While the sort of automobile paint scratch varies widely depending on the extent of the damage, there is one common thread that runs across all car scratches: the source. Any scratch on an automobile’s exterior is caused by a material that is tougher or sharper than the region being marred. While the size and shape of the scratch influence the amount of repair required, the fix is determined by the scratch’s depth.

Clear Coat Scratch

The clear coat surface scratch is the most frequent and readily repaired car exterior damage. Clearcoat hairline flaws, unlike “paint spider webbing” and other forms of fracture, form quickly and are usually caused by things like poor car washing procedures and inadequate drying materials.

Rough or filthy sponges, gloves, and cleaning cloths can easily generate clear coat surface scratches, and when rubbed in a circular manner, can leave “swirl markings.” This is why it’s crucial to use a clean cleaning cloth or wash mitt every time, and to avoid buying the cheapest car wash sponge in the store.

Embedded Paint

If a scratch gets through the clear coat, it’s most likely embedded in the paint. Because it can’t be buffed out, DIY solutions start to fall out the window at this level of scratch. Scratches of this magnitude are common when something like another car bumper, a guard rail, or, heaven forbid, a vengeful former lover’s car keys are dragged across the painted surfaces of a vehicle.

Often, all that is required to determine whether or not your vehicle has a paint-embedded scratch is a visual inspection of the damaged area. The gouge went through the clear coat but was unable to reach the primer underneath if there is color within the damage. This brings us to the next stage of car scratching.

Deep Primer

When a scratch penetrates the paint, it becomes nearly impossible to fix, at least from a DIY standpoint. While it may be tempting to address these scratches with a quick paint repair solution such as a “touch-up pen,” scratches of this sort often stay apparent even after being filled in with color-matched paint. Even if you don’t see the paint-filled scratch at first glance, you’ll almost certainly feel it, so plan to spend some money or a lot of time and elbow grease on this repair.

While it is feasible to repair large scratches on your own, knowledge of automotive bodywork is required to blend this kind of scratch into its non-scratched surrounds. On deeper gouges, you’ll find that high-build primers and body filler are typically required, followed by wet sanding and a full respray of the region. So, if this looks a little out of your comfort zone, it’s probably not something you should try on your own.


It’s probably time to take your car to a body shop if you can see the bare metal behind the clear coat, paint, and primer… ASAP.

When metal is exposed to the elements, impurities accumulate that contribute to corrosion and oxidation, which is exacerbated when precipitation joins the party. Once the rainy season arrives, it’s only a matter of time before these uninvited guests entice even more evil individuals, such as rust, to pay them a visit.

Quick Tip: If you discover a metal-deep scratch on your car, a quick DIY remedy using a spray can be loaded with a clear coat that can help prevent rust formation. While this is by no means a permanent solution, a brief spray can keep most impurities and atmospheric moisture out until the damage can be repaired. It may not be attractive, but it is functional.

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