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Anyone who has driven for any length of time has encountered scuffs and paint transfers at some point. Between drivers parking too close to the line, simple misjudgments of distance, and other small accidents, they are an inevitable part of owning a vehicle and taking it out anywhere.
This can be frustrating for individuals who take pride in keeping their vehicle looking its best, but not every scratch, scuff, and ding requires the attention of a professional to remove. The majority of these small accidents can be remedied at home with a few relatively simple and easy tricks.
Erase Paint Scuffs and Transfers On Your Car
What’s in your car’s finish?
The first step in learning how to correct these inevitable imperfections in your car’s finish is to understand what goes into creating said finish in the first place. There is more going on there than you can see with the naked eye, and touching up the “paint job” of a car is far different than say, touching up a wall in your home.
Yet, some parts are similar when you look deep down. After all, your car’s finish begins with a coat of primer the same way you would lay the foundation for painting a wall of raw sheetrock. This improves adhesion and gives the base coat something to stick to when applied. The base coat, which can be composed of many coats and layers for some manufacturers, is where your car’s color comes in.
On top of all of this is the clear coat, and is one thing that sets the finish of your vehicle apart from most other painted surfaces. It acts like a polyacrylic or wax coating over a piece of painted furniture or canvas, but a vehicle’s clear coat is much thicker and more durable. It adds that beautiful shine to your car while protecting all of the paint underneath the elements, erosion, and collisions.
Most surfaces outside of vehicles are not protected by such a thick layer of clear coat if they have one at all. Painted surfaces without this type of coating can shed pigments with relative ease, so it should be little surprise your car comes away with a bit of donated paint and pigment following a brush with another vehicle, shopping cart, or a bike you knocked over in the garage.
In instances where your clear coat picked up a bit of excess pigment, removing it and restoring the finish is a simple matter.
Know which materials you need for the job.
As with any DIY project, the tools and materials are just as important as the process. Removing paint transfers and scuffs is a three-step process: clean, remove and restore. Different materials will be needed for each step, so let’s take a quick look at them all.
The first step is relatively self-explanatory. To effectively restore your car’s finish, you need to begin with a clean surface. If the damage is just superficial, this can be more or less the same process you usually use to clean your car; however, washing by hand is strongly recommended.
The powerful jets used by some automatic car washes can worsen the damage if the paint or clear coat is already chipped. On a similar note, avoid more acidic or abrasive cleaners near the scuffs as some may seep into any small imperfections in the finish and deepen them. When in doubt, simple detergent and water is best.
Next comes the removal of the paint pigments and the scuffs themselves. You will need a mild abrasive and some lubricating medium to tackle this job. Rubbing compounds and scratch removers make up the commercial products for this step. Some swear by simple “home remedies” using a lubricating spray such as WD-40 or toothpaste with whitening abrasives for light scratches.
The depth and severity of the scuff will determine which of these options will work best. After all, you would not expect something designed to remove stains from your teeth without causing damage to work on a deep scratch. As stated above, those mild abrasives and oils are best for buffing out very light transfers and scratches.
Scratch removers tend to be the lighter option among commercially available, prepared options. Some of them even come in a kit that provides everything you need for removing mild to moderate damage. However, it should be noted the abrasiveness of scratch removers and how they are used varies from one product to another. Make sure to read the directions for the product you choose carefully, noting whether or not sandpaper is needed and if it should be followed by polish.
Rubbing compounds are the “heavy hitters” of the group. These are the products you turn to for deep scratches to see whether they can be repaired without the need for repainting your car. Also, these are the compounds most likely to require something more than a cloth or applicator to use, often needing a machine application to reach their full potential.
Speaking of applicators, let’s take a moment to consider the options there. No matter what option you decide to use, a soft, lint-free cloth is always recommended for at least the final stages, so you will want to have one on hand.
Microfiber cloths make for good all-around cloths to use for these types of jobs because they have the ability to “grab” onto loose particles without abrading the surface you are working on, and they are lint resistant. However, wool or a clean cloth of 100% cotton will work admirably as well.
When it comes to applying and utilizing the rubbing compound, scratch remover, or various home remedy solutions, an applicator pad or sponge may serve you better. They are usually thicker and designed to make holding onto them more manageable, which makes for a more efficient and comfortable experience. Applicator pads typically come in two different materials, foam or microfiber. Foam applicators tend to work better for the vigorous work of buffing out a paint scuff or transfer, especially deeper ones. If you have one that is microfiber, save it for the final steps of polishing or waxing the vehicle for the best results.
Don’t forget to protect your results!
Using a car polish after removing transferred paint or a scratch has a couple of benefits. First, it will help smooth over the edges of the scratch and aid in returning the vehicle’s shine. It will also intensify the underlying color, helping it blend back in with the rest of the finish. Ensure your results by reading the directions and following them carefully. Not all polishes work in the same way. Some that work well in natural lighting may underperform if used in the shade, and the reverse can also be true.
Make sure to finish off your repair with some means of protecting it from the elements. No matter where you live, the weather is never wholly constant, after all. What good is all this work if wind, rain, and shifting temperatures get into the thinned clear coat and begin chipping away at it?
This protection can come in a couple of different forms. The most common element protectant is wax. The hydrophobic properties of a car wax help give your vehicle a waterproof seal, protecting it from the elements while providing a glossy shine. So it is something handy to keep in mind even if you have not experienced any damage or scuffs or paint transfers with your vehicle.
If you have experienced any damage to your vehicle’s finish, a good coat of wax will seal the surface, preventing water from having the chance to seep into small cracks and crevices. This has the added benefit of also preventing temperature-related damage from water getting into these small spaces, freezing, and expanding, making them larger.
Carnauba wax is a natural wax produced for automotive-grade uses many motorists prefer. However, there is also a range of synthetic automotive waxes available on the market some prefer due to their longer-lasting nature.
Additionally, there are also ceramic coatings available. These protect your vehicle’s finish in much the same way as the waxes spoken of above, but they are designed to last for years instead of a few weeks or months. However, ceramic coatings are not compatible with all types of finishes, and they may impact the resale value of your vehicle. So we would strongly recommend doing additional research before deciding whether or not a ceramic coating is preferable to wax for your car.
So how exactly do you go about removing paint scuffs from a car?
Start with a thorough cleaning. At the least, you need to make sure the damaged area is free of dirt, grime, and oil, as well as completely dry. However, considering the final step of the process works best when performed over the entire car, going ahead and scrubbing your complete vehicle down is a good idea.
Once everything is clean and completely dry, you are ready to begin removing the scratches.
Start by checking the surface itself by running your fingers over it. If it feels smooth, you can skip to the next step, but bumps, ridges, and otherwise rough or gritty textures can indicate more serious damage. If these are present, you will need to smooth this out before continuing. To do this, use very fine grain sandpaper and an extremely light touch to smooth out the scratches without causing further damage.
If the solution you are using contains an abrasive, apply back and forth with the grain of the scratch. Non-abrasive solutions and compounds may be applied in circular motions. Directions vary, so it is always best to go by the manufacturer’s instructions.
Please note it may take several different applications to achieve full paint removal, so check your progress and have patience with it.
Follow scratch removal with polish and then either wax or a ceramic coating, following the manufacturer’s instructions for each step to protect your work and keep your car looking its best.