How to Repair Car Paint Chips
Car paint chip repair is easy to take on, as long as you can find the right paint—and let your layers dry.
Stone chips detract from the appearance of your car but also can provide toeholds for rust to begin. You may not be able to make your car’s finish look showroom new but, with a reasonable level of competence, you can make your car look much better without resorting to an expensive trip to the body shop.
Step 1: Touch Up Kits
Duplicolor has simple touch up kits that you can buy at your local auto parts store. You can also buy more involved touch up kits and supplies online. For example, the kit I bought from from Paint Scratch came with primer, color VIN matched paint, clear, paint thinner and a bottle of rubbing compound. These kits are more expensive and have more steps, but are they worth the extra money and time? I will evaluate which gets the best results. Note: This DIY informational article presumes you have the necessary skills to properly and safely use the materials and methods shown.
Step 2: Check the Door
To ensure getting the correct shade of paint, the paint code for your vehicle needs to be identified. On most modern cars since 1983, this information may be found on a sticker on your door or elsewhere. To be absolutely sure of a match, the paint vendor may also need your VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) that is also on your door sticker and your VIN plate on your dash.
Step 3: Preparation is Key
Preparation is the key to getting good results. You’ll need very fine 1000-grit, 3M Wet-or-Dry sandpaper, various craft sticks, cotton swabs, splinter tweezers, glue dots, various paper punches. All except the tweezers were found at my local craft store.
Step 4: Making Your Sanders
You want to keep sanding outside the boundary of the chip to a minimum. Use the punches to cutout small sandpaper circles and glue them to the craft sticks and dowels. I found a $1.99 bag of wooden axles that had a nice rounded end that fit larger chips.
Step 5: Wash the Car
First, wash the car clean of dirt with warm soapy water, rinse thoroughly and dry.
Step 6: Remove any Build-Up
Next remove any wax, grease and silicone that will prevent the paint from adhering. Acryli-Clean by Ditzler is available at professional body shop stores.
Step 7: Filling Small Chips
For very small chips, the Duplicolor paint pen was the best choice. The small tip allowed easy filling of the divot. I found it best to fill slightly proud of the surface to allow for shrinkage during drying. Any slight excess can be wet sanded down and then rubbed out. Most stone chips are probably on your hood leading edge. To prevent runs, you’ll find lifting the hood, until the chip is horizontal to the ground, will keep the paint centered while drying.
Step 8: For Medium Chips
For medium size chips the brush applicator was needed. I first cleaned out loose debris and paint with the sharp tip tweezers.
Step 9: Apply the Primer
I applied the primer with the applicator brush as directed. It’s important to read and follow the instructions. Your results may vary depending on your level of skill, materials used, color and type of paint.
Step 10: Apply the Paint
After the primer cured, I applied the paint. The result wasn’t too bad from about 6 feet away. Wet sanding, application of the clear, wet sanding again, then rubbing out improved the result to about 3 feet depending on your eyesight and amount of sunlight. You’ll have to decide how much work you want to invest vs the ever diminishing results.
Step 11: For Large Chips
On larger chips and those that have a rust colony growing, use the splinter tweezers or a fine dental pick to flake off any loose paint. You must be very careful because you can easily turn a small chip into a large one. If you don’t remove the loose paint, the paint will eventually flake off on it’s own and spoil the repair.
Step 12: Remove Rust
Use CLR or equivalent to dissolve and remove rust. Repeat application until the swab comes up clean. Rinse with Isopropyl Alcohol. If you don’t remove all the rust, the paint won’t properly adhere and the rust will spread under the paint. A colleague told me about Ultra One’s Safest Rust Remover.
Step 13: Sand the Edges
Carefully sand the edges until “feathered”. You don’t want sharp edges which will make the repair look more obvious. The curved shape of the wood axle give a slight depression tapering up to the paint surface. You’ll want to do this “dry” because water will restart the rust process. The wet or dry sandpaper will clog quickly when used dry but the adhesive dots will make changing sanding circles easy.
Step 14: Apply Leverage
Using the edge of the flat wood sand stick will apply more leverage, but don’t sand too far outward or you’ll sand through the clear coat and make the spot more noticeable.
Step 15: Apply the Primer
Carefully apply the primer from the center outward. You don’t want to go beyond the edge. If you do, use a cotton swab moistened with lacquer thinner to quickly wipe up the excess. Keep all the supplies close at hand on a small table. You don’t want to have to go searching and fumbling after a mistake. The paint doesn’t stay liquid for long.
Step 16: Let the Primer Dry
Let the primer dry to full cure. Depending on temperature this may take a while. Patience is the key to good results. Budget enough time to let the primer solvent evaporate before covering it with paint.
Step 17: Wet Sanding
Once the primer has dried, you can wet sand it to prepare the primer base for paint. Once again, don’t sand too far from the center or you will sand through the surrounding paint’s clear coat. Sanding through the clear is especially bad if your car is dark colored or has metallic paint. I used a stronger, water resistant adhesive for my wet sanding sticks. It’s non- removable but you won’t need to change sandpaper as often when wet sanding. I pre-made 3 sticks with sand paper circles on each end for a total of 6 wet sanders.
Step 18: Steady Hands
Painting a chip this large with a brush isn’t ever going to give you a factory finish. Steady hands and a sparing amount of paint on the brush worked best. I made the mistake of painting too soon after a second coat of primer. The solvent in the paint began to dissolve the primer and thin swirls of gray mixed into the white. Let dry.
Step 19: Add Clear Coat
Repeat wet sanding until smooth. Next, I brushed on some of the supplied clear coat. Like the paint, it is lacquer based, thin and quick drying. In this picture you can see the boundary between the new lacquer and the original enamel. My original sanding wasn’t tapered enough for a good blend. I’m going to try to resist the temptation to sand it down one more time. The trick is to know when to quit.
Step 20: Building Up Layers
I’m a perfectionist, not a quitter. After a sanity break, I sanded the spot back down to primer with a 360 grit, Wet-or-Dry. To keep within the repair zone, the circle was trimmed to the radius of the stick. After repainting and drying, I wet sanded with 1000 grit. Then I clear coated and wet sanded again. This tedious process slowly built up the new layers of paint to the original surface.
Step 21: Use Rubbing Compound
Once the repair is flush to the rest of the paint, take the rubbing compound and polish the area with a clean, cotton cloth. Wash the area to clean off all the rubbing compound, rinse and dry. I would let the repair continue to cure for about a week before waxing your car.
Step 22: All Done
All Done! Here is the same area where the large chip was (without any photoshopping). It won’t fool a concours judge, but it is a big improvement. In summary, the Duplicolor paint pen was the easiest to use on small chips. The color didn’t match as well as the other VIN matched paint but it was a bargain at around $10. The $90 kit from Paint Scratch was better for larger chips but required a tremendous amount of sweat equity, extra materials and the learning curve was steep. If you make a decent wage, it may be better to just have your hood repainted at a paint shop and work some overtime to pay for it. I was quick quoted about $300 to have my hood repainted. Doing spot repair myself cost about $150 in materials and about 20 hours labor over a weeks time.