3 Types of Car Scratches and Ways To Fix Them (With Images)


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3 types of car scratches and ways to fix them

It’s impossible to avoid car scratches altogether. Some of them may cause your car to rust, while others affect the appearance of your vehicle. So today, I decided to show you three types of car scratches, how they affect the car’s body, and how to fix them.

The 3 main types of car scratches are:

  • Clear coat scratches are tiny and shallow scratches that have only superficially damaged the clear coat on your vehicle.
  • Base coat (paint) scratches are medium-deep scratches that went through the clear coat and damaged your vehicle’s paint.
  • Primer coat scratches are the deepest scratches on the paintwork that went all the way to the metal or plastic.

Not all scratches require the same approach when you want to fix them. That’s the reason why it’s essential to know the differences between them, how to recognize certain scratches, and of course, what are ways of fixing them.

Clear Coat Scratches

clear coat scratch example
Clear coat scratch example

The clear coat is the last layer of car paint. It’s a transparent layer protecting your car from UV rays, heat, oxidation, and other external factors. Also, a clear coat gives your car’s paint the shine and gloss.

Not all cars have a clear coat, but all vehicles made in the last 20-30 years should have a clear coat applied.

Clear coat scratches are the most common type of car scratches. Literally, every car has them, and it’s impossible to avoid them completely.

Common reasons for clear coat scratches:

Severity of Clear Coat Scratches

99% of the time, clear coat scratches only affect the overall appearance of your car’s color. 

Those scratches are even tough to see unless sunlight or a flashlight is pointed directly onto the paint at the right angle and distance.

In my opinion, there are not as severe as some other types of scratches, and in most cases, you shouldn’t be worried that the clear coat scratch will ruin the car’s paintwork or cause rust on your vehicle.

Fixing Clear Coat Scratches

Clear coat scratches appear very easily on the car’s paint but are also the easiest one to fix.

When fixing clear coat scratches, detailers have to remove a bit of clear coat around the scratch and smoothen the whole area. That way, a clear coat scratch will disappear. 

As I already said, removing clear coat scratches is straightforward, and I think that everyone could do it.

To fix clear coat scratches, you have three options:

  • Hand polish the vehicle: it’ll do the job, but it requires a lot of elbow grease. Trust me; you don’t want to hand polish the whole car. I suggest you hand polishing if you’re going to remove a few scratches without spending additional money buying a machine polisher.
  • Machine polish the vehicle: with DA or rotary machine polisher, removing light to medium clear coat scratches is a piece of cake. With just a little knowledge, you can get your car’s paint to perfection. Check my guide on how to polish your car using a machine polisher.
  • Wet sanding with sandpaper (2000 or more): some deeper clear coat scratches won’t easily go away with compounding or polishing. They are removed with very fine sandpapers with a grade of 2000 or 3000. After that, you should again compound and then polish it to perfection.

Related: When To Compound vs. Polish Your Car?

IMPORTANT: Whenever you polish your vehicle, apply some paint protectant on it (waxes, sealants, or ceramic coatings). They’ll provide your paint with more protection against oxidation, UV rays, weather, and again some lighter scratches.

On the other hand, if you want to hide clear coat scratches, you can:

  • Apply wax or sealant: waxes or sealants may slightly hide those tiniest clear coat scratches, even though it’s not their primary purpose. Don’t expect them to hide all the scratches, only the tiniest ones.
  • Apply glazes: glazes are fillers that hide light scratches from the car paint by filling the scratch and making it even with the rest of the color. Also, you can’t expect glazes to hide all the scratches, but it’s a great way of hiding them if you want to temporarily “fix” the problem.

Related: 9 Best Car Waxes For An Amazing Finish (2021)

Base Coat (Paint) Scratches

base coat scratch example
Base coat scratch example

The base coat is the thinnest layer of paint that gives color to your vehicle. It can be black, white, red, or any other color, even pearl. The base coat is just under the clear coat layer.

Base coat or paint scratches are the second most common type of scratches. Paint scratch is every scratch that went through the clear coat, and damaged the paint layer of the vehicle. 

Common reasons for base coat scratches:

  • Car accidents
  • Hitting the wall with car doors
  • Road rocks
  • Someone doing it with a purpose (scratching your car with a key, etc.)

Severity of Base Coat Scratches

Base coat scratches reduce the level of protection, and the metal beneath is more likely to rust with time. Luckily, there should still be a primer coat underneath the base coat (paint). 

There are often scratches from rock chips on the hood and the front bumper, and with time, they’ll cause your car body to rust within a few years.

You don’t have to fix them immediately, but try not to wait too long. 

Fixing Base Coat Scratches

Since base coat scratches damaged your vehicle’s paint, your car will often need a repaint job. 

That usually includes:

  • wet sanding
  • spraying paint (base) coat
  • spraying clear coat
  • polishing

However, if there are only minor scratches from rock chips, door hits, or key scratches, you can fix them with a little bit of wet sanding, compounding, and polishing. By doing that, you won’t fix the scratch, but you’ll evenly level out the paint around it, so the scratch isn’t visible.

And again, don’t forget to apply some paint protection after fixing it.

If you don’t have any experience, I suggest you take your car to a professional. That way, you’ll avoid doing any additional damage to the car’s paint. 

Primer Scratches

primer scratch example, deep paint scratch,
Primer scratch example

Primer is a layer of coat that protects the car’s body (metal or plastic) from rusting and is also used to smoothen the surface so the paint coat and clear coat can be applied.

Primer scratches (often called deep paint scratches) are the deepest scratches that went all the way through the clear coat and base coat, and damaged the primer. Often, you’ll see a metal or plastic beneath. 

If you see a metal or plastic of the car body, that’s a 100% primer scratch.

Common reasons for primer coat scratches:

  • Car accidents
  • Hitting the wall or other car with a car door
  • Scratching the vehicle with some harsh metal

Severity of Primer Scratches

It would be best if you fixed the primer coat scratches as soon as possible. There are various reasons for that:

  • There’s no any protection left, and the car will start to rust very soon
  • You won’t be able to pass the vehicle technical inspection if the scratch is larger
  • The scratch is always seenable, not only in direct sunlight, etc.

Fixing Primer Scratches 

If you want to fix primer coat scratches on your vehicle, I suggest visiting a professional. 

Usually, the whole car panel (hood, bumper, etc.) will be repainted to get the best possible result. If you’re a DIY, you can fix it by yourself too, but it won’t look nearly as good as if you go to a professional.

Fixing primer coat scratches usually goes like this:

  • dry sanding and wet sanding the whole car body panel
  • applying body filler if needed
  • wet sanding again
  • applying primer coat
  • wet sanding
  • spraying paint coat
  • spraying clear coat

As you can see, it’s a pretty lengthy procedure that requires a lot of experience and knowledge. And it costs a lot of money too.Opens in a new tab.

However, if there are only minor scratches on your vehicle and you want to try fixing it yourself, check out this video.Opens in a new tab. That way, you can save a lot of money, but the results won’t be perfect.

How To Identify Different Types Of Vehicle Scratches

I made images that explain each type of vehicle scratches, so make sure to check them out below.

clear coat scratch explanation

Clear Coat Scratch Explained

Base Coat Scratch Explained

Primer Scratch Explained

Here’s a quick guide for you to identify what type of car scratch your car has:

  • Clear Coat Scratches: run your fingernail over the scratch. If you can barely feel the scratch, it’s a clear coat scratch and can be easily fixed by polishing your vehicle.
  • Base Coat Scratches: when you run your fingernail over the scratch and feel the scratch a lot, it probably went through the clear coat to the paint coat. 
  • Primer Coat Scratch: if you can see the metal or the plastic of the car body, and there’s no paint, that’s a primer coat scratch.

In the end, I want to show you how professionals divide car paint scratches.Opens in a new tab. Professionals divide scratches into 5 different levels. Level 1A is the least severe, while level 4 is the most severe car scratch. Check the table below.

Level of scratchSeverity
1AX
1BXX
2XXX
3XXXX
4XXXXX
Different levels of car scratches

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