The Dent That Wasn't Meant

By Chelle Cordero

April 12, 2018 5 min read

You know that brand-new shiny car that you were so proud of? Well, someone lost his grip on a shopping cart, and the cart just seemed to take aim at one of your fenders. Ouch! No matter how careful we try to be, dents and dings seem to be a part of car ownership. What can we do about it? There are a few easy techniques to remove minor, albeit annoying, dents. However, many experts agree that it is best to leave major bodywork to the professionals. Here are a few easier do-it-yourself techniques:

*The Plunger Method

This works best for larger dents (larger than a quarter) on flat surfaces. If the car is made of steel, then the dent can be pulled out but will still remain visible. Lauren Fix is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst and author based in New York. Known as The Car Coach, she offers automotive advice on her website. "If the dent is not on a body line, you can use a plunger to pull out the panel," she says. "If the dent is on a body line you will need a dent repair company to fix the damage. Major damage requires a collision shop to repair the damage properly."

For this method, you can use a clean sink plunger (not a flange toilet plunger) or purchase a dent-pulling kit from the local auto parts store like AutoZone. Wipe down the section around the dent so that no contaminants are left to scratch the paint surface.

Moisten the plunger with clean water, and for a good seal, thoroughly dampen the edge that comes in contact with the car and the interior suction side. Place the plunger around the dent (or a section of it, if it's too big), and gently push in to create a vacuum. Pull it back out in a short, quick motion. You may have to repeat a few times. If the area is large, move the plunger over the other areas as needed. Remoisten the plunger if it loses contact with the car surface or you need to move it each time.

*The Dry-Ice Method

Using dry ice on car metal works best on small- to medium-sized dents with no prior paint damage. Caution: If you use dry ice, you must wear heavy plastic work gloves and eye protection (preferably full goggles), and use long wooden tongs; you can use metal tongs if they have protective rubber coating around the handles to prevent the cold from transferring to your hands. Make sure you are in a very well-ventilated or outside area and have a clock with a second hand nearby.

Wipe down the surface area with the dent. Once wearing all of your safety gear, open the dry ice container. Do not inhale the fumes. Remove a small piece of dry ice with the tongs. Place and hold the dry ice immediately over the dent, making full contact for 30 seconds; if you hold it against the surface for too long, you might crack and chip the paint. Remove the ice, and allow the surface to warm up. The dent should pop out as the metal contracts and expands. Repeat as necessary. Stop immediately if the paint begins to crack.

*Heat on Plastic Bumpers

One method of heat repair uses boiling water, so you need to be close enough to your heat source and wear work gloves. Make sure you can reach behind the bumper. Toss a pot of boiling water on the dented bumper, being careful not to splash yourself or anyone else. Immediately reach your gloved hand behind the bumper, and gently push the dent out. You will have to work quickly, as the bumper will cool quickly. Repeat as necessary.

Alternatively, you can use a hair dryer and a can of compressed air. You will need an extension cord and a high temperature setting. Heat the dent with the hair dryer until it is hot. Immediately turn the can of compressed air upside down and spray the dent. The cold air will make the plastic contract, and the dent should pop out.

Encounters with wrongly thrown footballs, lamp posts, etc. are sometimes unavoidable throughout a car's lifetime. Knowing that you can make improvements without being a gearhead or having to spend lots of time and money is reassuring, and tending to little maintenance along the way will help protect your car's long-term value.

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