Time Needed: 10 minutes to several hours
Difficulty: Beginner (coloring in the lines)
Cost: Under $30 (usually)
Doesn’t matter who you are, the dreaded paint chip is bound to happen. You’re driving down the road minding your own business when that truck in front of you decides to hurl a couple of stones straight at your hood at 700 million miles per hour. Or maybe your once-favorite niece or nephew decided to take a header on their bicycle into your rear bumper. Whatever the reason, you’re almost certainly guaranteed to get a paint chip or two if you’re a vehicle owner.
Now, the most thorough way to get your car back to showroom-ready condition is to take it to a pro. But let’s face it — that can be time-consuming and costly. And many paint chips can be easily taken care of at home, making you feel like a DIY superstar when you’re done. We’re going to show you how to restore your car’s paint job, save some cash, and boost your ego all at the same time.
Keep in mind, though, that this fix is strictly for paint chips that don’t have any rusty borders or contamination. Restoring paint damage that has rust requires a set of skills outside the realm of this article. But, if you’ve got some newer paint chips that are really annoying you, we’ve got you covered.
The Safety Brief
OK, let’s get the necessary boxes checked so you can get on with making your car look great again. We all know that paint fumes can be hazardous to your health and you don’t want any brain fog while working on your ride, so make sure you’re working in a well-ventilated area. Also, be sure to keep paint away from where curious kids and pets can accidentally get into it. If accidental exposure does happen, follow all manufacturer’s directions on rinsing and treating exposed regions and consider calling poison control.
If you’re doing more than just a light touch-up, it’s a good idea to wear a protective mask, gloves, and suit to keep your skin and clothing safe. Once you’re done, as with most household paints, you can’t just chuck that car touch-up paint in the garbage. Be sure to brush up on your local requirements for the safe disposal of paint, primer, or other chemicals.
The Tools & Parts You Need
We’ve all heard that proper planning prevents p*$$ poor performance, so gather all the tools and accessories you’ll need for the job before you start going to town on your hood. Maybe you’ll get lucky and will only need to go to the auto store one time for this project (we can all dream, can’t we?). Here’s what you’ll need:
- Clean microfiber cloths
- Small paintbrush(es)
- Touch-up paint that matches your vehicle
- Polishing compound
- Denatured alcohol
How To Fix Paint Chips On Your Car
Before you start slathering paint on that offensive chip, make sure you’re getting paint that’s an exact match to your vehicle’s paint job. Assuming you haven’t tricked out your ride with a custom color, finding which paint you need is a pretty easy and straightforward task.
On most cars made after 1983, there will be a special and unique paint code located on a label inside the driver’s side front door. Take that code to your automotive paint vendor so they can easily find the perfect color for you. For those who are extra cautious, you can also match the paint with your car’s VIN.
2. Wash Your Ride
Depending on the amount of damage you have, you may want to wash your whole car. However, if you just have a few paint chips that need attention, you can probably get away with just spot cleaning the actual areas that are chipped. Clean the chipped areas with a gentle car wash soap and water, then pat dry with a microfiber cloth or chamois (“shammy”).
Put on your gloves. Take a small amount of polishing compound, and using a soft microfiber cloth, gently rub around the edges of the chip in order to soften the paint at the borders. Heads up: do NOT go all Mr. Miyagi on this step. Just a few passes should do it. Too much rubbing compound can cause you a whole other set of problems by screwing up your clear coat.
3. Remove Any Waxes or Protective Coatings
Use the denatured alcohol to rub off any waxes, silicones, or protective coatings that will cause the paint not to adhere to your vehicle properly. Here again, just a little goes a long way, so just rub a small amount of alcohol on a soft cloth and be mindful not to strip the whole car.
4. Primer Time
If you have a paint chip that is deep and reveals the metal beneath, you’re going to need to apply primer first. You can skip this step if the paint chip doesn’t penetrate through all the layers of your paint job. For smaller chips that require precision painting, it’s okay to use smaller artists’ paint brushes, or even the butt end of a wooden match or toothpick to apply the primer coat.
Note: Don’t rush. We know you’re excited to have your car looking great again, but be sure to let the primer coat dry for at least 30-60 minutes before moving on to the next step. You’ve been warned!
5. Apply The Touch-up Paint
Again, depending on the size of your paint chip, you may want to use a paint pen to precisely cover the area of damage. For larger chips, many touch-up paints will come in a bottle very similar to nail polish with a small applicator brush attached to the lid. Here again, though, you can also use a small, pointed artist’s brush. This is especially handy if you can only find your touch-up paint in an aerosol spray can. Spray some paint into the lid of the can and dab the brush into it for accurate painting.
Apply enough paint that it just barely rises above the surface so that as it dries and cools, it will hopefully shrink down, leaving an almost imperceptible touch-up job. If, after you’ve let the paint dry for a solid 72 hours and there is a little unevenness to your job, you can then use that 1,000 grit sandpaper. Wet it slightly and VERY gently rub the spot smooth. If you’re terrified of using sandpaper on your car’s paint, you can also use the rubbing compound or another car scratch remover for this step, just like you did in step 2.
6. Wash And Wax Your Baby
Once you’re satisfied with your stellar paint-by-number skills and the results of your labors, it’s time to wash and wax your car and show it off to your buddies and your skeptical father-in-law. Take a moment to bask in the greatness of your accomplishment.
Video Tutorial on How To Fix Paint Chips On Your Car
Car Autance editors love and appreciate the fact that many of us are visual learners and do way better with an active tutorial than just the written word. If this is you, we’ve got you covered with a great video that accurately details the steps to successfully repairing paint chips on your car. We pulled it from a go-to reputable source that you’ve probably heard of: The Drive.
Car Autance answers all your burning questions.
A: While you could technically drive the car within 1-2 hours of finishing your touch-up paint job, we really recommend waiting 24 hours to give the paint a serious setting time. Definitely wait 72 hours or more before washing and waxing the car to be sure that the fresh paint is maximally dried and adhered to your vehicle.
A: NO. Just don’t. Clear coat is too thick and requires a sprayer to properly apply. This is usually serious overkill for a smaller touch-up job.
A: If your paint chip repair doesn’t blend in with the rest of your car immediately, don’t stress too much. It can take up to two weeks for the paint to fully dry and cure to its proper color. Then, you can decide if you want to reapply or not.
Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Fix Paint Chips On Your Car
You can buy the required tools and even most automotive touch-up paints at virtually any auto parts store or online marketplace, like Amazon. The amount of options to choose from can almost be overwhelming at times. Our personal faves, the ones we personally rely on and trust, are Advance Auto Parts, Amazon, and Walmart. They’re affordable, reliable, and offer fast shipping. We realize that some stuff might be out of stock occasionally, so we also recommend checking out AutoAnything as another great option.
Advance Auto Parts has a wide selection of vehicle-specific touch-up paints and primers.
Walmart and Amazon both offer a plethora of automotive accessories, including microfiber cloths, car wash soaps, paint brushes, gloves, denatured alcohol, and more.
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