Paint Chip Repair Advice

Repairing paint chips and nicks

Chips happen. No matter how carefully we choose our parking spots or how far behind rock-spewing trucks we drive, no vehicle is immune from the occasional paint chip. Although repairs don't require going to an auto body shop, we're not going to fool you into thinking paint touch-ups are a breeze. The basics are simple, but they require patience and finesse. Think of the process as both a skill and a character builder, and you'll get through it easier.

The basics are simple, but they require patience and finesse.

The Tools

The tried-and-true method of regaining a perfect paint finish is the little bottle of touch-up paint available through a car dealer or auto parts store. This paint should be a perfect color match (unless the finish is badly weathered or oxidized). You may think of your car as simply "red," or whatever, but there are thousands of reds. What you need is your specific "red." Even if the manufacturer no longer uses your vehicle's color, a dealer should be able to identify the paint color and supply the same color formulation.

When the chip has exposed bare metal, you'll need a few basic tools in addition to the touch-up paint and primer. These items include a good quality cleaner/de-greaser along with a final wax or glaze, a solvent such as rubbing alcohol, 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper, a 2,000-grit sanding block, wooden, un-dyed toothpicks, cotton towels, new pencils with unused erasers, and glue. It also helps to dispense the paint into heavy plastic cups-this makes it easier to get achieve a smooth application sans any blobs. Most of these materials you'll already have at home, but paint-chip repair kits and materials are readily available at your favorite auto parts supply store.

The Process

Start with a clean car. Examine the chip to determine if the primer is intact or if the damage extends to bare metal. If the metal is exposed and the dreaded rusting process has already begun, remove the rust with fine (600 grit) wet/dry sandpaper. The best way to keep the sanding to the damaged area is to glue a round of the sandpaper to the eraser end of a new pencil.

Using a toothpick or your fingernail, first flick the paint edges to get rid of paint that's been loosened around the chip. Dampen the chipped area with a few drops of water then rough up the chip and surrounding paint with a fresh sandpaper/pencil tool. The purpose is to give the new paint application a very small area of receptive paint to grab hold of.

Next, use rubbing alcohol over the chipped area to remove sanding dust and any fine layer of dirt. If necessary, re-prime the spot, using a toothpick as an application tool.

Some touch-up gurus recommend a very fine sable brush available through an art store. Whichever you use, the thing you're trying to avoid is applying globs of paint to the surface. Place the paint-coated toothpick in the center of the chip and allow the primer to flow into the indentation. You'll need to apply at least two thin coats of primer onto the depression, making sure any exposed metal is covered.

The primer layer has to be below the surface of the intact paint or your chip will end up as a bump. It takes about two hours for each primer layer to completely dry. Lightly wet-sand the area once it has dried, then finish this step with another wipe of rubbing alcohol.

Next up is the touch-up paint. Use the same technique as with the primer, but employing a new toothpick to apply the paint. Even if the first application doesn't completely cover the primer, do not flood the area with more paint. Let it dry for about two hours. (Remember, we said this takes patience.) Repeat until the depression is filled with multiple thin coats of paint and the area bulges slightly above the original paint areas. Wait a week to let the paint completely cure.

Your next tool is a 2,000-grit flat sanding block, also available at your auto parts store. Follow the directions on the sanding block; some require a 24-hour soaking period before use. Use the block in a back-and-forth motion, as opposed to a circular motion, until the new paint mound is reduced to the same level as the surrounding paint. Clean the area and apply a glaze or wax to renew a high gloss to the paint. If you've followed these directions carefully, using skill and patience, you too can say goodbye to paint chips.

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