How To Touch Up Car Paint
A quick touch-up can make a big difference.
Time needed: 5 minutes, Difficulty: Medium, Cost: $20
The open road is a rough and tumble place for cars. Debris, rocks, weather, and various random hazards can result in fine particles colliding with your paint at high speed and chipping it over time. This leads to nasty spots that make your hardworking car look a little shabby. For those who spurn preventative measures like clear bras, there’s a simple solution to these nicks called touch-up paint.
Any kind of bodywork can seem intimidating, but you can touch up your car paint relatively easily. We’re here to help by demystifying the process and showing you how to do it right for the best results. Let’s begin with a quick review of the safety risks.
The Safety Brief
Because you’ll be working with paint that can stain your hands and get messy, there is some safety gear required. Most of the job will be careful paint application, but some minor sanding can occur for larger touch-up jobs. For this one, you will need a pair of gloves, safety glasses, and a well-ventilated work area.
The Tools & Parts You Need
The parts store haul is pretty simple for this job. You’ll need the equipment for washing your car, as well as the gear for fixing the paint.
- Water hose
- Spray nozzle
- Two buckets
- Two dirt traps
- Microfiber car wash mitt
- Microfiber towels
- Two drying towels or a shammy
- Car wash soap
- General automotive degreaser
- Wheel cleaner
- Wheel brush
If You’re Sanding
- 1500– and 2000-grit sandpaper
- Polishing compound
- Buffer pad or non-scratch cloth
- Wax and grease remover
The Task: How To Touch Up Car Paint
Gather your tools, prepare your workspace, and get to it.
1. Wash your car.
Before any work can be done on the paint of your vehicle, it will need to be clean and free of debris and wax. Give the whole car a decent wash and use degreaser on the chipped areas to remove any wax and grease.
2. Move your car into a well-ventilated area.
Because you’re working with paint, there are some fumes that you should avoid breathing in. Open air isn’t strictly necessary, an open garage will work fine.
3. Identify and clean areas with the paint chips.
To be sure the affected areas are ready to be touched up, take a detail pass with wax and grease remover at the paint chips before filling them in. If there is extra cracking around the chip, peel it off to reveal the full area you’ll need to fill in.
4. Touch up the paint.
Most touch up paint comes with two applicators: a pen and a brush. For small chips the size of a ball bearing or a metal BB, use the pen to gently fill the chip in and level it with the original paint surface. Less is more should be the approach, because you cannot remove excess paint easily. Take your time and use as little paint as possible to cover the chip.
For larger chips around the size of a coin, use the brush end to gently and methodically fill in the area. Wait for the paint to dry to determine if sanding it is required to level the finish. If it is, take 1500-grit wet sandpaper and gently work the area until level. Finish it with 2000-grit wet sandpaper, and polish with paint polishing compound. Most of the time, this won’t be required.
FAQs About Touch-Up Paint
We can’t read your mind, but we want to try to answer any questions you have before you start the job. We’ve selected common points of confusion from our experience, as well as commonly asked questions from popular search results. We answered those questions below.
Q. Does touch-up paint actually work?
A. While touch-up paint will never be as good as a professional respray in absolute quality, it can work extremely well and be nearly imperceptible if done correctly. In other words, it works fine.
Q. Do I need to sand before touch-up paint?
A. No. Sanding is only for finishing more extreme touch-up jobs, never to prepare for one. Pre-sanding is generally done for true respray jobs.
Q. Is it worth using touch-up paint?
A. Yes. It is a budget solution to an expensive cosmetic repair and does not make future resprays any more expensive. If done well, it is invisible to most people. Additionally, if the chips go down to the metal, that could potentially leave the car vulnerable to rust, so it’s best to treat the wounds.
Q. How long does touch-up paint last?
A. As long as the normal paint.
Q. Will touch-up paint match my color?
A. Ideally, it should. Nearly every common automotive color has been expertly color-matched and reproduced for touch-up purposes. As long as you choose the correct paint, it should match well.
Learn More About Touch-Up Paint From This Helpful Video Tutorial
This process can be somewhat intimidating, and I alway benefit from watching a video. The folks over at 1A Auto have a useful clip that shows how to use touch-up paint correctly. 1A has many useful videos and years of experience in instructional auto repair, and it’s an excellent resource.
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