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How to fix small scratches in your car's paint yourself

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

Honda

I have a white Honda Odyssey. White was a bad idea. The sides are covered with scratches from being hit by other cars' doors and God knows what else in parking lots. The back bumper has a couple of little chips on top from being hit by the garage door because my husband never drives it far enough into the garage. There are no dents. Do I have to take it into a shop to get these scuffs and scratches fixed, or is it something we can do at home? – Teresa

Until Nerf starts making cars, and shopping carts, scratches and scuffs are unavoidable – but if they're shallow, you can polish them out at home.

"To determine if you can remove a scratch or a scuff from the paint by polishing, pass your fingernail over the scratch at a 90 degree angle," says Paulo Santos, autobody professor at Centennial College in Toronto. "If the fingernail does not catch and it flows over the scratch, then you may be able to repair it at home using fine grit wet sandpaper and rubbing compound."

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If your fingernail catches in the scratch, you may have to take it in to an auto body shop, Santos says.

Here's the advice from Santos for fixing those shallow scratches. After washing and rinsing the area, very gently sand down just the scratch with wet 2000-grit sandpaper. Wet the surface with a bit of clean water as you go. When most of the scratch is gone, switch to a rubbing compound, apply it following the instructions, and keep going until the scratch is gone.

And chips in the paint from gravel – or garage doors? They can be fixed at home and the results don't have to look like you used Liquid Paper.

"With today's technology, most paint chips can be repaired at home using high quality touch-up paint and clear coat." Santos says.

A quick primer on car paint: There are three layers to the paint on your car. The first is primer, then the base coat and, on the surface, the clear coat. To do touch-ups, you need to have the same colour that's on your car. So, start by getting the paint code for your vehicle (it's on the sticker in the driver's side door jamb).

There are plenty of guides online, like this one from Popular Mechanics, that walk you through paint touch-ups.

One thing to consider is how the paint will be applied.

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"There is a difference between spraying and brushing paint, even with same paint code of touch-up paint," he says. "When you brush on touch-up paint, the metallic and pearls in the paint will not flow out as they do when spraying, resulting in a slight colour variation."

That difference in colour might not be noticeable if you follow with a clear coat once the paint has dried. You'll need to wet sand it down to the same level as the original surface and then polish it.

This isn't the time to cheap out: use quality products, and follow the instructions, Santos says.

Any dings bigger than a stone chip might still be noticeable after you do touch-up.

"Keep in mind that it's always better to have a slight visible stone chip after a touch-up repair than to have corrosion take place," Santos says.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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