cars in traffic

Finding a paint scratch on your car is frustrating, especially if it’s in a noticeable place.

But these scratches aren’t just an eyesore. Even a small car paint scratch can lead to further damage by exposing the deeper layers of paint or metal to the elements.

It’s important to get scratches repaired promptly in order to prevent additional damage and the associated costs.

Fortunately, fixing minor paint damage is usually pretty straightforward.


But different types of car paint scratches may require different fixes. Your car’s paint has three layers: the primer coat, the paint surface, and the clear coat.

The depth of the scratch determines the type of paint repair you need, as well as its shape, size, and other factors.

Keep reading to learn about the different types of car paint scratches, how to fix them, and what to do if car paint is scratched.

How Car Paint Scratches Happen

mackins technician using a yellow rag to buff out a scratch

The painted surface of your car spends a lot of time exposed to the outside world. No matter how careful you are with your vehicle or how professional its original paint job was, it’s bound to get a small nick, scuff, or scratch at some point.

Here are the most common causes of car paint scratches:

1. Rock Chips and Other Road Debris

Small stones, pebbles, and other debris can get kicked up by your tires or other cars on the road and hit your bumper, hood, or other painted surface.

2. Extreme Weather

Extreme weather like freezing rain or hail can leave your car’s paint damaged.

3. Accidental Contact

If a key or a metal zipper accidentally scrapes against your car, it can leave a scratch.

4. Vandalism

Unfortunately, some car paint damage is caused intentionally. If someone purposefully scratches your car using a key or other sharp object, it can cause significant damage. In Portland, you can report car vandalism by filing an online police report.

5. Overly Abrasive Washing

Some automatic car washes can be too aggressive for your vehicle’s paint finish and leave damage.

6. Improper Maintenance 

Not washing or waxing your car, using abrasive cleaning materials, and not protecting your car with a sealant or clear coat can all lead to scratches.

7. Collision Damage

A car accident can cause minor, moderate, or severe paint damage. Getting your car repainted after an accident can help preserve its value and save you from further costly damage down the line.


Types of Paint Scratches

red car with a big scratch on its side door

1. Clear-Coat Scratches

Among the different types of car scratches, clear-coat scratches are the most surface-level. A clear coat is a transparent, glossy protective layer that defends the deepest paint layers from external damage and UV radiation. 

Because the coat itself is clear and transparent, scratches may not be noticeable from a distance. But you may see small swirls or scuff marks close up.

What causes clear-coat scratches?

Because a clear coat is the outermost paint layer and acts as a protective shield, clear-coat scratches are extremely common. In most cases, clear-coat scratches are caused by daily wear and tear and environmental damage.

Some common causes include:

Clear-Coat Scratch Repair

Clear coat scratches are usually minor and can be easily fixed by:

  1. Cleaning the area with water to remove dirt and grime
  2. Gently buffing the scratch with a car paint scratch remover
  3. Applying a small amount of clear polish and buffing with a clean, soft rag

2. Color-Coat Scratches

The color coat is the middle layer of a car’s paint job and (as the name suggests) it’s what gives the car its color. Color-coat scratches tend to be more visible than clear-coat scratches and often present as chip marks, uneven coloration, or indented lines.

What causes color-coat scratches

Base paint is protected under the clear coat. Therefore, scratches that reach the color coat tend to be caused by impact, such as:

Color-Coat Scratch Repair

While a car owner with a background in car detailing may be able to fix a color-coat scratch themselves, it’s usually a good idea to take your car in. An auto body repair shop will have experienced technicians who can make your paint job look as good as new.

In most cases, technicians will repair a color-coat scratch by:

  1. Washing the surface to clean the area
  2. Buffing the scratch to prepare for paint
  3. Using color-matching software to find the perfect touch-up paint color
  4. Applying the touch-up paint to the scratched surface
  5. Applying a clear-coat layer once the color paint has dried

3. Primer Scratches

The primer is the deepest layer of paint, so scratches that reach the primer can leave the bare metal exposed. It’s important to fix primer scratches as soon as possible. This is because the bare metal can quickly become rusted when exposed to the elements. Once the metal is rusted, it may require a panel replacement.

What causes primer scratches?

As the most severe type of paint damage, primer scratches are usually caused by intense impact, such as:

  • Someone purposefully keying your car
  • A collision on the road with another car
  • A collision with a stationary object

Primer scratch repair

If your car’s primer has been scratched, you should take your car in to have it professionally corrected. In many cases, primer damage may also be accompanied by dings or dents, which should be repaired before repainting. 

An auto body repair shop like Mackin’s can fix deep paint scratches by:

  1. Cleaning and drying the area
  2. Using specialized sanding equipment to smooth the area
  3. Applying a body filler
  4. Applying primer to exposed metal
  5. Applying a color-matched paint
  6. Applying a final clear coat

Tips To Avoid Paint Scratches

While there’s no way to completely prevent paint scratches, these tips can go a long way to help protect your car’s paint job over time:

  • Always drive carefully.
  • Park your car in a garage or covered area whenever possible.
  • Use car covers.
  • Hand wash your car or choose a contactless automatic car wash.
  • Park carefully, away from other cars when possible.
  • Get a ceramic coating.
  • Take precautions and be gentle when removing snow or ice.
  • Wash and wax your car regularly.
  • Don’t place items on the hood or roof of your car.
  • Be careful with your keys and other sharp objects.

Prompt and Reliable Auto Body Paint Scratch Repair in Portland, OR

gresham's mackin's auto body

Mackin’s Auto Body is Portland’s most trusted collision repair shop. We’ve been in business for over 75 years. We’re known for our old-fashioned customer service, our commitment to transparency, and our consistent and high-quality work. 

If you need to get your car repainted after an accident, our skilled technicians can restore your vehicle to its former glory with auto painting services you can trust.

Contact us with any questions or for more information. We’re here to help!


Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts is the Director of Operations at Mackin’s Auto Body, where he has been making an impact since 2018. With a career in collision repair that started in 1999, Chris brings a wealth of experience and dedication to his role. Before stepping into his current position, he served as the Assistant Operations Manager at Mackin’s Auto Body from 2013 to 2017. Chris holds a BA from Northwest Nazarene University. When he’s not ensuring everything runs smoothly at Mackin’s, you can find him skiing down snowy slopes, wake surfing on sunny days, or cheering on his daughter at her soccer games.