Do It Yourself Repairing Paint Chips

scuffed bumper paint
Scrapes like this happen in parking lots all the time. You don't have to live with it. Adam Wright

The moment you have been dreading has arrived. You have to go to the mall in your beautiful, expensive, brand new car. You just know that the nitwit who parks next to you is going to slam his door into the side of your car as he gets out. So to prevent this, you park way out in the boonies with nary a car in sight. You hike the 200 meters to the mall entrance happy with the fact your new car is safe from harm.

But, when you come out with that new item from Victorias Secret you bought for your wife, you see a 1969 Chevy Malibu with more rust spots than a scrap yard has parked right next to you. As you get closer to your car you see two paint chips that match the door of the Malibu.

Getting It Fixed

Okay, so you head on over to the body shop to get an estimate for repairing the damage. To add insult to injury, he says he can't guarantee an exact paint match for your white pearlescent paint.

Sad to say, but it is very difficult for anyone to match many modern paint finishes if you do an entire body panel. If the chip is small but goes through the clear coat and deep into the paint, the best thing may be a simple touchup. It won't be an exact match, but no one might notice it unless you point it out. I know, I know, you will still know it's there but chances are you will be the only one who knows.

Paint By The Numbers

This is the best technique for small chips or scratches, like near the edges of trunk and door openings.

If it is about 70 degrees or less outside, you should do this in a heated garage. If you live in Yuma, Arizona or Reno, Nevada works early in the day so the paint doesn't dry out too quickly.

The dealer's parts department will have the color for your car and that will get you as close as possible to the correct color.

Then get some clear coat and primer if the chip goes down to the metal. Make sure you use an automotive primer, not the spray primer you get at the hardware store or home center. If your dealer has the clear coat and primer that would be the best way to go since it will usually be by the same manufacturer.

If you follow these directions carefully and have some patience, you will get a quality repair that will last for years.

The first thing to do is to mask off the area around the chip with masking tape up to a ¼" around the chip. Now using lacquer thinner or alcohol clean the area of dirt, wax and road grime from inside and around the chip. Use a clean, lint-free cloth. Do not use any type of paper towel or tissue. If the chip goes down to bare metal, use some 40 grit emery cloth to scratch up the metal so the primer and paint will have something to grab on to. Make sure any rust that may have formed is cleaned out as well.

Using the applicator brush or a toothpick, I use the end of a paper match myself, coat the bare metal with the primer. Try not to get it on any of the paint, just the bare metal. You want a smooth layer, just enough to cover the bare metal, with no bumps or lumps.

Let this dry for at least 24 hours.

This is where patience and a steady hand comes in. With your applicator apply a nice thin even layer of paint with no bumps or lumps. Don't go and try to do fill the whole chip in, but do make sure you get paint in all the corners. If you get a little sloppy use a cotton swap with a little bit of lacquer thinner to clean up any excess paint. Leave the applicator out for about 30 seconds if the paint is too thin. If it's too thick, add about six or eight drops of lacquer thinner to the tube of touch up paint and shake very well. Start out with a small amount of lacquer thinner and add one or two drops if necessary. It's much harder to remove lacquer thinner from the paint than it is to add it.

Once you're done, let it sit for another 24 hours. The paint will shrink quite a bit as it dries.

That's why we don't want to use too much. If it starts to get lumpy, use some 800-grit Wet/Dry sandpaper. Just sand the new paint you don't want to mess up the surrounding, good, paint.

Now repeat this procedure until the pain is almost flush with the surrounding paint. You want to leave a small recess for the clear coat. This will probably be only one or two coats of paint. More if the area has been repainted once before.

Wait about a week, a little longer if the weather is a bit cool, and coat the damaged area with clear coat. If all has been going well you might be able to simply build up the clear coat to the level of the original paint without overlapping and it will be, nearly, invisible.

If things have not gone so good you'll have to blend the repair with the factory paint. Apply clear coat about a ¼" around the damaged area. Keep doing this over a few days allowing for drying and shrinkage. Keep doing this until you've built it up a couple of thousandths of an inch. A little bit more than the thickness of a sheet of loose leaf paper. Allow this to dry and shrink in the sun for at least a week.

When it's good and set you can, very carefully, sand it with 800-grit Wet/Dry sandpaper to blend it all in. This will leave a dull finish so you will need to follow up with some medium to fine polishing compound and a soft lint free cloth. This will make the repair nice and shiny.

Chipped Off

What about chips in the middle of a body panel? If you used the procedure outlined above and it didn't come out as nice as you'd like, you might try using spray paint to get a better and more invisible repair. You'll need to use the lacquer thinner or alcohol to clean and degrease the area and make sure there is no rust in the injury. Now get a thin piece of cardboard, a file folder works very nicely, and cut a 1½" hole in the center. Here's a little hint, carefully warm the spray primer in a bowl of warm water to about 100°. This will increase the pressure in the can and give you a more even spray pattern.

Hold the cardboard in one hand with the hole over and about two inches from the injury. Now move the paint can back and forth while spraying. Start spraying on the cardboard, move it across the hole and stop spraying on the cardboard. Do not start or stop the spray over the hole, it will run and lump on the car. If the cardboard is kind of small, mask the car with more of the cardboard. Don't use newspaper because the paint will soak right through it. Give it three or four light coats. If you think it's not enough, then you have the right amount applied. You don't want the paint to run.

Now go inside and have a drink and relax. In about an hour go out and do it again. When it's done and dry, take the masking off and using your 800-grit sandpaper take off the bulk of the primer leaving it to almost fill the injury. Use some medium rubbing compound to remove any overspray from the surrounding paint. Keep in mind that the primer will shrink in a few days.

Now using the same procedure you used for the primer, mask the area and using your cardboard with the hole spray the matching paint on the injury. Three or four coats about 30 minutes apart should do the trick. Take the masking off and let it dry for 24 hours. Use your medium rubbing compound to take care of the overspray. After a couple of days repeat the process with the clear coat. You might want to give it a light sanding with the 800-grit sandpaper but I think the medium rubbing compound should be enough to get a nice shine out of it.

You might still be able to see the repair, but no one else will notice it unless you point it out.