How to repair chipped paint
Photo 1: Clean the chips
Clean the chip to begin paint chip repair with soap and water and then dry it with a soft cotton cloth. Rub a dab of automotive polishing compound over the chip to gently soften any ragged edges. 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.
Fix small chips
This is a typical rock chip that you can fix with this procedure. In fact, even if the chip is about one-fourth the size of a dime, you can still repair it.
Too far gone
This is a chip that should have been repaired long ago. The metal inside the chip has rusted and started to lift the paint at the edges. This fix is less do-it-yourself–friendly and requires sanding, priming and painting.
Remember that gravel truck traveling at 70 mph that suddenly switched lanes in front of you and bounced a few marble-size rocks off your hood? Now you’ve got several tiny chips in your paint finish that could grow to quarter-size rust spots in a few years. Take care of the problem right away for less than $10, and you’ll save yourself big money later on, not to mention the embarrassment of driving a premature clunker.
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. Keep in mind that this repair will be visible under close scrutiny, but if you buy the right touch-up color, it’ll be unnoticeable from a few feet away.
Buy auto primer and the right paint
Photo 2: Clean with alcohol
Clean the finish with denatured alcohol. Don’t flood it with alcohol. Just a few wipes with a soft cloth will do. The alcohol will remove any wax or remaining grime.
Photo 3: Apply the primer
Apply a spot of primer with the butt end of a paper match. Fill the area within the chip, just touching the edges of the surrounding paint. Let the primer dry for at least a half hour.
Photo 4: Paint the chip
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 polishing compound to feather the edges of the 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 white listed 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 50 degrees F.
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.
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Auto body touch-up paint
- Denatured alcohol
- Polishing compound