Who Needs Touch-Up Paint When You Have a Sharpie?

It's not perfect, but it works.

The garage is my sanctuary, one where I can block out the noise, settle down, and decompress. Any issues I encounter are seen through a rosy filter because they are understood as problems resulting from passion on the path toward a clean, well-maintained vehicle. It’s one of my happy places, and I’m usually at ease with dirty hands and a mess of tools by my side.

I get none of those feelings in my current garage setup. I feel only anxiety and dread, constantly recalling the time I cosmetically injured my Satin Silver Metallic 2003 Acura RSX.

About two years ago, I moved into a new apartment complex in Chicago. In 1902, the building was a factory for engraving and printing money. In 2003, it was transformed into condominium lofts and an underground garage. To access private parking, cars must navigate an entrance ramp at the back of the building that squeezes into tight quarters with lines painted everywhere they could find space. Before I even moved in, I knew maneuvering around vehicles and load-bearing pillars would require slow and careful driving. 

Car-obsessed snoop that I am, I was immediately impressed by the stable of cars in the community garage. Although there were used Jeeps, Toyota Camrys, Subaru Foresters, Mazda3s, and Honda Accords, there was also a healthy serving of luxury badges nestled into the basement-level parking spots. I admired the BMW M4 and X5, the Audi SQ5, the fourth-gen Mercedes-Benz SL, the Miami Blue Porsche Macan, the frumpy Bentley Bentayga, and the stunningly gorgeous brand-new Volvo S60 and XC60. It seemed fairly easy to surmise who was likely an owner and who was a renter (like me). 

I also noticed a peculiarity. Many corners of the square support posts were covered by duct-taped pool noodles, doormats, towels, and various other types of makeshift protection. Closer inspection revealed that a majority of the vehicles were scratched, scraped, and dented, apparent victims of reckless parking attempts. “Amateurs,” I thought to myself. “How could you not be more careful with $50,000 to $100,000 cars?” 

Then came the day when I became a parking amateur.

If I pull into my parking space, the only way to escape is by shifting between reverse and first gear about 13 times. I start by reversing at a slight angle, inches from the concrete post on the left and inches from the always-washed W211 Mercedes-Benz E-Class on the right. I pull back until the nose is nearly even with the post and then turn the wheel and slowly creep out of the space. At that point, I basically Austin Powers my way out. The problems with going back and forth when parking are fixation, relaxation, assumption, or a bad combination of all three. 

Who Needs Touch-Up Paint When You Have a Sharpie?
Look closely, and you’ll find the scratch. (Photo: Tony Markovich)

Only a couple of months into my stay at the new place, I was reversing to get out of my spot when I flubbed it. I assumed I was clear of the post, so I began cranking the wheel and turned my head to keep an eye on the Honda Fit behind me. I was so focused on not hitting the car, however, I scraped the driver’s side corner of my front bumper on the corner of the concrete pillar. I stopped immediately, but it was too late. A spotty thin black line now marred the front of my car. I nearly puked in agony.

I made a stupid mistake, and my car’s paint paid for it. 

My RSX is clean for its age, but it’s no museum-grade collectible. Driving around the country, as well as living in Los Angeles, Chicago, and a college town, has brought about plenty of nicks, door dings, rock chips, and weather wear. It was also involved in an unspecified rear-end crash (which was fixed) before I took ownership. So, some light exterior damage is painful, but it’s not a catastrophe. 

Despite those imperfections, I like my car to look nice, but I don’t need it to be in 10-out-of-10 perfect condition. I’ve learned to embrace it because that’s how life works, and overstressing isn’t worth it. I wear my collection of sneakers and I drive my car, and they get dirty and worn as a result. 

After the initial shock of my blunder wore off, I assessed my next moves. A true perfectionist would completely redo the bumper, but only people with zero money worries would do that. The more common option would be touch-up paint, and if your damage is on a metal panel as opposed to plastic like my bumper, you want to use touch-up paint. Its primary purpose is to protect and prevent oxidation and degradation, followed by making it look good. 

But with plastic underneath my paint, I wasn’t too worried about rust, and I didn’t feel like spending money for something that probably would look like paint globbed on my bumper. So, I opted for a fix I started with my old vehicles, a black Acura Integra and a black Chevrolet Camaro. I used a Sharpie. 

Sharpie makes a metallic silver marker that looks pretty darn close to Acura’s Satin Silver Metallic. After cleaning off the area, I simply used single-line strokes and a dabbing motion to cover the black plastic. (If you use this method, try not to scribble the marker on. The stroke lines will make it look worse.) 

And that’s it. I covered the mark with a $2 permanent marker. My mistake is no longer a glaring error; it’s just one of those little things I know about my car that nobody else does. And because I’m colorblind, my shade-perception-deficient self can’t really tell the difference anyway. Without having to even leave home, the “repair” was done, and I felt ready to audition for a Flex Seal commercial. 

This method isn’t without its limitations, however. This is essentially a Dollar Store fix, and it will look like a Dollar Store fix. Don’t expect some as-seen-on-TV miracle. The marker will cover up the scratch so it looks good from far away. If anyone inspects it up close, it will be obvious what’s going on there. 

It’s also not going to last. Permanent marker is still vulnerable to Earth’s vicious elements, especially intense UV radiation and acidic rain. With a black marker, the color will lighten and fade into a streaky purplish shade as time passes. You will need to keep the marker in your car and add fresh coats occasionally. Still not a big deal, but some people won’t care to stay on top of the upkeep. 

The Sharpie’s final limitations are size and color. This trick primarily works with vehicles devoid of vibrant hues or interesting paintwork. It works for tiny lines on black and silver cars, but it might not work for blue, yellow, or orange cars, and it certainly won’t work on anything thicker or bigger than the width of a pencil.

I still sometimes get grumpy when I enter my garage, the sound of a scraping bumper pinging around inside my head, but I feel better knowing I didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg or take much time to remedy the issue to my standards. I’m typically somebody who needs to make things perfect. In this case, a Sharpie was all I needed. Well, that and a couple of pool noodles. 

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Tony Markovich

Tony MarkovichTony has a thing for pop-up headlights. His first car was a $3,000 1996 Saturn SC2 Coupe, and his current project is a 1970 Opel GT junker. When he's not daydreaming about the Cadillac Sixteen, he's watching the Chicago Bulls go undefeated on TNT. Contact the author here.