DIY Car Paint Touch-Up Tips

Got some ugly paint chips or scratches on your vehicle you'd like to fix? Learn the exact tools, materials and steps involved in car paint touch-ups.

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If you take pride in your car’s appearance, you’re certainly not alone. Few things are more satisfying than climbing into a shiny new or well-maintained vehicle with a flawless coat of paint. Trouble is, vehicle paint never stays flawless for long, even if you’re as careful as possible on the road.

Flying gravel is one of the biggest culprits. Those small, annoying chips that appear on your vehicle’s body panels are most likely caused by little chunks of rock flung towards you on the road by other vehicles.

When that happens, all the coats of paint, clear coat and wax in the world probably won’t be enough, and you’ll be left with a small area of exposed metal where each rock or piece of debris strikes. Not only do these small paint chips look ugly, but chances are they won’t stay small for long.

But with the right products and a little know how, you can make those annoying chips disappear, and keep your vehicle looking like it just came off the showroom floor.

Tools and Supplies Needed for Car Paint Touch-Ups

Producing a perfect car paint touch-up might seem intimidating, but the process is probably easier than you think. The first step is gathering the right tools and supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:

Touch Up Car Paint Yourself in Five Steps

Once you’ve purchased and gathered all necessary tools and supplies, it’s time to start making those ugly chips and flaws in your vehicle’s once-pristine paint job disappear. This takes some skill. But if you’re careful and methodical, you’ll most likely come out with a vehicle that looks shockingly flawless.

Step 1: Find the Biggest Chip, Nick or Scratch

If this is the first time you’ve attempted car paint touch-up work, chances are you’ve got quite a few chips, nicks and scratches in your vehicle’s paint job to choose from. Start by doing a thorough examination of the entire painted surface, and identify the biggest, ugliest flaws. You’ll be fixing these first. Once you’ve learned the process and gotten some practice, you can come back and fix the small stuff.

Step 2: Wash, Sand and Rinse the Area

Give the area immediately around the chip, nick or scratch a thorough wash with water, soap and a sponge. It’s important to remove all residual, oil, grime and dust from the spot you’ll be touching up or your primer and paint won’t stick. Rinse off all soap residue when you’re done. Lightly sand the chip with 220 grit paper until it’s bare, clean metal, with no hints of rust anywhere. Then rinse the dust off and let it dry completely.

Step 3: Apply Filler Primer and Wet Sand

Submerge a sheet or two of 1500 grit wet sandpaper in a bucket of clean water at least a few hours before you’re planning to do the touch-up work. Once you’re ready to start, shake the can of filler primer, knocking loose any buildup inside.

Next, carefully spray filler primer over the chip, using a slow, even back-and-forth motion. The can should be six to eight inches from the vehicle’s surface (or whatever distance the instructions on the can recommend).

Apply just a little primer at a time, making sure not to spray too much in one spot, which creates runs. The goal is to fill the depression created by the chip completely, so the primer protrudes slightly above the surrounding paint. Apply primer approximately one inch beyond the chip in all directions, doing your best to feather it to nothing towards the edges of the area.

Wait the manufacturer-recommended amount of time for the primer to dry fully, then take your 1500 grit wet sandpaper from the bucket. Spray a little water onto the area, then carefully and lightly sand the primer, aiming to smooth down the high spots, bumps and ridges.

Add more water to the surface periodically, and dip your sandpaper back in the bucket often to keep it wet. The goal is to feel no bumps or spatters when you’re done sanding.

Step 4: Apply Color Matched Paint

With the primer sanded, rinsed and perfectly dry, repeat the application process with your color-matched paint.

Coat the area lightly at first, not lingering with the spray can in any one spot, but moving it in smooth, straight lines. Be sure to cover the primer completely with paint. Once you’ve completed the first coat, let it dry for 15 minutes or so, then apply a second coat in the same way.

Step 5: Apply Clear Coat and Wet Sand

After letting the paint dry overnight, spray clear coat over the painted area, keeping the coating as even and free of runs as possible. Once you’ve coated the entire touch-up area with clear coat, let it dry overnight again, then wet sand it. Start with 1500 grit paper, then work your way right up to 3000 grit, keeping the surface wet the whole time. Rinse off any clear coat residue, and the job is done.

I like to add one more layer of clear coat for extra protection. After this second coat dries, do a little very light wet sanding with 3000 grit paper.