How to touch up paint on a car

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Little scratches from shopping carts and roadside shrubs and so on are the most common way for cars to get damaged. It’s not always worth either the time or money it takes to have a garage clean them up – a garage can take days to paint a car, because of the drying time.

When you’ve got a noticeable scratch you want to fix, you have the option of learning how to touch up paint on a car. That way, you don’t have to do without your car for any time, and you save money.

Minor scratch on car bumper

The process sounds intimidating, but it’s really something anyone can do. You just have to follow the instructions carefully and take your time with the paint.

Touching up minor scratches on cars

You’ll need:

  1. Touch up paint. (For very small scratches, a touch up paint pen may be all you need. For bigger jobs, you’ll need spray paint or a can of paint.
  2. Applicator (this may come with your paint)
  3. Wax removal wipes (only if the car has been waxed since the scratch occurred)
  4. Mild cutting compound

Related: How to Fix Nail Holes in Wall with Toothpaste


  • Match the paint color as best you can to the color and finish of your car. Know the manufacturer’s name for your car’s color before you shop. Hint: you may be able to do some research online to find a matching color.
  • For small scratches, the paint need not be exact to disguise the scratch. For larger scrapes, it will need to be pretty close.
  • Put a tiny bit of paint on a hidden area to test the color. Be sure to shine a light on it from several angles to see if it matches in different lighting.
  • Wash the area you’re going to paint and let it dry completely.
  • If the car has been waxed since the scratch appeared, you will need to remove the wax using wax removal wipes.
  • Dip the applicator into the paint. Wipe off any excess on the inner rim of the container. This is very important, to avoid getting blobs of paint on the finish.
  • Apply the paint by dabbing a tiny bit onto the scratch at a time. You want to use the least paint you can to make the scratch blend in. Multiple thin coats are always better than a thick coat.
  • If you do end up with some blobs of paint (almost inevitable on big scratches), let the paint dry thoroughly, then carefully scrape off the excess with a straight razor blade.
  • Wipe with a mild cutting polish to blend the scratch in.

The scratch should become virtually invisible. At the very least, it will be hard to see unless someone’s looking really closely.


It will take about 24-48 hours for the paint to be completely dry. Keep the car dry during this time by putting it in a garage, under a shelter, or by covering it.

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Last Updated:

October 27, 2023