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Scratches in your car’s paint might seem like an unavoidable part of vehicle ownership, but if not tended to, those markings can lead to more expensive trouble down the road.

Rust tops the list of potential problems that result from neglecting scratches in your car’s paint. Underneath the finish, most of your car is metal that can rust and deteriorate when exposed to the elements. Scratched paint will also detract from your car aesthetically and can lessen its resale value.

What can you do if your car’s paint is damaged? There are a few options, beginning with taking it to a professional to have it repainted. If the area of damage is large, having a professional repaint your car is probably the best choice, but it is also expensive.

Another choice is to touch-up the scratched paint yourself. Although even the best DIY paint touch-ups will be recognizable up close, from a distance they will be unnoticeable. More importantly, touch-up paint will protect the exposed metal from rusting. For scratches smaller than a dime, touch-up bottles will do the job. Larger scratches will require spray cans or bottles.

Following are a few tips to consider when touching up scratched car paint:

1. Select the right touch-up paint to match the color of your car.
  • Find the metal plate or laminated sheet inside your car’s driver side doorjamb; it will list the vehicle’s paint code. Your local Pep Boys specialist will use the code to match the touch-up paint to the color of your vehicle. You can also search here for the matching touch-up paint by entering your car’s year, make, model, and engine
  • Before using the touch-up paint, check the color on a piece of scrap metal to make sure it matches

2. Be sure you have everything you need before beginning.
  • Touch-up bottles typically include applicators, but if not, you will need to purchase one
  • Check to see if the touch-up paint you select requires primer
  • It is necessary to sand the area that you intend to touch-up if the job requires primer and/or has rusted. Use 220-grit sandpaper
  • If rust has started to form, use a rust inhibitor to stop it from worsening or spreading
  • We recommend using goggles, latex gloves, and a chemical respirator when spraying paint. Without protection, sanding and painting exposes you to potentially dangerous chemicals that can lead to serious short- and long-text health issues

3. Pick the right location, such as your garage, to do the job.
  • Your chosen spot to work should be out of direct sunlight, away from debris, have low humidity, and can maintain the temperature for application suggested by the touch-up paint manufacturer. It should also be well-ventilated

4. Clean the area of your paint where you intend to do the touching up with car wash.

5. Carefully sand the area of the scratch.
  • Make sure the edges are rough so your primer adheres
  • Remove any rust with the 220-grit sandpaper and apply the rust inhibitor
  • For smaller scratches, try rubbing compound instead of sandpaper

6. Use primer where any bare metal or plastic is showing.
  • Thin coats of primer will produce the best results
  • Allow the primer to dry for the time suggested by the manufacturer
  • Primer can be applied using a toothpick on smaller scratches
  • Do not allow primer to cover your original paint. If it does, be sure to remove it immediately

7. Apply your touch-up paint in layers.
  • Use thin layers and allow them to dry for the recommended time between applications
  • Continue adding layers until the paint level matches the surrounding area
  • Paint inward from the edges on larger scratches
8. Allow the area to dry for 72 hours, then use rubbing compound.

9. Wait at least a month, then wax your car.
While fixing a car paint scratch on your own will not yield the same results aesthetically that hiring a professional would, it will protect your vehicle from further damage and save you money. No matter which route you take, Pep Boys has everything needed to get the job done right.