You see it coming, and there isn't anything you can do to stop it. Boom! That runaway shopping cart has done its damage, and your pretty, shiny fender now has an ugly ding in it. Very frustrating. OK, it's not major enough to scrap the whole car, but it's still something you want to get rid of.
There are body shops that offer inexpensive fixes for minor blemishes, and if you're not sure you can do the job yourself, that might be the best option. But if you are ready to accept the challenge and have your own bathroom plunger and an auto-parts store nearby, you just might be able to make the repair all by yourself. There are a few easy techniques for repairing minor dings, scratches and small dents, and some common paraphernalia to help you.
Visit your local automotive store, and pick up a bottle of touch-up paint. You can make sure it is the right color by checking the manufacturer's information slip usually found in the doorjamb or the glove compartment. A small plumber's helper and a lightweight rubber mallet will also help.
Depending on how major the damage is, you might also need sandpaper, body filler with hardener, spot putty and a plastic spreader. Speak to the salesperson, explain what you are doing, and ask for his or her assistance in selecting the right products.
The smallest of nicks and scratches just need a bit of touch-up paint. Make sure that the surface is clean and free of dust first. Use an automotive polishing compound over the area once the paint dries to smooth it out.
One of the most recommended methods for repairing a ding or small dent is to use a plumber's helper -- the common bathroom plunger. Wet the plunger's edges to make a firm seal over the dented area, gently compress to push the air out, and pull to pop the dent out. There are also dent-pulling kits and dent-pulling tools for purchase in the automotive section. It might take a few tries to do it completely. Touch up with paint if necessary, and use polishing compound.
You also can fix a minor dent with a rubber mallet and a flat piece of metal (wrapped in a rag to avoid scratches); you just need to be able to get to the inside side of the dent. Opening the hood or trunk lid will give you easy access to dents in these two lids. You may be able to reach fenders from the engine compartment, a wheel-well or the trunk. Door panels are normally easily removed to reach dents in the doors. Press the flat piece of metal against the outside of the dent, and use the rubber mallet to lightly tap the dent out. Make sure you're only hitting the dent so that you don't create more blemishes.
Depending on the age and model of your car, the exterior may not be steel; it may be a metal compound or even plastic. This will make a difference as to how the car will respond to forces that normally cause dents and dings. Plastic body panels will usually crack before they dent and need different types of repair. Putty may work for very minor damage, while replacement is the answer for anything significant.
Major dents can be filled with filler mixed with hardener. First, sand the paint off so that the filler sticks to the metal. You'll have to work fast, since the filler dries in about five minutes once it is mixed with hardener. Spot putty is finer and can be used to fill in the smaller spots and smooth out the gilled section. The area will have to be painted and compounded afterward.
Unless you have experience repairing auto body parts or are very, very patient, ask around to find body shops that are both economical and reliable. If the repairs needed are major and require wet sanding to correct the paint or drilling to pull the dent out, a certified repair shop may wind up being the less expensive and less problematic way to go.
Whether you are doing the repair yourself or having it done by a body shop, don't wait. The longer the metal under the paint is exposed the more damage will be done.