Different Types of Scratches on Cars and How to Fix Them (2023)

A minor car scratch on your car isn't just annoying, it could potentially expose your paint or the metal beneath to the elements and lower the resale value of your vehicle. The good news is that most nicks and scuffs are fixable—provided you have the right tools and know-how.

Prompt car scratch repair is crucial, as delaying will expose the paint or metal underneath to the elements and create further issues down the road. Plus, if selling or trading your car might be a possibility in the future, doing a proper scratch repair is especially important. Bodywork problems, however small, may impact the trade-in estimate you receive.

In this article, you will learn more about the types of car scratches and how they typically happen, as well as how to fix scratches on a car.

How Do Cars Get Scratched?

As soon as an automobile leaves the dealership lot, it's prone to get gouged or nicked in some form or another. Here are five everyday reasons this happens:

Improper Washing

Keeping your ride clean can help preserve its appearance and overall upkeep. A visit to the automatic car wash is quick and easy, but not all establishments are equal. For example, a company may be using ill-maintained brushes that trap dirt and cause car scratch damages as they run along the exterior.

Road Debris

Anytime you're driving behind another motorist, there's potential for small pebbles and stones to be kicked up by the offending vehicle's tires and onto your bumper, hood and even roof, which can leave behind unsightly rock chips. You can't do much to prevent this, other than to leave some space and avoid directly following large trucks wherever possible.

Unintentional Contact

Whether it's rubbing up against the fender with a coat zipper to missing the keyhole while trying to unlock the door, accidents happen. The good news is such mishaps are often simple to remedy.


It's gut-wrenching to discover that someone has purposely taken a sharp object (like a key) and scraped the paint on your vehicle. Unfortunately, this kind of damage is usually quite severe and expensive to repair. If you do face this kind of damage, the Synchrony Car Care™ credit card offers six-month promotional financing available on purchases of $199 or more.


Getting into any manner of a fender bender is obviously going to leave scratches. Unless the contact is truly minor, a professional body shop will certainly have to get involved. New driver? Check out our tips on how to keep you and others on the road safe.

How to Fix Scratches on a Car

Before going into fix-it mode, get to know the four primary methods for how to repair car scratch damage first:


For minor car scratches or surface blemishes—left by fingernails around door handles, for instance—buffing is an easy and inexpensive solution. Simply wash and dry the car, apply liquid scratch remover (typically around $10) or another rubbing compound to a clean microfiber towel and rub against the affected section in a back-and-forth motion for about 60 seconds. Let dry and buff off excess with another towel.


A professional detailing job can make your vehicle look shiny and new, both inside and out. The pros have different polishes, pads, and polishing machines at their disposal—all of which are quick and efficient at removing a thin top layer of the clear coat where a superficial car scratch is, thus levelling the area and leaving it blemish-free.

Car Scratch Repair Kits

If you can feel the scratch by running a fingernail across it, a car scratch repair kit (between approximately $20 to 30 dollars) from an auto supply or repair shop may be needed. Though the contents may differ by brand; generally there will be smooth putty to fill in the cavity, liquid leveller to remove excess putty, clear coat applicator and ultra-fine sandpaper to wet-sand-off any uneven lacquer.

Paint Jobs

If the car scratches are too deep or plentiful, seeing the local body shop may be the right choice. While the most expensive option (costs vary by project and business), such a service involves stripping away the existing paint and applying a fresh coat.

3 Most Common Types of Car Scratches

Finding the right remedy to repair a scratch depends on the type and depth of the car scratch damage. Is it a surface scuff? Or does it expose the metal of the vehicle? The factory finish on modern vehicles is comprised of three layers:

  • A primer sprayed to bare metal panels designed to make the area uniform and ready for the subsequent application.
  • A base semi-gloss color coat, which may contain a more expensive flake or pearlescence on premium models.
  • A clear coat of lacquer adding protection against UV rays and oxidation.

Knowing the layers of your car paint will determine the correct approach to take. If a scratch hasn't penetrated down to the color coat, for example, you shouldn't feel any indentation by gently gliding the back of your knuckle over the blemish.

Below, we've outlined the three most common type of car scratches you're likely to encounter.

1. Marks and Clear-Coat Scratches

Marks and clear-coat scratches affect only the surface and clear coat level of a car's paint job. Because they don't penetrate too deep, these are the simplest types of scratches to fix.

Marks are paint or rubber smudges left on the surface of your car's paintwork when an object (like another car's bumper or the rubber corner of a shopping cart) scrapes your finish but doesn't penetrate the clear coat.

Pro tip: Put some lacquer thinner or acetone on a cloth and the mark should rub off easily. If some of the mark remains, try using a polishing compound or other rubbing compound.

READ MORE: A Primer on Repainting or Retouching Your Car.

Clear-coat scratches are considered minor scratches which only affect the clear coat layer of a car's finish. These are the easiest type of car scratches to repair, as they can be rubbed or polished out without needing to be repainted. Generally, this small scratch can be judged by rubbing your fingernail across it. If it is not deep enough for your fingernail to catch, then it is most likely a clear-coat scratch. Additionally, if you can't see any metal underneath the scratch, it's probably a clear coat scratch.

To fix a clear-coat scratch, use a polishing compound to buff out, or polish, the clear coat.

Pro-tip: Be sure to use a light hand and don't polish too hard, as this could damage the clear coat.

2. Paint Scratches

Paint scratches, or base-coat scratches, extend down into the enamel color layer of your car's finish. Repairing them usually requires rubbing out the scratch with fine-grit sandpaper and an abrasive compound before reapplying a clear coat using an aerosol spray. There are car scratch repair kits that contain all the products necessary to repair paint scratches—just be sure to follow the instructions.

The basic five steps to fix a paint and repair car scratch damage are listed below:

  1. Wash and thoroughly dry your vehicle.
  2. Apply a small amount of scratch remover onto a foam applicator pad.
  3. Rub the scratch remover into the scratched area, gently working it into the scratches.
  4. When finished, buff the area with a clean, dry terry cloth or microfiber cloth.
  5. Finally, polish the area with a paste or wax to restore your car's shine.

Pro-tip:these instructions can vary depending on the car scratch repair kit, which varies in price. Your best bet is to purchase the highest quality scratch repair kit you can afford or consult the employees of an auto parts store for the best option.

3. Deep Scratches (Primer Scratches)

Deep scratches on a car, or primer scratches, extend down into the primer layer and often into the bare metal of your car.

To fix a deep scratch on a car follow these three steps:

  1. Clean and fill the scratch
  2. Apply a new layer of enamel paint and clear coat
  3. Buff
  4. Polish

Pro tip: Use a light hand and don't polish too hard, as this could damage the clear coat. Unless you have expertise in this area, deep scratches are usually best fixed by a professional repair shop. Use the Synchrony Car Care locator to find an auto parts store or repair shop near you that accepts the Synchrony Car Care credit card.

Don’t Delay Dealing With Car Scratch Repair

As we've noted above, keeping your car in tip-top shape on the outside is just as important as on the inside. Use the aforementioned tips to either perform a DIY job or know when to visit a professional car detailer or body shop so the problem doesn't get worse and/or potentially impact trade-in value.

Synchrony Car Care is accepted at more than 1,000,000 auto merchant locations nationwide including parts, repair, gas, services and more. Cardholders can conveniently manage accounts on the web 24/7 with secure access, or by downloading the mobile app.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about car detailing

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