Removing Car Scratches: The Revenge of the Frugal Body Shop

By Paul Michael on 23 April 2007 (Updated 9 May 2011) 13 comments

After the unexpected popularity of my previous post on dents, I thought it would be good to follow up with perhaps an even more annoying and prevalent form of car damage — scratches. We all get them, they really look awful and I have been on the hunt finding new and old techniques for removal.

Once again, I can't vouch for the success of all of these as I have only tried a couple. And as always, the type of scratch and model/make of car will also vary the result you get. But they're always worth a try. Here we go...

1. Super glue, aluminum foil, grease wax and paint scrapings

OK, I admit it. I'm way too scared to try this one as I have a 6-month-old Civic and don't want to make my scratch look any worse. Plus, I don't think this one works with clear coat. But if you have an older model car and want to try it out, be my guest. (See also: 6 Slick Tools to Save Money on Car Repairs)

2. Rubbing compound and wax

Sorry, no video for this one but I got this from a mechanic and it's solid advice for minor scratches. I trust it 100%.

  • Apply a polishing compound with the MILDEST abrasive to a damp sponge.
  • Use a circular motion and buff the area until the scratches have gone. NOTE: Practice first on an unseen part of the car, maybe in the trunk.
  • Wash the area completely with your usual wash-and-wax cleaner.
  • Apply wax (liquid wax works best) to a sponge and buff the area, again in a circular motion.
  • Using a soft towel, buff the wax away. The minor scratches should be history.

3. Car touch-up paint and rubbing compound

A similar version to No. 2, but for slightly deeper scratches. The full account with photographs can be found here but the basic principle is this:

  • Apply a layer of touch-up paint over the scratch.
  • Remove excess with a sharp piece of plastic, after it has dried.
  • Using an abrasive polish and a soft cloth (or buffing machine) begin buffing
  • When all of the paint is removed, wash, wax and buff as usual. Not perfect, but a lot better than before.

4. Toothpaste?

Nope. Sorry, doesn't work. It didn't work on my CDs either. Another busted technique is Colored Car Wax, which will only mask the scratch for a while but it soon wears off. Of course, you can always splurge a little and buy a scratch/swirl remover. I found some good ones at Autogeek. Or better yet, just buy a complete rubber bra for the whole car! (By the way, that last one's not really my advice...I mean, c'mon...that's going a little overboard, yes?)

full bra

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Jessica Okon's picture

thanks p! I'll take a before and after where some fan of mine keyed "sucks" into my Civic.  A friend suggested I just put a sticker on top of it that says "Bush."

Guest's picture

You're right - the only way to truly get rid of scratches is polishing (If they are minor) and paint.

The colored waxes that they sell are basically what they are - a VERY short term fix.

Kudos!

Scott

Guest's picture
Graeme

Toothpaste does in fact work if you buy the right kind. If you use a plain white toothpaste, it is the same thing as a very mild rubbing compound. For anything worse than mild swirl marks on paint, it would take a whole lot of elbow grease, but it works very well for restoring faded or hazy guage covers, light covers... anything plastic that should be glossy.

Guest's picture
Doug

Hey Paul,

Thanks for the advice. I accidentally scratched my van when some grit got on my cleaning cloth. I followed your instructions using some rubbing compound, wax and elbow grease and it worked great. I even used it on a scratch that had been there for months that I thought was too deep to fix without a repaint. It worked on that too. THANK YOU!

Guest's picture
thereal87

The car on the bottem of the page is a manufacturer test vehicle. It's covered to conceal the looks of the new model before it is released... not to protect from scratches.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm sure he realizes that... think he was just trying make a joke.

Guest's picture
GiiGii

I got hit by a red car and my car is white. to get rid of the scratch i used mr. clean magic eraser. The stuff really works. just dip it in water and you would never have known i had this crazy black and red on the side of my white car

Guest's picture
Guest

Dear Sir

As i have seen you valauble points, I would like to know if there is any car dent remover, Please suggest me, Waiting for your replay

Thanks and regards

Simon Peter T

Guest's picture
pk

Does a mr. clean magic eraser work on small scratches
from bushes?

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mcshaun

Be wary when buying the new car extended warranty as there are many people making lots of money selling inferior products. If you try to save money here, you will later find that the extended warranty proves to be more trouble to you than it’s worth.

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mcshaun

If your car has light surface scratches, use good quality polish, filler compound and a fine grit sanding pad. Then to finish up the repair, use a small paintbrush and paint that matches your vehicle. Once you are done fixing the damage, take a step back and see if the scratch is still noticeable. If you have major scratch issues, you might want to consult a professional.

Guest's picture
Guest

Many california car repair shops are cheap enough for anyone to consider.

Guest's picture
Karl

With all due respect...While you did give this article the "old college" try...its pretty vague and misleading. The wax&super glue & toothpaste are a total hoax and should not even be in the same article with a serious discussion about auto scratch removal. I have seen this incorrect info in various forms all over the internet. With respect to "rubbing compound" references and techniques described...totally incorrect and incorrect use of terms. I would more than happy to submit a article(s) to clear up myths and describe the correct way to remove not only scratches in the clear coat but advanced touch up paint repairs that any one can do at home.
If you want videos on how to do scratch removal correctly I have tons at CarScratchRemoverBlog.com