Your Options for Fixing Dents and Paint Scratches

It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, but rather when. In a parking lot. In the driveway. On the road. Even from within the safe confines of your garage. Your vehicle is going to get scratched or dented, and in all likelihood more than just once over the course of its lifetime. And because the damage is minor, it’s probably not worth filing a claim with your insurance company considering you’ll have to pay the deductible first and possibly be penalized later with higher rates.

Dent in car hood

Good News. Minor body damage can often be fixed by drivers with no previous body repair experience, saving time, money and the inconvenience of being without a car while repairs are made.

Body shop professionals are skilled craftsmen and true artists when it comes to repairing collision damage or restoring a classic vehicle. But if the damage is minor or superficial, most body shops are so busy they probably won’t be heartbroken if you try repairing the damage on your own, saving them for the complex jobs.

Metal hoods, doors, roofs, fenders, and plastic bumpers are all going to dent when impacted with enough force, with shopping carts, hail, another vehicle’s door, and even kids playing baseball often to blame. But these tools could help lessen the damage to both your vehicle and wallet.

Suction

For the first dent removal tool no further than your bathroom. Try using a common household toilet plunger, preferably a clean one. Wet the plunger’s end, stick it on the dent, and gently pull to see if the dent will pop out.

If the plunger doesn’t work, upgrade to a tool that works using the same principle but is designed specifically for the task–a suction cup-type dent puller. Available wherever auto parts are sold, this tool can feature just one suction cup or have several on multiple heads for extra pulling power.

Repair kits

There are also several kits available that use the similar pulling-force theory to repair minor dents, but instead of relying on a suction cup they employ an adhesive to attach the tool to the vehicle body.

Home grown science

One homegrown dent-removal procedure popular online involves a hair dryer and can of compressed air. Heat the dent for several minutes using a hair dryer on the hottest setting. Don’t use a heat gun as this could damage the paint. Then take a can of compressed air commonly used to clean off computer keyboards, hold it upside down and spray the area just heated. Minor dents will correct themselves.

The science behind this experiment is that the sudden change in temperature extremes causes the metal to expand and contract, popping the dent out and returning the metal to its undamaged state. It seems to work better at removing dents from a large expanse of flat metal, such as a hood, trunk or fender.

Paint repairs

These methods will work if your vehicle is dented, but what if your paint is chipped, dinged, or otherwise damaged? What's a frustrated car owner to do? You have several repair options.

First, try a scratch-repair product. Most vehicles on the road today come from the factory with several layers of paint topped by a clear coat for added protection. If the scratch isn’t so deep that it penetrates down to bare metal, you might be able to repair it with a scratch-repair product that hides and blends the scratch with the surrounding surface while improving the finish’s appearance.

Chipped paint from a stone or other mishap needs to be fixed before the exposed metal reacts with the environment and rust forms. Fortunately, touch-up paint can easily hide small blemishes in the finish. The paint is available as an exact match for many vehicle paint schemes and finishes. Depending on the size of the repair, it’s applied as an aerosol spray or brushed on using a small applicator.

Here's a step-by-step guide for touching up paint.

Road paint removal

A vehicle’s finish can also be damaged by substances inadvertently added to it. Yellow and white paint used to line roads are two common culprits. If you accidentally drive through wet road line paint, follow these steps to remove it before it dries and damages the finish.

First, drive to a car wash and use the pressure wash wand wherever the paint has accumulated. Unless it’s been on there for more than a day, most of the paint should come off. If the paint has already dried or if any remains after the washing, spray WD-40 on the paint and leave it there for a couple hours. The WD-40 will soften the paint, making it easier to remove. For really heavy paint accumulations or paint that’s dried for several days, coat the paint with petroleum jelly, leave it on for eight to 12 hours, and then pressure wash, repeating as needed until all the road paint is gone.

Removing environmental build up

Tree sap, bird droppings, berries, tape residue, and old bumper stickers can also damage a vehicle’s finish if they’re not removed promptly. To prevent further damage from aggressive removal procedures, use a cleaner designed specifically for vehicles. They soften and break down the substance, making it easier to remove without damaging the vehicle’s finish.

Body damage also occurs frequently to vehicle lights, exterior mirrors, door handles and other plastic components. You can clean your headlight lenses with a couple of simple methods. Oftentimes though the easiest and most economical method for repairing actual damage, particularly in the case of light assemblies, is simply to replace the damaged part with a new or salvaged one from an auto parts store or other supplier. For example, the hole in the Subaru tail light assembly pictured here could eventually lead to more serious damage for the vehicle’s electrical system because of water exposure. The broken tail light can be replaced with one costing less than $100 following an easy procedure that takes less than 15 minutes. 

Since the vehicle’s body has already been damaged, drivers don’t have much to lose when it comes to trying to repair minor damage themselves, and the rewards of a better-looking vehicle and money saved make the effort worthwhile.

Note: Always consult your owner’s manual before performing repairs. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.

What simple fixes have worked for removing dents and scratches on your vehicle? Leave us a comment.

Last updated June 19, 2017

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