How To Touch-Up Car Paint

How To Touch-Up Car Paint


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We’re sorry to break it to you this way, but no matter how careful a driver you are, you’re going to end up with scratches on your car. Whether you run into a bush while yelling at your kid or come out of the supermarket to find a careless driver slammed it with their door, there are times that you’ll find damage that needs fixing.

Thankfully, fixing a small scratch or scuff with touch-up paint is easy business. You can pick up color-matched paint that’s so close to your original paint color nobody can tell the difference, and fixing the damage yourself can save a few bucks in the process. Win, win!

Even though it’s easy work, there are a few things you’ll need to know to get started. The Drive’s editors fully admit that we’ve damaged, and subsequently fixed, our fair share of cars over the years, so let’s get into the weeds and talk about how to fix up your paint like a pro.

You won’t need much paint for the touch-up job.

Car Paint Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Anywhere from ten minutes to several hours, depending on the size of the touch up job

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior – paint

Common Car Paint Problems

Car Paint Safety

Paint can be hazardous stuff, so you’ll need to take care to handle it properly throughout the touch-up process.

Gloves are always a great idea.

Everything You’ll Need To Touch Up Car Paint 

You likely already have many of the supplies you need already sitting in your garage. At a minimum, you should have on hand:

Tool List 

  • Gloves
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Paintbrush
  • Sandpaper
  • Clean microfiber cloths – for drying the vehicle and applying polish

Parts List 

  • Touch up paint
  • Primer
  • Polish solution

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that is also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How To Touch Up Car Paint

Before you get started painting anything, you’ve got to make sure that the paint color you’re using is the right one for your vehicle. The best way to do this is to head to the dealer’s parts counter and order the factory touch up color. The parts manager can look up the proper color, either using your vehicle’s VIN or by using the make, model, and year of the vehicle. 

With that out of the way, we can get started. Let’s do this! 

Prepping the Car for Paint

Priming and Painting the Car

Congrats! You’re done!

Get Help With Touch-Up Car Paint From a Mechanic On JustAnswer 

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Pro Tips To Touch-Up Car Paint

Touching up your vehicle’s paint isn’t open-heart surgery, but it never hurts to have some insider information. Here are a few pro tips:

  • If you’re looking at a touch-up job that is larger than a scratch or small scuff, it’s better to take your car to a pro. Don’t get your feelings hurt. Trying to paint a large spot on your car at home won’t be easy. Even if you’re able to apply the paint smoothly, the colors will be off between the newly painted area and the rest of the vehicle. 
  • If the scratch or other paint damage has allowed rust to build up on the bare metal, make sure that it’s just topical and that it hasn’t “chewed” through the metal. We’re talking about touch up paint here, not complicated body repair.
  • Start small, working as deliberately and as smoothly as possible. Apply both primer and paint in small amounts and add only as needed.

Only work in small areas at a time.

How Much Does It Cost To Touch Up Car Paint 

The good news here is that paint touch up work isn’t a costly endeavor, no matter who performs the job. If you’re crunched for time or just lazy, paying a pro to do the work will only cost between $150 and $250. Doing the touch up at home will run you between $50 and $65, depending on how many of the tools and supplies you already have on hand.

How Often Do You Need To Touch Up Car Paint

If you see a small scratch on your car’s paint that hasn’t penetrated the primer layer, there’s no emergency. You don’t have to run out and get the paint right away. It’s the damage that has caused the bare metal to become exposed that you need to worry about. In other words, unless you’re absolutely crazy about driving a perfect vehicle, touch-ups are only necessary for real paint damage.

Life Hacks To Touch Up Car Paint

We’ll never advocate for doing the bare minimum to get the job done, but working with touch up paint is one of those times when you can get away with a little creativity:

  • On black or silver cars, you can use a sharpie to cover up small imperfections until you can do the real thing. You could even use nail polish in a pinch, but don’t go overboard.
  • Use painter’s tape and your plastic sheeting liberally. You don’t want to get paint on non-damaged parts of your vehicle.
  • When it comes to touch up paint, the dealer is king. They can tell you the exact color you need and can order that paint for you.

Featured Products

Carfidant Black Car Scratch Remover

kwmobile Touch Up Paint Brushes Variety Size

Waterproof Scratch Repair pen 

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: [email protected]

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