Buffing out Scratches on Car, How To Fix Car Scratches Yourself

buffing a car

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Car scratches. They are every car owner’s nightmare. When it comes to paint scratches on your car, you’ll likely encounter the phrase, buffing a car and exterior detailing.  

Buffing is a procedure that removes scratches on the finish. Most shops offer this service, at the cost of course. However, in most cases, it can be done successfully at home by yourself to save a few bucks.

So, the question is, will it remove scratches? Well, it depends on the severity of the scratches. If you only have to deal with swirl marks and minor nicks, then yes, it will remove them. That is what a buffing service is actually for. However, anything worse than that will likely require more than just buffing to fix.

It doesn’t matter how much you care about your car. Those multiple layers of car wax can only protect your car so much. And when deep car scratches happen, how to fix car scratches by yourself? Yes, you can depend on these car scratch removal tips.

Assessing the Problem and Damage

First Things First. While buffing will remove scratches on the paint surface, you need to understand how “removing” or “erasing” means in this case. Scratches dig into the surface of the paint, and the only way to “remove” or “erase” them is to level the surface surrounding them. Basically, buffing is taking away material around the scratch until it evens out, hence, scratch gone.

Unless your car is more than two decades old or you had it custom-painted, its paint would almost always be catalyzed enamel that has been clear coated.

The exterior of your car is composed of four layers beginning from the bottom: metal, primer, paint, and then the clear coat. The last one is important because that is the only area where buffing can do its magic.

If the scratch breaches the clear coat and works its way into the base coat, or worse, the bare metal itself, the only way to fix that is to have it painted by a professional.

The appearance of the scratch depends on the depth of the scratch and the paint’s color. The depth of the scratch will affect the cost and the difficulty of the repair and fix of the car scratches.

Clear coat scratch

This rarely happens since the surface of the paint bonds well with the clear coat. That’s why scratches on the clear coat are almost unnoticeable, especially with lighter paint colors.

car cratch appearance

Paint scratch

A blemish becomes visible when the scratch not only takes off the clear coat but also reaches the paint and worse, the primer. Primers usually have a light gray color so when that layer shows up, it means the scratch has gone through the clear coat and the paint.

Scratch down to the metal

These scratches are usually accompanied by dents unless these are intentionally made.

An impact from debris like a rock or bumping something hard can cause this type of scratch in which the primer, paint and clear coat have been stripped off, exposing the metal body underneath. 

This should be repaired as soon as possible because of possible oxidation and eventually, rust. That’s because moisture can permeate underneath the surface surrounding the scratch.

When rust has started to form, your car’s paint will require a more extensive procedure to restore back to original condition.

The Scratch Removers Products

There are many products available in the market that claim to remove or “erase” even the deepest scratches on the paint by filling it in. While it may do the job of removing the scratch temporarily, the filler will wash away eventually, revealing the scratch once again.

As discussed earlier, the only way to remove surface scratches permanently is to level it out by buffing. However, if the scratch is deep into the paint, you’ll need a respray.

removing car scratch

There is a difference between waxes, polish, and compounds. Ideally, you need to use all three. Think of it as steps or levels, from light to severe damage. Depending on the type of damage you’re dealing with, you can omit some of the “steps”.

Waxes/Paint Sealant

This is the last step in the buffing process after using polish or compounds. As the name suggests, these seal the paint to protect it from the elements. How long the protection lasts will vary on the product used and the environment the finish is exposed to. The difference between the two is basically what they are made of. Waxes are organic natural products while Paint sealants are either made of resin, polymers, or a combination of both.

Polish

Polish – This is what actually gives off the shine when having your car detailed or buffed. It smoothens out the finish similar to what compounds does but not enough to remove scratches and watermarks. When people say that they want to have their car “waxed” to bring out the shine, they are referring to polish. While polish gives you the luster you’re looking for, it will need wax or paint sealant to make it last longer.

Compounds

This has the most abrasion to deal with swirl marks, stains, and scratches. It works by removing material off the paint surface, leveling it out until the scratch disappears. Keep in mind that this only works if the scratch is within the clear coat. Anything deeper than that will need measures that are more extensive.

All-in-one products

As the name suggests, this is a combination of all three. These came into the market as a means of cutting buffing time significantly. However, unless you are sure of how much of any of the three is actually in it, it may not be the best idea to use. For the best results, using the three separately is the way to go.


To know more about the scratch removers products, read the car wax reviews and car buffers reviews.


Buffing Machine

Buffing by hand will give the best results since it gives you the control and flexibility especially in tight spaces. However, applying consistent pressure over large surfaces will be a very challenging proposition, even for professionals. Which is why you’re better off using a machine.

Orbital buffers and angle grinders with buffing attachments are the most popular types to use. Generally, what you need to look for is something that you can change the speed easily and a wide RPM range.

Buffing pads are just as important as the machine itself. There a lot of pads available and choosing the right one will, again, depend on your intended use. More specifically, the wax, polish or compound you’ll be using. Some products will require specific pads while some will work on anything as long as you adjust the speed.

DIY Buffing

Buffing is easy once you get the hang of it. If you’re doing it for the first time, make sure to do extensive research on different compounds, substances, waxes, and polish and what pads, machines and strategies to use before buying. Or if you’re borrowing a machine, take the time to know what works for that machine. As mentioned earlier, different substances may have specific instructions on what or how to use them.

Once you figure out what to use, dedicate at least one whole day, especially if you’re just starting out. With practice, the whole procedure becomes easier and will definitely cut your work time significantly.

Prep your car. Start off with a clean surface and dry it out thoroughly. Use a microfiber cloth to remove surface dirt and smudges.

Also, make sure that you’re in a covered and well-ventilated area while working on your car. After that, buff away.


Can Buffing Remove Scratches

Now you have understood what the buffing a car is. Regarding question " Can Buffing Remove Scratches?", buffing is a great way of removing scratches on your car’s finish. However, it will only work for surface scratches that do not penetrate the topcoat. For deep gouges and pits, you’re better off getting it professionally mended by a body shop. But before you dismiss the idea of buffing a heavily scratched vehicle, buffing can help preserve the metal surface from incurring further damage by sealing off the scratch from the elements, albeit temporarily. This will at least give you time until you can fix the problem permanently.

Fix Car Scratches

How To Fix Car Scratches By Yourself

1. Preparing for Repair

After you have assessed the damage and the depth of the scratch, you now need to prepare for the paint repair process. You will need a bucket of water and soap, a clean towel or cloth, a 2000-grit sandpaper, and toothpaste. Follow these steps:

1. Thoroughly wash and dry your car.

The existing dirt on your car can cause more damage to its paint during the repair. Make sure that there is no debris on the scratch itself by spraying it with water.

2. Sand the scratched area lightly and carefully.

Using a 2000-grit sandpaper, sand through the car’s clear coat and no further. Sanding the paint will make the damage more extensive. Here are more tips.

  • Follow the direction of the scratch as you sand. Sanding in the opposite direction will create valleys and ridges in the car’s paint.
  • Rinse the area being sanded periodically so you can see your progress and if you have reached the scratch’s bottom.
  • A scratch that has gone beyond the clear coat may need to be sanded first with a 1500-grit sandpaper, then followed with the 2000-grit one
  • Make sure there is no debris or dirt between the area being sanded and the sandpaper to prevent further scratching of the surface.
  • You can also use toothpaste to sand the area. Ordinary toothpaste has micro abrasive components that can also function as a high grit sandpaper. Just use a clean cloth, apply the toothpaste on the affected surface and wipe repeatedly until the desired effect is achieved.

3. Rinse the affected area and let dry.

Thoroughly rinse the area being repaired and wipe the water off with a clean towel or cloth. Never use old rags since these can cause even more scratches.


2. Repairing the Paint

Now that the affected area has been sanded and cleaned, it’s time for the actual paint repair. You will need rubbing compound, water and soap, car wax, and a clean cloth.

1. Apply the rubbing compound

Using a buffer pad or a clean cloth, apply rubbing compound on the area. Use only a small amount and add more as needed in order to prevent further removal of clear coat.

2. Use a buffer to polish the area

Using the lowest level on your buffer, polish the affected area for 10 seconds. Rubbing compound dries fast so you need to polish it quickly.

Increase the buffer’s speed to 2000 and then polish again for 60 seconds, moving your buffer around the area. Continue buffing until the area has smoothened out and make sure you don’t reach the paint layer.

Do not rest your buffer in one area for more than a second. Rubbing compound is abrasive and it can eat the clear coat and paint if you buff one area longer than necessary.

3. Thoroughly wash the area again

Using a clean towel and water, remove the rubbing compound residue from the surface. Use a soft toothbrush if there are any crevices with compound still remaining.

Make sure you remove the compound off immediately after you buff because it can stick to your paint and it will be a lot harder to remove.

4. Wax the affected area

Waxing the area of the paint you have repaired effectively seals it from dirt and debris, protecting it from further damage.

Use good quality wax like carnauba and use a random orbital buffer to apply the wax. 

5. Wash the car one more time

After the sanding, the rubbing compound, and the waxing, you should wash your car once again to remove the dirt and debris that may have accumulated during the repair process.

You may also want to wax the whole car while you’re at it. Remember that wax is another protective layer on your car’s paint.

Remember the tips on how to fix car scratches by yourself discussed here and you will be able to restore the original shine of your car’s paint. Again, clean your car and apply  car wax regularly.

About the Author Simon Adams

Simon graduated with a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Degree. He has over 20 years of servicing experience in both Japanese and German car dealerships. He now acts as a freelance mechanic's instructor for local schools.

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