Car Paint Repair in 4 Quick Steps

Updated: Jul. 21, 2023

Fix-up those door dings and nicks in a jiffy with this car paint touch up process.

Car-touch-up-paint-auto-touch-up-paint-automobile-touch-up-paint-touch-up-paint-carFamily Handyman
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.

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Make those nicks and scratches disappear with touch up paint for cars

car paint touch up

Micro applicators, syringes and other tools for auto touch up paint

Micro applicators, paint syringes and a spot-sanding tool help you do car touch up paint like a pro.

car paint touch up

Photo 1: Apply rust converter

Apply several light coats of rust converter with a foam brush, allowing proper drying time between coats. Use a new brush for each coat.

car paint touch up

Photo 2: Apply car touch up paint to dents

Use an artist’s brush to apply several light coats of car touch up paint to dents. Allow the touch up paint to dry between coats.

car paint touch up

Photo 3: Clean rust out of scratches

Use the spot-sanding tool to clean rust out of scratches. Apply gentle pressure to prevent enlarging the scratch.

car paint touch up

Photo 4: Fill in the scratches with vehicle touch up paint

Fill the paint syringe and apply gentle pressure as you fill in the scratch. Start at one end and work toward the other. (We started in the middle to show you the effect.)

car paint touch up

Fuzzy little brushes (micro applicators)

Buy micro applicators to touch up car paint chips.

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,  learn how to touch up car paint and get your vehicle back into reasonable shape—all for less than $100. Discover more DIY car detailing tips you always wanted to know. Also, check out these before and after car detailing photos.

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

Start your auto touch up paint project by getting the proper paint color. The dealer usually sells 1/2-oz. 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 VIN handy). One vial of vehicle touch up paint is enough to repair about two dozen small paint chips. If you need more than a few vials of auto touch up, 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 2-oz. bottle of auto touch up 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 touch up 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 touch up 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 touch up paint. Then apply light pressure to the plunger as you guide the brush head all along the scratch. Car touch up paint can be found at most home centers.

Required Tools for this Auto Touch Up Paint Project

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

Required Materials for this Auto Touch Up Paint Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials for this car touch up paint project ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

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