Car Paint Repair: Touch Up Painting

Fix-up those door dings and nicks in a jiffy

Remove and repair flakes, chips, dents, dings and scratches on your car's finish before the rust sets in. It takes just a few minutes of your time over a few days. These great auto painting tips and techniques will show you how to touch-up those little eyesores and take years off the look of your car.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Make those nicks and scratches disappear

Over the years, you've probably acquired your fair share of scratches, dents with flaking paint, and paint chips on “Old Reliable.” And if you're like most people, you've been ignoring them. But all those insults are either already rusting or soon will. By investing very little time over several days, you can stop the rust in its tracks, touch up your car's finish and get your vehicle back into reasonable shape—all for less than $100.

First, we have to caution you not to develop unrealistic expectations—you cannot achieve body shop results in your driveway. But our techniques will make the blemishes less noticeable and delay the onset of rust-through.

Start your touch-up project by getting the proper paint color. The dealer usually sells 1/2-oz. vials of touch-up paint and clear coat for about $8 each. But call the parts department first to see if your color is in stock (have your VIN handy). One vial is enough to repair about two dozen small paint chips. If you need more than a few vials, search for a larger bottle on the Internet. Most auto parts sites explain how to find the paint code for your vehicle. Expect to pay $20 to $30 for a 2-oz. bottle of paint.

To fix scratches and paint chips, you'll need a spot-sanding tool (see Photo 3; $8) and professional micro applicators and paint syringes ($7 to $9 each). The small applicators deliver just the right amount of paint to chips. For scratches, use the paint syringes to apply a continuous coat of paint. For small dents and dings, apply paint with a 1/4-in. artist's brush ($10 at any art supply store).

At an auto parts store, pick up a can of wax and grease remover ($4), and if you already have rust forming, an assortment of sandpaper grits and a bottle of brush-on rust converter ($7).

Before starting any of the repairs, wash your vehicle. Let it dry and apply the wax and grease remover with a clean rag to the areas you're touching up.

If you have flaking paint with exposed rust, pick away the loose paint with a small screwdriver or putty knife. Then sand off the surface rust with 150-grit sandpaper. Switch to 600-grit sandpaper to feather the painted edges around the spot. Also use the spot-sanding tool to remove rust from scratches and larger paint chips. Remove the sanding dust with a clean rag. Then follow the instructions on the bottle of rust converter and use a foam brush to apply a thin coating to the area. For scratches, use a paint syringe to apply the converter. Allow it to dry thoroughly. Most rust converters dry to form a primer coat and don’t require additional primer, but double check the directions.

If you don't have any rust and the factory primer is visible, you can skip those steps and proceed with painting.

Shake the paint vial or stir the bottle for the recommended time to ensure the metallic flakes are suspended in the paint. For dents, use the artist's brush to apply a light coat of paint to the treated area. Use several thin coats rather than a single thick one. Lightly sand each coat with 600-grit sandpaper after it dries. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for drying time between coats. Clean the brush with the recommended solvent between coats.

To repair paint chips, select a micro applicator that's slightly smaller than the chip. Once again, apply several thin coats, rather than a blob of paint. Thick blobs skin over and then sink as they dry, leaving an ugly divot.

To repair scratches, apply the brush head to the syringe and load it with a small amount of paint. Then apply light pressure to the plunger as you guide the brush head all along the scratch.

Spot-sanding tool
Foam brush
Professional micro applicators
Paint syringes
1/4-in. artist's brush

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • 1/2-oz. vials of touch-up paint and clear coat
  • Wax and grease remover
  • Assortment of sandpaper grits
  • Bottle of brush-on rust converter

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