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Removing small dents and scratches at home

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Small parking dings and scratches can be incredibly annoying, detracting from the look of your car and potentially knocking hundreds off its value when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It can also be tricky to know what to do about it, because minor cosmetic damage isn’t usually worth putting in an insurance claim for, and yet a professional repair can be costly.

If you feel confident enough to try a home fix, it can be a cheap solution that can fix the unsightly damage. However, if you haven’t already tried something similar before, we’d recommend trying out the technique on an older car first, or even picking up an old body panel from a scrap yard or auction site to practice on. If there’s any fear the damage could be made worse, it’s always best to consult an expert.

Light scratches and swirl marks

It’s easy to pick up very light scratches whilst driving, if you ever need to pull into an overgrown roadside to let another car pass for example, or even when cleaning the car. Mechanical car washes and any dirt or tiny grit particles in a bucket of car shampoo can leave small swirl marks in the paint.

To remove these you’ll need a polishing compound, which can be applied using a foam applicator pad and then buffed off by hand, or by using an electric hand polisher. Check the instructions on the bottle, and be sparing with the amount of polish – a little goes a long way and you don’t want to burn through the paint. Most minor scratches are in the clear layer of lacquer above the paint surface, and it will be possible to tell if you’re polishing beyond this and into the paint layer if the applicator pad starts to turn the same colour as the car.

Once any scratches are removed, and the panel has a mirror finish, don’t forget the polishing process will have removed any protective products from the surface. This can be restored by adding a car wax, and again buffing it off (depending on the individual product). This will help protect the paint from harmful dirt and ultraviolet rays, and when it rains the water should bead off easily.

Deeper scratches

For scratches like a light graze in a car park, or against a post or another vehicle, it may still be possible to use a similar method to before, but using a dedicated scratch remover. First take a look at the scratch, because if it has exposed bare plastic or metalwork beneath, it’s too serious for this solution to work. If not, a scratch remover works in the same way as polish, but tends to be slightly more abrasive.

If the scratch is too deep to be buffed out, a scratch repair kit is the next step. These can come in generic colours, or they can be matched precisely to your car’s paint colour. For the latter, you’ll need to check the exact paint colour code for your car (sometimes found on the door pillar of your car) and order the corresponding repair kit. When it arrives, it should include all the paint, brushes, polish and tools required to do the job.

Most will require you to paint the scratch first using the matching paint and a small brush or applicator, then add a layer of clear coat. Once they’re dry, you’ll then need to polish the area to create a seamless finish, before applying protective wax.

Removing small dents

If a shallow dent is in an accessible area, like on a door panel or bonnet, the easiest method for a fix is often to use a suction cup. A cheap plunger can work, or you can pick up a dedicated ‘dent puller’ suction device with a handle for less than £10 online, or from your local motor factors. The latter will give you a better grip and more purchase, so should prove more effective.

You’ll want to ensure the dent and suction device are clean first to help prevent scratches, and getting both the dent and suction pad wet can help get a good seal. Next, simply pull (sometimes pushing and pulling helps too) and with any luck the dent will just pop out.

If the dent is in an awkward spot, another technique to try is rapidly heating and cooling the metal in the hope contraction will restore the metal to its original shape. This requires gently heating the dent with a hair dryer, then causing it to cool very rapidly by removing the heat with a can of compressed air.

For more serious dents, it’s usually necessary to push the dent out from behind. For DIY repairs, this is only really possible if the rear of the panel or bumper can be easily reached, or accessed by popping off a piece of interior trim. For new cars it’s probably best to call in the professionals at this point, but if the car is slightly older, or you feel comfortable removing and refitting interior trim, ‘paintless dent removal’ can be highly effective. 

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