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Got Scratched? Go Ahead: Fix it Yourself

How far away must you park from the supermarket, you ask yourself time and again, so that no one will dent your car with the swift opening of their driver door? Never far away enough, apparently. But simple scratch repair is easier than you might think.

The first thing you need to know is that not all scratches are alike. Some "scratches" may not even be scratches at all. You find these when a painted car bumper or wooden post, or the rubber bumper on a shopping cart, rubs up against the body of your car. If the object doing the rubbing is softer than the paint, then instead of scratching the car, it deposits material on the paint surface. What's left on your car is a mark -- like a scar -- that is actually raised above the paint rather than gouged into it. Often a soft damp cloth can vanquish such blemishes.

But for "real" scratches, you'll have to sand them out, which is easier than it sounds. The key to sanding successfully is using an ultra-fine 2000- to 3000-grit wet/dry sandpaper (available at auto parts stores).

Place the paper on a rubber sanding block or a wood block, then dip it in a bowl of cold water. Add two or three drops of liquid dish detergent to make the water more slippery and to improve cutting action. Sand the scratch area using light, short strokes. Move up and down the length of the scratch, stopping frequently to rinse the paper in the water. The goal is to work slowly and lightly until you see the contrasting mark disappear.

Once the blemish is gone, dry the sanded area thoroughly and inspect it for any signs of the scratch. If you have clearcoat paint and the sanding water shows any sign of color, you'll have to re-spray the clear. If you have non-clearcoat enamel or lacquer, the water will have plenty of color in it. Once the scratch is gone you can buff the area with rubbing compound with a soft towel.

When the sandpaper scratches are gone, use a soft cloth to remove any of the relatively coarse compound. Buff the area with very fine compound. When you finish polishing, seal the paint with car wax.

Was that so hard?

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