You could pay a professional hundreds of dollars for a car scratch repair, or to remove swirl marks and other blemishes from the body of your car. Or you could make the fixes yourself and use the money you save on weekly car washes, which will go a long way toward preventing scratches from happening in the first place.
Start by giving your car a thorough cleaning with soap and water. Once it’s dry, take note of any imperfections. Light scratches and swirl marks — those light circular scuffs that are often caused by dirty cloths or poorly-maintained drive-through car washes — can usually be treated with an over-the-counter scratch remover. While effective, these products can take some getting used to, so try them out first on an inconspicuous area of the car, such as a door jamb.
You can also remove light scratch marks with a combination of sandpaper and rubbing compound, which requires slightly more finesse Start by cleaning the surface, then gently sand down the scratch with ultrafine sandpaper (2000 to 3000 grit), available at auto parts stores. To help the sandpaper glide smoothly over the scratch, dip it into a cup of water with a few drops of dish detergent. Continue sanding in light, short strokes until the scratch is just about gone. Then dry the area and buff it with rubbing compound and a soft terry cloth towel.
Deeper scratches, where the underlying metal is exposed, will need to be repainted. The first step is to determine your car’s color code. Check your manual for the location of the color identification plate, which could be under the hood or under the trunk carpet. Once you’ve identified the code, call around to car dealerships and auto parts stores in the area for one that sells touch-up paint in your car’s color. The paint typically comes in a small bottle with a built-in applicator brush. A small, pointed artist’s brush can also be used to cover a scratch by applying tiny dabs of paint.
Give the paint a day or so to dry. Then it’s time to polish, which will give your car a high shine and minimize any fine surface scratches that accumulate. Electric buffers sell for around $40, but they can cause marks or even burns if you don’t know what you’re doing. Try an old T-shirt or microfiber cloth instead and use a polish that’s safe for clear-coat finishes, which most cars have today.
As for larger dents, those are tough to tackle on your own. You should consider paying a pro for a so-called “paintless” dent removal, whereby dents are massaged out from the inside with special tools. Removing a golf-ball-sized dent might set you back $50. Results vary with skill, so get a referral from someone who’s used the service before.
Once your car has its showroom sheen back, take steps to prevent future scratches and imperfections. If you do the recommended weekly washing by hand, use a clean sponge or sheepskin mitt, rather than an abrasive cloth; dry the car with a clean chamois or terrycloth towels. Never drag objects across the body, since even something as soft as a paper grocery bag can lead to scratches.