How To Touch Up Nicks and Scratches in Your Car’s Paint

Updated: Jan. 10, 2024

Fix up dings and nicks in a jiffy and get your car looking like new with this easy and inexpensive touch-up procedure.

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A few hours




about $100


Over the years, your trusty vehicle has probably acquired its fair share of scratches and dents with flaking paint. These dings are pretty much inevitable when you use public parking lots and drive on freeways where debris flies around.

If you're like most people, you've ignored all those blemishes. But they may be already rusting or soon will, and that's when the problems really start.

By investing a little time over several days, you can stop the rust in its tracks. Learn how to touch up car paint and get your vehicle back into reasonable shape, all for less than $100.

As a retired spray painter, let me caution you: Keep your expectations realistic. You won't get body shop-quality results in your driveway with auto touch-up paint. But these techniques will make the blemishes less noticeable and delay the onset of rust-through.

Before we get to the how-tos, let's address some frequently asked questions:

Do touch-up pens work on cars?

Yes. They hide small scratches as long as the color is a perfect match. The fix is only temporary, but will last longer if you apply clear coat over it. You may find it difficult, if not impossible, to perfectly blend the repair with the rest of the paint.

Does WD-40 remove scratches on a car?

I've never tried to repair scratches with WD-40, but Auto Detailing Pro says it works if the scratches are light. It fills the depression and leaves a film that can hide the scratch and prevent rusting. But the film may also attract dirt, making the scratch more noticeable. Moreover, being a petroleum product, WD-40 may damage the car paint, so use it sparingly.

Can you spray paint a car to touch up scratches?

Yes, if you can find an exact match for your car's color. There's one potential problem, though. It's hard to feather in the edges to match the car's paint, so be prepared to do some wet-sanding with fine-grit sandpaper and cover the repair with a clear coat.

When should I call a pro?

If you don't have an exact color match, you may need a pro's experience and trained eye to help you find one. Even if rust has eaten a hole in the car's body, you can usually fix that yourself with auto body filler. But if there are a lot of holes, you're better off leaving the repairs to someone with expertise and the right equipment.

Tools Required

  • 1/4-inch artist's brush
  • 2-inch plastic putty knife
  • Electric buffer
  • Foam brush
  • Micro applicators
  • Orbital sander
  • Paint syringes
  • Spot-sanding tool

Materials Required

  • 1/2-ounce vials of touch-up paint and clear coat
  • Car wash detergent
  • Rust converter
  • Sheets of wet/dry sandpaper in an assortment of fine grits
  • Wax and grease remover

Project step-by-step (9)

Step 1

Collect the tools and materials you need

Start by getting the proper paint color. Dealers usually sell 1/2-ounce vials of auto 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 car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, handy.

One vial of paint is enough to repair about two dozen small paint chips. If you need more, search for a larger bottle online. Most auto parts sites explain how to find the paint code for your vehicle. Expect to pay $20 to $30 for a two-ounce bottle.

To fix scratches and paint chips, you’ll need a spot-sanding tool, professional micro applicators and paint syringes. The small applicators deliver the right amount of paint for chips, while the syringes apply a continuous coat of paint to scratches. For small dents and dings, apply paint with a 1/4-inch artist’s brush.

At an auto parts store, pick up some car wash detergent and wax and grease remover. If you already have rust forming, also buy an assortment of wet/dry sandpaper grits and a bottle of brush-on rust converter. If you have to repair dents, you’ll also need a small container of auto body filler.

Clear-coating your repairs protects the paint. So get an aerosol can of clear coat enamel and a corded or cordless buffer for polishing.

How To Touch Up Nicks And Scratches In Your Cars Paint ToolsTMB STUDIO

Step 2

Wash and degrease your car

  • Wash your vehicle before starting any repairs. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and let it dry.
  • Apply the wax and grease remover with a clean rag to the areas you’re touching up, then rinse.
Step 3

Remove flaking paint and surface rust

  • Gently scrape away flaking paint with a two-inch plastic putty knife. If all you have is a metal putty knife, go ahead and use it, but go easy to avoid making new scratches.
  • Sand lightly with 150-grit wet/dry sandpaper, then switch to 600-grit paper to feather the painted edges around the spot.
  • Use a spot-sanding tool to remove rust from scratches and larger paint chips. Remove the sanding dust with a clean rag.

Removing Rust From Scratch with Spot Sanding PenTMB Studio

Step 4

Apply rust converter

Follow the instructions on the bottle of rust converter and use a foam brush to apply a thin coating to the area. For scratches, apply the converter with a paint syringe. 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.

Applying Rust Converter on Scratches with Foam BrushTMB Studio

Step 5

Fill dents with auto body filler

  • Make dents up to about an inch in diameter disappear with auto body filler. Mix the filler with the hardener supplied with it according to the instructions on the container, then trowel it into the dent with a plastic putty knife. Scrape the repair flat, then allow the filler to harden, which takes about 20 minutes.
  • Sand the repair flat with 150-grit sandpaper (using an orbital sander will speed things up), then smooth it out by hand-sanding with progressively finer grits up to 600-grit.
Step 6

Touch up dents

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

How To Touch Up Nicks And Scratches In Your Cars Paint Touch Up DentsTMB STUDIO

Step 7

Touch up paint chips

Repair a paint chip with a micro applicator that’s slightly smaller than the chip. Again, apply several thin coats rather than one big blob. Thick blobs skin over, then sink as they dry, leaving an ugly divot.

Touching Up Paint Chips with Micro ApplicatorTMB Studio

Step 8

Touch up scratches

  • Load paint into a syringe. For small, thin scratches, apply the paint directly with the syringe, drawing it along the scratch as you press the plunger to dispense paint.
  • For wider scratches, apply the brush head to the syringe and load it with a small amount of touch-up paint. Then apply light pressure to the plunger as you guide the brush head all along the scratch.
  • Wait for the paint to dry, then sand the repair lightly by hand using 600-git sandpaper to knock down bulges. If needed, apply a second coat and sand the paint down after it dries.

Applying Paint on Scratches with SyringeTMB Studio

Step 9

Protect repairs with clear coat

  • Spray each repair you make with clear coat enamel. This protects the touch-up paint and helps blend it, because the sheen of the touch-up will generally be duller than the rest of the finish.
  • Let the clear coat dry (check the container for drying time). Use a corded or cordless buffer to feather the edges of the area you sprayed into the rest of the finish.
  • You may want to spray a second coat and buff that up, too.

Discover more DIY car detailing tips, and check out these before and after car detailing photos.