Whether it's a small chip, a deep scratch, or more serious damage to your vehicle's paint, fix it as soon as possible, says Kim Shirley, owner of Kim's Auto
Body Inc. "The big thing is rust." Depending on the season and climate, he says, "a car can rust as soon as 24 hours. You need to protect your investment." Here's how.
*Scuffs and Small Repairs
"If you can't feel the mark with your fingernail, it's just a scuff. It can be buffed off," says Shirley.
"If the damage is minor -- a scratch one-sixteenth inch wide or a chip one-eighth inch or less in diameter -- it can be brush touched." A do-it-yourselfer could take the last eight digits of the vehicle identification number to a local car dealer and order touch-up paint for at-home repair. For a demonstration, check out the multiple short YouTube videos that come up when you search for "how to repair my car's paint." The key is careful preparation, meticulous application and ample drying time to ensure the surface is completely sealed against moisture. This may include sanding, priming, painting and application of a clear coat.
A wikiHow article titled "How to Repair Car Paint Chips" has basic step-by-step instructions for a DIY repair. "Most chips can be repaired at home with minimal tools and experience," the article says. "You may not be able to return the car to a showroom finish, but you can prevent rust from developing and even repair the chip well enough that most people may never notice."
*More Significant Damage
"If the damage is all the way down to bare metal," Shirley continues, or too large to paint with touch-up paint, consider taking it to a professional. For one thing, "professionals can make their own colors for an exact match." This is important when matching both the color and the tint of car paint that has aged and will allow you to match precisely any of the many possible variations within a color code.
In addition, keeping an area at home completely free of dust can be challenging, which means that the painted surface will not be as smooth and clean as necessary for a satisfactory repair. "The base coat will dry fast, but the clear coat takes much longer to dry," says Shirley. Dust and other flying dirt particles can quickly adhere to wet paint.
Also, when considering repairing more major damage to your vehicle's paint, it's difficult to control spray paint. Professionals have the equipment and space to do the job correctly. This means not only repairing the car's finish aesthetically but also preventing the inevitable damage that comes from exposed metal.
"Moisture starts the oxidation process," says Shirley. "Once it begins, rust crawls under existing paint, bubbles up and keeps growing. If it grows into a seam, such as where two panels are welded together, you can't get it out. Then you have to replace parts."
The takeaway from a conversation with this longtime professional in car repair is that small paint issues can often be repaired successfully at home, but Shirley recommends taking more major repairs to a professional. Once you add up the cost of the primer, the color, the clear coat, the thinner, the hardener and all the necessary tools, he says, a DIY repair may be quite a bit more expensive and time-consuming than you think.
For a handy tutorial, check out The Family Handyman's article titled "How to Repair Chipped Car Paint," which provides useful photos, clear instructions and tips such as what to do when the only color match at the auto parts store comes in spray paint: "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."
Whether you fix it yourself or ask the body shop to repair it for you, "do it now before it mushrooms into a huge expense," says The Family Handyman. "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."