shop and save money doing car paint chip repairs at home. However, there are cases where this can do more harm than good. If you have any of the following, just go to a professional and DO NOT do it at home.
- If your paint has a large number of chips on it.
- If the paint on the car has started to peel off at multiple locations.
- If rust is appearing under the damaged paint.
- If the sheet metal under the paint has been exposed.
As a general principle, rust is the worst enemy of sheet metal as well as the paint of your car. If you see it, run for cover.
Now on to actual paint correction.
What you’ll need for DIY paint chip repair
At an auto parts store, you’ll find a display of auto touch-up paints. Look up your car’s year, make and model in the booklet at the display. You’ll find a list of factory colors that cars like yours were painted that year.
If you have a white vehicle and there is only one whitelisted for it, just buy that one. If you don’t know the color number for your car, you’ll have to find it on your vehicle identification plate. This can be challenging.
The plate may be located under the hood on the cowl, near the radiator shield, or on the jamb of the driver’s door. Some owner’s manuals will tell you where to look, or a quick call to your dealer will help.
Once you find the number, buy a small bottle of touch-up paint. If you can’t find the correct color at the display, check with the dealer.
Dealers often carry colors for the cars they sell. Also, buy a small can of auto primer. Now just follow our photo sequence to fix that chip, and remember, don’t do this repair in the direct sun or if the temperature is below 10 degrees C.
Tip: If you can only find spray paint with the right color number, you can use it by spraying a bit of paint into the cap and applying it with a fine artist’s brush.
How to Fix Paint Chips on a Car
Here’s what you’ll need to fix paint chips on a car:
- Auto body touch-up paint
- Denatured alcohol
- Polishing compound
Step 1. Fix Small Chips
This is a typical rock chip that you can fix with this procedure. In fact, even if the car paint chip is about one-fourth the size of a dime, you can still repair it.
Step 2. Too Far Gone
This is a car paint chip that should have been repaired long ago.
- The metal inside the chip has rusted and started to lift the paint at the edges. The fix we show here is for fresh chips that haven’t started to rust yet.
- If you see a rust spot, or have a dent along with your chip, you’ll need to do a more challenging fix than we show here.
Step 3. Clean the Paint Chips
- Clean the paint chip with soap and water and then dry it with a soft cotton cloth.
- Rub a dab of automotive polishing compound over the paint chip to gently soften any ragged edges.
Pro tip: Just a dozen swirls or so will do the job. Too much rubbing could damage the clearcoat over the paint and make a cloudy mess.
Step 4. Clean the Finish
Clean the finish with denatured alcohol.
The alcohol will remove any wax or remaining grime.
Pro tip: Don’t flood the surface with alcohol. Just a few wipes with a soft, damp cloth will do.
Step 5. Apply the Primer
Apply a spot of primer with the butt end of a paper match.
- Fill the area within the car paint chip, just touching the edges of the surrounding paint.
- Let the primer dry for at least a half-hour.
Step 6. Get Your Touch-Up Paint and Primer
If you don’t know the color number for your car, you’ll have to find it on your vehicle identification plate.
Once you find the number, buy a small bottle of touch-up paint. If you can’t find the correct color online, check with the dealer. Dealers often carry colors for the cars they sell.
Pro tip: If you can only find spray paint with the right color number, you can use it by spraying a bit of paint into the cap and applying it with a fine artist’s brush.
Step 7. Put a small amount of paint over the primer coat.
- Always test the color on a piece of paper to make sure it matches. The test will also give you a feel for how much paint to load onto the applicator brush.
- Apply a second coat about one hour later. Let the paint cure for several days and rub it out again gently with a polishing compound to feather the edges of the repair.
Pro tip: Don’t do this repair in the direct sun or if the temperature is below 50 degrees F.
How to Fix Paint Chips on a Car by The Paint Pen
- If you want to go the easy way, this is the method for you. Here’s how it works.
- See the paint code on your car’s door jam and buy a paint pen for the color.
- Wipe the affected area off with generous amounts of rubbing alcohol.
- Fill in the damaged paint with the paint pen and the scar on the paint will be gone.
- This only works for really tiny chips.
- The paint will not be totally fixed, and the defect will appear when looked at closely.
- There is a substantial possibility of leaving rust in the affected area which can lead to rust propagation.
- Paint pens are not available for all colors.
If you want the level of control and liberty offered by the professional method and are not willing to put in that much of an effort, there’s another method. It combines somewhat the best of both worlds.
Can car paint be fixed at home?
Yes, if the damage is small and you can find the paint for your car, you can fix it at home.
Can a car be painted with a brush?
Yes, if the affected area is very small, you can paint it with a small brush. You’ll have to sand it down to make it one with the paint of the rest of the car.
What is the job of the clear coat?
The clear coat on a car’s paint provides scratch resistance to the paint and makes it shine more.
Can rust damage the paint of a car?
Yes, if rust gets under the paint at one point, it can propagate to the whole-body panel.
Which sandpaper is the best for car paint?
It depends on what you are using it for. If you are sanding the damaged area to prep it for the base coat, you need a course one. If you are sanding the clear coat or color coat to match it to the rest of the paint, you’ll need a wet one.
Can metallic car paint be fixed at home?
Yes, metallic paints can be fixed at home. They are just like other paints when it comes to repairing.
Can pearl paint on cars be fixed at home?
Yes. If you get the paint that matches the color of your car, you can fix it no matter if it is pearl paint.
How does self-healing paint work?
Self-healing paint has a layer of paint underneath the dried color coat and clear coat. This layer can ooze out and cover small chips and scratches. This technology is only effective for very small defects.