Car Paint Protection:
The Ultimate Guide to Protect Car Paint From Scratches
You may know how to effectively repair your automotive paint if and when it suffers from scratches, but an even more important bit of knowledge is how to protect your auto paint against scratches and other threats in the first place. Not only will car paint protection save you effort, time, and money, it will help to ensure the long-term value and safety of your vehicle. There are many forms of vehicle paint protection, all varying in how they are applied.
- Forms of Car Paint Protection
- Car Paint Maintenance
- How to Remove Scratches from Car Paint
- Preserving your Car Paint After Repairs
Forms of Car Paint Protection
One of the simplest answers to the question of how to protect car paint from scratches is clear coat spray paint. Really, this is a second layer of paint for your car, since clear coast is exactly that: clear. The product is paint with no coloring, though it may contain some properties that help preserve the pigmented automotive paint beneath, such as UV protection.
While a few vehicles have what is known as “single-stage paint,” which is an auto paint combined with protective enamel. The vast majority of cars and trucks, however, have the two layers: a base with color and a clear coat on top of that.
Like all automotive paint, the clear coat can be damaged by corrosive chemicals (like those found in bird droppings) and nicks and scratches. Clear coat spray paint can be used to restore the protective outer layer in areas where it has gone missing. This can be followed by an application of paint sealant, which is something like an amped-up car wax. Dealers may offer sealant, but as with many features available from the seller, you can also easily apply it at home.
PAINT PROTECTION FILM
While these thin layers of paint and wax do create some vehicle paint protection, serious efforts to prevent scratches need to involve some thicker barriers. One of the most common and effective methods is the use of paint protection film. This is a thin layer of clear material, often only millimeters thick, that can be smoothed out over just about any stretch of surface on the vehicle, serving as a shield against flying debris, grit, sand, chemicals, and other auto paint-destroying elements. The focus is on what are known as high-impact areas, as these are the places where the automotive paint is most likely to come into contact with flying projectiles.
Scotchguard™ 3M paint protection film is one option, and is cut to work with the curves and angles of various vehicles, conforming to the body to create a tight seal and providing auto paint protection while remaining virtually invisible. This film is also known as a clear bra, and can be found from several manufacturers. Another popular brand is XPEL®, which offers pre-cut kits that protect the bumper, headlights, fenders, hood, mirrors, and more.
Common areas for 3M clear bra application include the bumper, the leading edge of the hood and bed; key spaces on the door, such as the handle, sill, opening, and edge; and the rocker panel and wheel flare. Advanced forms of automotive paint protection film have a “self-healing” capability that erases visible signs of many scratches, nicks, and dings.
Paint Protection Film Installation
- Installing paint protection film at home calls for similar steps as waxing and painting on clear coat: Ensure that the automotive paint is cool, dry, and clean. We mean really clean. Use an adhesive remover to eliminate all traces of gunk and goo on your auto paint, then use a glass cleaner to remove all traces of the adhesive remover. It’s recommended to do all of this on a day with no wind, as gusts could blow new debris onto an otherwise pristine car paint job.
- With everything clean, including your hands, apply a mixture of soap (3M recommends four drops of baby shampoo in 16 ounces of water) to the top and bottom layers of the section of 3M paint protection film to be installed, your fingers, and the surface of the vehicle. Follow a provided pattern guide to ensure proper placement, then carefully squeegee off all of the soap, pressing firmly to squeeze it out from between the protection film and the automotive paint itself.
- If the clear bra needs to be stretched to properly hug the surface beneath, spray a little mixture of three parts water to one part rubbing alcohol onto the center of the adhesive side of the film, then press it onto the desired location. This will hold the middle of the piece of film into place and allow you to press and stretch the rest with your palm and squeegee it once it’s in place.
- Be sure to keep everything wet with the soapy solution throughout the installation process, paying particular attention to your hands to avoid leaving any fingerprints on the paint protection film.
- Carefully wipe everything down and check for air bubbles or other places where the clear bra may have not fit perfectly. The film can be peeled off within a five-minute window and reapplied as necessary for best results.
- Once set, the paint protection film can be removed if desired, simply by lifting it and pulling it away from the body, possibly with the use of a steamer or heat source (such as a hair dryer) if necessary.
Another automotive paint protection method is car wrapping, which is frequently done to give a vehicle a new look without applying a whole new layer of automotive paint. Car wraps are typically vinyl, and they cover the body by adhering to the existing paint job, as do many protective layers. People choose car wrapping to spruce up the look of their ride, changing the finish from glossy to matte or the color from dark to light. Since the vinyl can be printed with just about any graphics, vehicle wraps may also be used to advertise a product or service.
Obviously, any layer applied over the automotive paint will serve as paint protection, though car wrapping probably works best as a choice for people who don’t just want to preserve their paint, but who want an entirely new look.
Vehicle paint protection doesn’t have to involve the entire car from front to back, either. A particularly vulnerable area on cars and trucks is the door edge, where nicks, chips, and dings can happen whenever the door opens into something hard and unyielding. ProtektoTrim door edge guards from Cowles Products can be easily applied to any edge, offering a literal line of defense to keep the paint there looking as good as the day it was first applied—and preserving the integrity of the metal beneath.
Learn more about Door Edge Guards:
How to Choose Door Edge Guards
Car Paint Maintenance
Why should you care about keeping an eye out for birds and trees over parking spaces, frequently washing your car, or finding the best car wax or polish for your automotive paint? Because maintenance is important.
Every day you’re washing your hair, brushing your teeth, throwing a load of laundry into the washer or dryer, scrubbing your face, cleaning your dishes—the list is long, but the work is essential, because it ensures that the stuff that plays an important role in your life continues to do what it’s supposed to do. Leaving gummy residue or stains to sit can ruin a shirt or cause a cavity, which can lead to costly repairs and even painful situations.
Similarly, your automotive paint requires regular maintenance so it can continue to do its job of protecting the metal beneath from deterioration. Plus, unblemished auto paint just looks good.
You can work to protect your auto paint from scratches and even remove scratches from your car paint job in scenarios where your best efforts still let something through, but a huge component of proper car care is routine maintenance. This means frequent checks and inspections of your overall automotive paint; proper washing and cleaning; applications of Turtle Wax, carnauba wax, or some other car wax; applications of car polish; and even the regular use of car covers if you frequently park outdoors.
Proper maintenance involves avoiding damage from any number of automotive paint-threatening elements likely found around your area. Do your best to keep away from everything on the following list, or at least be prepared to remove it quickly if it makes contact with your car paint job.
- Caffeinated beverages. Drinks like coffee and soda are acidic, which means they will start eating away at the clear coat or car paint job if spilled onto your vehicle. If someone stumbles and dumps 32 ounces of cola or the morning’s latte run onto your hood, don’t wait to sop it up and wash off the residue.
- Stomach acid. Yes, we won’t go into detail about how this corrosive substance might wind up on the outside of your car, but if someone does happen to, say, lose their lunch all over your trunk, do more than just spray it off with a hose. For the best car care, wash that paint-eating stain off as soon as possible.
- Bird droppings. They rule the skies, so staying out from under their daily business is a difficult endeavor, but there are ways to minimize the toll birds take on your automotive paint. Avoid parking under trees or other places where birds like to roost. When pulling your car, truck, or van into a spot, check to see whether the ground is spattered with telltale signs of a perch above that may be favored by passing flocks. In the inevitable instance you do get hit, wash the mess off at your first opportunity, since—like so many things on this list—the stuff can ruin the look and integrity of your vehicle.
- Non-car-cleaning chemicals. Certain liquids and waxes are specially formulated to make your car paint job shine and to protect it so it keeps shining. But other fluids and compounds have the opposite effect. Gasoline is a common culprit, since most of our rides don’t move without it. Avoid spilling it onto your paint while you’re filling ‘er up, but if you do happen to accidentally drip some gas where it doesn’t belong, take care to clean it up.
- Finger swipes. You may run your finger along your door to see exactly how grimy it is. Trust us car care experts: If you’re considering doing that test, your car is dirty. Or some joker may use a thumb to create a happy face or “Wash Me!” plea in the accumulated dust on the rear of your vehicle. Though the dirt particles that accumulate on your car or truck body are small, they can still attack the paint with an abrasive fury—especially if they’re pushed in and scratched along, leaving a trail of tiny gouges in their wake.
- Dead insects. No one can predict where insects will appear, from large beetles or moths to clouds of tiny, swarming flies. You will collect hundreds, thousands, millions? of dead bugs on your car as you drive from place to place, so you should remember that everything that was once inside those beetles, moths, and flies will end up outside—and on your automotive paint. Left to bake, stick, and generally create a sticky hazard, these bug bodies can do more than just annoying, so get rid of them.
- Ash. If there’s a wildfire sending bits of white, gray, or black floating down onto your car like some sort of nightmarish snow, you have to be careful, as mixing it with water can create a paint-ruining alkali solution. Use a dry duster, then a special car wash solution. To better avoid this scenario, consider car covers to guard against whatever falls.
- Tree sap. Similar to avoiding birds, stay out from under trees that leak the sticky stuff known for trapping bugs and ruining a spotless vehicle body. If you have to park under a drippy branch, car covers can help in this case, too. (Pro tip: Also avoid using any insects found inside the sap to clone dinosaurs. If summer movies have taught us anything, that experiment never ends well—and often results in the total destruction of one or more vehicles.)
We understand that you won’t always be able to keep an eye on your car, fully scope out the hazards where you plan to park it, or immediately jet to a hand car wash if something spatters on your hood.
Best Car Wax | Carnauba Wax
To give your automotive paint some extra protection, apply a coating of the best car wax you can buy about four times a year. Turtle wax or another brand of carnauba wax will create another layer of protection against the gross stuff mentioned above, as well as give your car a glossy shine. You’ll want to follow the instructions that come with the particular car wax you choose, but in general, remember these tips for waxing your vehicle by hand:
- Keep it clean. Wash your car, then dry it thoroughly. You don’t want any grime or even water left on the automotive paint before you start waxing.
- Keep it cool. A hot car in the sun may cause the car wax to dry too quickly, so work in the shade if possible.
- Keep it simple. Starting with too much wax can create streaks. Put on a single, thin, even coat of car wax, then buff it off.
Machine waxing is a bit more complicated, but not much, and will still follow the same basic principles. However you choose to apply car wax, remember that a little effort every few months can potentially add years to the life of your car paint job.
How to Remove Scratches from Car Paint (without breaking a sweat)
Scratches in your car paint are practically inevitable. You can implement a vehicle paint protection strategy or three, maintain the clear coat with regular washes and applications of Turtle Wax, and do everything in your power to avoid the impact of flying rocks, airborne sand, and careless passengers opening their doors near tall curbs.
Still, we’re all one runaway shopping cart away from needing to look into car paint repair. Your automotive paint may be well protected, but it’s not totally invincible, and a car scratch remover might be necessary. The best scratch remover, though, depends on the scratch itself. Before deciding how to restore your paint job to its pristine state, you need to determine how deep the scratch is and which layers it has penetrated.
A thin line or patch that is visible but consistent in color is likely just an issue involving the clear coat or auto paint. A close examination should be able to help you determine whether it’s simply the transparent outer coating that’s damaged, or whether the problem extends to the actual pigmented coat.
A scratch that reveals a different color is a bigger problem, as it could reveal that the gouge extends down to the primer below your automotive paint, or even to the underlying steel. Such deep cuts can be repaired, but are more difficult to do so on a DIY basis.
Starting with the most shallow marks in the outermost layer, car scratch repair may be as easy as getting some fresh clear coat into place and polishing it so it shines like the rest of your vehicle.
A product such as Meguiar’s ScratchX® allows you to “soften” the edges of hard, angular lines cutting into the clear coat by using a “micro-abrasion system” that attacks fine lines and fingernail marks without hurting the surrounding car paint job. This is a quick way to address visible scratches and other blemishes without getting too immersed in the process. Some people don’t much care for this method, while others swear by it and point to impressed comments from onlookers as proof of its efficacy.
Turtle Wax® Scratch Repair Kit
Ready-made scratch remover packages are also available to make this task a simple one, and can handle a variety of chips and scrapes that impact the clear coat and paint. The Turtle Wax® Scratch Repair Kit, for instance, includes a car scratch remover pen containing a quick-drying resin that fills in lines.
As with most maintenance and repair work involving automotive paint, the vehicle should be clean, dry, and cool before this project begins. When it comes time to fill the scratch, the resin should be applied evenly and thinly, then allowed to dry for about 10 minutes. Wait another 24 hours for it to cure before any waxing or polishing for added protection and shine.
A small container of touch up car paint can also be applied as needed. Some dealerships will include a bottle of this in the same color as your car paint job so you can quickly and easily take care of scratches yourself. If you don’t have a container on hand, you can use color matching to order some paint that perfectly matches your car paint job. Warning: Do not just eyeball this. One red is not like the other. Same with glossy whites, matte blacks, and any other color a car can be. Many vehicles will have a color code, which will reveal the exact shade and type of paint used on your vehicle. Use this code and this code only, and if you can’t find one, contact a professional to help you determine what your exact paint match would be. Car paint repair is only as good as how invisible the scratch is at the end of the task. While a new coat of paint will protect the metal underneath, your automotive paint will look best if it’s all the same color—not a mostly uniform field with a line of almost-matching pigment drawing every eye to it.
Deep cuts that reveal layers below the paint may need to be covered with primer before any base coat is painted on, so be sure to address this before beginning the actual touch up process. Again, you can see whether primer is necessary by examining the scratch for signs that it extends below the paint. A glint of steel is a sure signal that this is more than just a surface paint job.
If the cut is fairly shallow, or after primer has been applied as necessary, remember this basic tip when it comes to automotive paint. Rather than spreading a thick glob of the touch up car paint around, lay down a single, thin layer, and then apply additional coats. You’ll want to do the same thing with the clear coat, but wait for the base coat to dry overnight before adding the transparent protective layer.
PRESERVING YOUR CAR PAINT AFTER REPAIRS
A few days after repairing a scratch, you can bring a beautiful shine to your automotive paint by going over it with a rubbing compound. Keeping your paint job looking fantastic is a mix of repairs and maintenance, so don’t let your hard work sit unappreciated. After a month, you can wax your car again, further adding to that lustrous shine and restarting the process of providing paint protection.
Remember: A little effort goes a long way. Scratches left unrepaired may seem like a minor annoyance, but your car paint job can be jeopardized as jagged lines or circular divots in the clear coat and paint give the elements access to layers where they have no business being. Anything that takes away some of your car’s protective outer coatings—be it a scuff, scratch, gouge, chip, scrape, nick, pit, or spot—should be addressed before the problem becomes something worse.
Years from now, when your car looks as good as (or better than) the day you first brought it home, you’ll be glad for every car paint repair job you took care of, and for the reliability and attractiveness of your vehicle.