Auto Detailing

What Are Different Types of Car Scratches – How to Remove It

Noticing a scratch in your car can be baffling and frustrating. No matter how minor the scratch may be, it can impact the overall look of your car. A scratch can make the paint of your car look neglected. If you scratch your car, the trick is to know what are different types of scratches and how to remove it.

A lot of times you may be wondering where the scratch on your car came from. Here are some of the most common causes of scratches on your car:

  • Accidents. Scratches can range from the hardly noticeable ones to ones that can be eyesores. A grocery cart hitting your car or another driver opening his car door into your car. Most major car accidents leave scratches on your car.
  • Minor collisions cause by driving in reverse. Scratches are often caused when you accidentally back into a post in the parking lot, a tree, another car or any object left on the driveway.
  • Debris. Peebles and rocks can easily get on your tires and to your car. Dirt, gravel, stones and other debris in the road that are kicked into the air by other cars driving in front of you or even by your own car can hit your car and cause scratches.
  • Washing the car. Accidental scratches may occur when using abrasive materials on your car.

The paint job is not just to make your car look good and attractive. Its main purpose it to protect the metal components underneath from rust and corrosion that may destroy it. Even if you drive your car under normal circumstances and carefully it is inevitable to have a scratch on your car.

Layers of Car Paint

Your car comes with multiple layers of paint:

  • Primer. This is the neutral and first coat applied on your car. This is a sealant applied to the metal for the paint to adhere well. This clear and hard coating functions to protect the colorants that will be applied.
  • Basecoat. This is the color scheme and is often applied in two to five coats. This layer is more for the beauty than for durability.
  • Clear Coat. Transparent layer for the high-gloss finish. Protects the car paint against paint chips, weathering and scratches.

Reasons to Remove Car Scratches

It is often tempting not to immediately remove car scratches especially if it is only a light scratch. A scratch no matter how light can affect the overall appearance of your car. It is therefore important to remove car scratches as soon as you notice one.

  • Removing car scratches maintains the value of your car. If you plan to sell your car those scratches no matter how light will definitely bring down the selling price of your car. Investing a little time and money to remove scratches will give you a higher ROI. will
  • Removing car scratches protect your car from the elements. The paint of your car is not only for aesthetics. It also protects your car from dirt, snow and rain which can compromise the metal underneath the paint. A deep scratch left unattended can cause the metal to corrode and rust.
  • Removing car scratches keeps your car safe at all times. When scratches are caused by a collision there is a possibility that there are other damages hidden under the scratch that can affect the stability of your car when on the road.

Immediately dealing with scratches in your car can save you a lot of future problems. Scratches start as small problems but when left unattended can cost more money and time to remove.

Different Kinds of Car Scratches

Your car will have a number of scratches in its lifetime. There are different types of scratches and different ways to remove to make your car look as good as new.

A deep scratch may expose the primer. This is simple to remove but you will have to know the exact paint color of your car. There are times when what looks like a big scratch is simply just debris that got on your car from an impact. Some scratches can also be just a raised line caused when an object with a softer coating hits your car.

Whatever type of scratch your car has, there is always a way to remove it. These remedies are easy to do with a bit of time and effort. The most important thing is to deal with the car scratch as soon as you see it.

Before you can remove a scratch, you need to know what type of scratch you are dealing with. Some scratches can only be on the clear coat while some may affect the different layers of paint in your car. The deeper the scratch, the more intense is the method needed to remove it.

Identifying the type of scratch is the first step in removing it. You will need to assess how deep into the multiple paint layers the scratch has penetrated. Experts assess a scratch based on its depth.

Scratches can either be a light scratch or a deep scratch.

I. Light Scratch or Clear Coat Scratch.

This type of scratch is often just in the surface making it easy to remove. It is a superficial scratch or a fine scratch on the clear coat – the top layer of the car paint responsible for protecting it from stresses caused by the environment such as snow, rain, sunshine and other types of weather conditions.

The car paint itself is not damaged by this type of scratch thus it is the easiest to remove. They are often referred to as swirl marks, because they are fine scratches that look like circular swirls. While this type of scratch is easy to deal with, they are usually found everywhere in the clear coat of your car and often come back.

What You Need:

  • Drill with disc pad holder for compounding pad and black polishing pad
  • Abrasive pad
  • Lubricator
  • Scratch remover
  • Rubbing compound
  • Polishing Compound
  • Wax
  • Painter’s tape / masking tape
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Soap and water
  • Denatured alcohol


  1. Clean the surface of the car. This step is to remove all dirt and debris in the area with scratches. Clean the damaged surface with soap and water. Dry the area with a clean microfiber cloth and denatured alcohol.
  2. Place painter’s tape one inch above and one inch below the scratch. This is important especially if the scratch is too close to any plastic or trim.
  3. Lubricate the abrasive pads and the scratch.
  4. Sand the scratch with the abrasive pad until it is no longer visible.  Sanding without first lubricating will cause more scratches. Wet sanding with a lubricant is a must when dealing with scratches rather than dry sanding. Do not apply too much pressure when sanding.
  5. Sand directly on the scratch with only light rubbing motions following its direction. Use a coarse and lubricated abrasive pad.
  6. Re-lubricate the surface of the scratch. Sand the scratch this time with a finer and fully lubricated abrasive pad. Make extra gentle wipes on the scratch also following its direction.
  7. Buff the area you earlier sanded using the drill with compounding pad and rubbing compound. Make sure to rid the surface of the scratch.
  8. Attach black polishing pad with a small amount of scratch remover to the drill.
  9. Take off the painter’s tape.
  10. Polish the compounded area to completely remove the scratch.
  11. Apply polishing compound on a small area in the corner of a microfiber cloth. Position two or three of your fingers behind the microfiber cloth.
  12. Buff the affected area with perpendicular strokes (opposite direction of the scratch). Do around 45 strokes.
  13. Wipe the area with a clean and dry microfiber cloth making sure sanding marks are no longer are visible.
  14. Repeat the process if there are still sanding marks this time using circular motions.
  15. Apply wax on the area of the scratch to bring it to a shine just like the rest your car’s paint.

You can easily remove a light scratch or clear coat scratch by yourself. Deep scratches or scratches on the base coat will require a different removal method.

II. Deep Scratch or Base Coat / Primer Scratch

Deep scratches go deeper in the layers of your car paint. These more serious scratches can go past the clear coat and expose the primer or base coat. Deep scratches may need a fresh layer of top coat that matches the primer and color of your car.

While the scratch exposes the primer, the bottom layer is still not exposed thus your car is still protected from rust.  Aside from removing the scratch you will need to do some paint matching so the repair work is not obvious.

When you run your fingernail perpendicularly on the scratch and it gets caught, you have a deep scratch.

What You Need:

  • Primer paint
  • Touch up paint and clear coat
  • Fine rubbing compound
  • 320, 400 and 1000 grit sandpaper
  • Filler
  • Micro fiber cloths
  • Masking materials
  • Chemical metal conditioner (if bare metal is exposed)
  • Chemical rust remover (if rust is present)
  • Automotive wax
  • Mild soap and water


  1. Clean the surface of the area surrounding the scratch with mild soap and water. Rinse well and dry with a microfiber cloth. This is to remove any old wax so the new paint will properly adhere.
  2. With 400 grit sandpaper get rid of all rust.
  3. Apply a chemical rust remover (follow manufacturer’s instructions).
  4. Sand the area of the scratch using fine grit sandpaper (320). Be careful not to apply too much pressure when sanding because you only want to clean the top layer of the paint to feather down the scratch. You do not want to get through the car paint itself.
  5. Wet sand the affected area with 400 grit sandpaper. After sanding, the surface should be as smooth as the rest of car’s painted surface. If not, not some more sanding.
  6. Spray a thin coat of primer on the affected area. Allow to dry. Apply a second thin coat of primer.
  7. Allow the primer to completely dry.
  8. Do wet sanding on the primer with 600 grit sandpaper. Make sure to only lightly work the sandpaper on the affected area until the primer is smooth. A rough primer will be visible when even after you spray the car paint. If you over-sand the primer, re-apply a thin coat of primer, let it dry and continue sanding.
  9. Allow the primer to completely dry. Wipe the area clean with a microfiber cloth making sure the surface is free of any dust.
  10. Spray a very thin coat of paint on the repaired surface. The paint coat should be thin enough that the repaired surface is still visible. This thin coat of paint will serve as base where the succeeding coats of paint will adhere.
  11. Spray several thin coats of the finish coat just enough to cover the repaired area. Several thin coats will not make the paint sag. A heavy coat can make the paint sag. Allow each thin coat to dry before spraying the next thin coats.
  12. Allow the car paint to dry for a few days or a week.
  13. Gently apply rubbing compound to allow new paint to blend with the existing car paint finish.
  14. Thoroughly clean the entire body of your car and apply a fresh layer of wax.

If you are able to properly apply the new coat of paint, it will not be noticeable that you have made a scratch repair.

III. Paint Scratch

A paint scratch is when the deep scratch removes the primer, clear coat, paint and exposes bare metal. This is the worst type of car scratch. Unlike a light or deep scratch, rust is most likely to form if you do not immediately repair this type of scratch.

With the right tools and materials you should be able to properly remove car scratches in your own garage and make your car look as good as new. The first step to properly deal with car scratches is to know what are different types of scratches and how to remove it.

If you are confident that you can handle the methods of how to remove car scratches mentioned above, go ahead. When in doubt, take your car to a professional car detailing shop. Regardless of who removes the scratches from your car, the end result, when done properly, will get your car in top shape.