Just like paying taxes and dying, getting dents, dings, and particularly scratches on our cars is unavoidable, but getting a scratch on a white car is particularly distressing.
While the mechanics of removing scratches from the paint on cars is generally pretty much the same regardless of the car or the type of scratch, the title of this post, “How to fix a scratch on a white car”, might tell the attentive reader that the process of fixing a scratch in white paint is somehow different to fixing scratches in other paint colors.
Fixing a scratch on a white car is indeed different. For one thing, white paint is extremely hard and therefore difficult to work with when it is cured, but more importantly, it is almost impossible to get a perfect color match with white paints. There are many reasons for this, and we briefly discuss some of them at the end of this guide, so be sure to read this section before you start repairing a scratch on your white car.
Nevertheless, let’s assume the worst possible thing has happened, and you find that your white car has sustained a serious scratch in the mall parking lot. You could of course let your insurer handle the problem, but in most cases, the deductible is more than it would cost to repair the scratch yourself, so where do you begin?
The actual process of removing a scratch from white paint largely depends on the age of the paint, as well as the amount of time that the car had been exposed to the elements. However, where there is a will, there is a way, and in this guide we provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to fix the scratch yourself. Here is how, but before you start, you need to have everything you need ready at hand.
You will need the following items to repair the scratch:
NOTE: DON’T use touch-up pens- they hardly ever match any hue of white automotive paint, or any other color for that matter. Once you have cleaned the paint on the car, drive it to a specialist body shop to have them analyze the color on your car. Competent body shops have equipment that can match paint using the wavelength of the light that is reflected off it, and while it may be expensive, it is the only way to match white paints, and especially pearl white. They may not get an exact match, but you won’t get a closer match any other way.
- Properly matched touch-up paint.
- Clear coat if your car has a clear coat. (Available in aerosol cans from most auto parts stores.)
- White primer if the scratch goes down to bare metal. (The color of the primer can influence the final color of the paint, so make sure you use a white primer.)
- Cheese cloth, or new micro-fibre towels
- Alcohol wipes. (Available from any pharmacy.)
- 1 200-grit wet ‘n dry sandpaper.
- Polishing compound. (Get recommendations from body shops or detailers on the best brands to use, but always use the least abrasive compound available.)
- Quixx Scratch Repair Kit ( This is easily the best scratch-removal product on the market today. The special, space-age sandpaper strips in these kits are not available anywhere else, and you will not find regular sandpaper that performs as well anywhere.)
- ½-inch wide painter’s, or masking tape
- Small, sharp-pointed artist’s paint brush
- New, soft-bristled tooth brush ( You need it to remove all the clay bar dust from the scratch.)
- Old news papers.
- Carnauba car wax (You need the best possible wax to protect the repaired area.)
Step 1 – Prepare the surface
As a first step you must clean the car in such a way that you expose the car’s true color, or hue. There is no way to match white touch-up paint with the paint on the car unless the surface is as clean as the day it was on the day it left the factory.
Wash the car and clean the paint in a shaded, but well-lit area. White paint is not nearly as reflective as other colors are, so you need all the light you can get.
WARNING: Do NOT skip this step- if you do, you WILL end up with mismatched paints. A simple wash ‘n wax will not do what you need to happen- which is to strip off the etched-in layer of dirt on the paint , and one proven way of doing this is to-
Use a clay bar
Clay bars are excellent at removing etched-in dirt and crud, but they have to be used strictly according to the instructions to achieve the desired (best) results. Failure to stick to the instructions can cause far more damage than you are trying to repair, so make sure you buy a quality product, and that you follow the instructions to the letter.
Many manufacturers make clay bars in different colors, with the colors denoting the abrasiveness of the product. Always choose the product that is the least abrasive, since it is far easier to get another, more abrasive bar, than to have the entire car repainted because your chosen clay bar was too abrasive.
Assuming that you followed the directions, you will end up with a surface that is free of any contaminants, silky smooth, and as reflective as white paint can be. More importantly though, you will see the color the car had left the factory with, which makes it a whole lot easier to match your touch-up paint.
Step 2 – Prepare the scratch
The claying process will no doubt have left some residue in the scratch, so use the toothbrush to remove all residue and other gunk from the scratch. It is imperative that ALL dust be removed, so spend at least a couple of minutes brushing the scratch.
Next, check to see how deep the scratch is. If it snags a finger nail, it is probably right through the clear coat, and into the color coat. This is good (albeit in a bad sort of way) since there will likely be no bare metal showing. However, white paint is very hard, so be sure to check the scratch for ragged edges; white paint often “flakes” off at the edges of the scratch, which requires that you feather the scratch to smooth out the rough edges.
NOTE 1: If the car is more than about 15 years old, and therefore does not have a clear coat, you can use the 1 200-grit sandpaper to feather the edges of the scratch. Just fold a piece of sand paper several times until you get a firm “edge”. Use this edge to feather the scratch, because you want to damage as little of the surrounding paint as you can. If you use your finger to sand down the scratch, you may end up with a wide strip of paint to blend in, which could be difficult considering the hardness of white paint.
NOTE 2: If your car does have a clear coat, use some polishing compound on a micro-fiber towel wrapped around your finger to smooth out the edges of the scratch, but keep the worked strip as narrow as possible. Do not apply excessive pressure- you only want to smooth out the edges of the scratch, not remove all of the clear coat around the scratch.
Work one small section for a few seconds at a time, and be sure to remove all residue from the scratch by washing the panel, and brushing the scratch with your tooth brush. Again, it is imperative that ALL dust be removed from the scratch, so DO NOT skip, or rush this step.
Step 3 – Tape off the scratch
Once you are satisfied that the edges of the scratch is smoothed out to the point where it no longer snags a finger nail, you need to tape off the scratch to protect the surrounding paint. However, few scratches are perfectly straight, which is compounded by the fact that scratches are sometimes difficult to see a scratch in white paint.
One way to make a scratch in white paint more visible is to lightly run a ball point pen along it, but be very careful not to apply so much pressure that you deepen the scratch. All you want to do is to delineate the scratch better so that you can apply the masking tape more easily and accurately. Don’t worry about the ink- the ink from almost all cheap ball point pens is easily removed with an alcohol wipe.
Applying the tape
The reason why you are using tape that is only half an inch wide is because the narrower the tape is, the more easily it can be manipulated to follow the scratch closely. So what you need to do now is stick the tape down as closely to the scratch as you can on both sides of the scratch.
The object of the exercise is to leave only the scratch exposed. The more undamaged paint that is exposed, the more difficult it becomes to apply the touch-up paint evenly. Therefore, the more touch-up paint you apply, the more trouble you will have later when you have to blend the repair into the surrounding paint. Trust us on this; the narrower the gap between the tape on either side of the scratch is, the easier it is to achieve a professional result.
NOTE: Be sure to press the tape down firmly onto the body work. If you don’t, paint WILL seep in under the tape. This is the last thing you want, because if you wait too long to remove the tape, the final blending and polishing will be vastly more difficult if the touch-up paint has started to dry.
Step 4 – Mask off the area
If you are going to apply clear coat with an aerosol can, you need to mask off as big a part of the car as you can to avoid getting overspray on everything. Ideally, you should cover at least the panel you are working on, but there is no harm in masking off the entire side of the car to give you enough room to use a clean sweeping motion when you spray on the clear coat.
Use the newspapers and tape to start masking off the area, starting on the tape strips you stuck down next to the scratch. Make sure that there are no gaps, and that the tape is stuck down firmly to prevent clear coat getting in under the newsprint.
Step 5 – Apply the touch-up paint
If you have not already done so, use some alcohol wipes to clean the scratch one more time, and if you used a ball point pen to mark out the scratch, make sure you get all the ink out of the scratch. This is usually not difficult to do, but be sure to get all of the ink out.
Next, dip only the point of the brush into the paint, but wipe off the excess; there should not be paint hanging off the brush. Apply the paint with clean, sweeping movements, but don’t worry if the paint does not fill the scratch on the first pass. However, resist the temptation to fill the scratch in one go.
The object is to fill the scratch with several layers of paint, so wait about ten minutes or so before applying the second coat. Repeat this process three or four times, allowing ten minutes or so between coats. This allows each coat to form a “key” onto which subsequent coats can bond.
Three or four thin coats should be sufficient to fill the scratch up to the level of the surrounding paint, but bear in mind that you need to leave room or the clear coat as well, so don’t fill the scratch up to the level of the tape.
Step 6 – Apply the clear coat
Allow the final color coat to dry for about ten minutes before applying the clear coat. Bear in mind that since clear coat is well, clear, it may not look like anything is happening when you spray it on. You need to have faith that the clear coat has formed a layer on top of the color coat, so resist the temptation to apply a second and third coat.
If you feel you must apply a second coat, wait about ten minutes before doing so, but apply a lighter coat than the first to prevent building up the repair to thickly.
Step 7 – Remove the tape
It is very important to remove the tape from around the scratch as soon as the final layer of clear coat has dried somewhat. Since the strip of touch-up paint is very narrow and thin, you must prevent the paint from sticking to the tape and pulling the paint out of the scratch when you do remove the tape.
If you remove the tape while the paint is still wet, the touch-up paint will remain in the scratch, but be aware that the repair will look terrible at this point. You will have a raised bump where the scratch was, but that is what you have to have at this point, so don’t touch it, and just let it be so that the paint can cure.
Step 8 – Wait at least seven to ten days.
It is important to remember that the paint on the repaired area needs time to harden to the point where you can work with it without it coming out of the scratch. The next step involves applying a lot of pressure, so don’t touch the repair, and don’t wash the car to prevent water entering the repaired area.
Step 9 – Use the Quixx Scratch Removal Kit.
After about ten days, park the car in a shaded area, and allow the body work to cool off. Next, use some polishing compound and a micro-fiber towel wrapped around your finger to reduce the height of the painted area.
At this point all you want to do is to even out the surface as much as you can on the one hand, and to bring the repaired area closer to the level of the surrounding paint. Be aware that this process can take several hours, depending on the size of the repaired area, but work one small section at a time until you have achieved a uniformly even surface.
How to Use The Quixx Scratch Removal Sandpaper
The stuff in this kit appears to have magical properties, but like all good magic, it only works if you do it right, so be sure to follow the instructions on the package exactly, and do NOT use anything that was not supplied in the kit, since it includes everything you need.
As a first step, use a strip of the provided sandpaper to lower the level of the repaired area further. However, it is important to note that this sandpaper is super-effective, but only if you use enough water as a lubricant to keep the sand paper gliding smoothly.
Also be aware that you MUST NOT apply any sort of pressure to the sandpaper. All you need is enough pressure to keep the sandpaper in contact with the repair. Excessive pressure will clog the sandpaper, but it will also remove all of the paint it comes into contact with, so be very careful of how much pressure you apply.
WARNING: This sandpaper can only be used once on any given area, and then only for a maximum of 10-, to 15 seconds. Do not exceed this time on any section, or you might ruin everything you have done thus far.
How To Use The Quixx Scratch Removal Paste
At this point, you should have reduced the raised area to the level of the surrounding paint, so take the tube labelled #1, and put some on one of the supplied cloths.
Now comes the real work, since the paste must be worked into the repaired area with as much pressure as you can apply. This is vitally important, since the paste causes the paint to “melt” only if you apply enough pressure. This melting of the paint is what blends it into the surrounding paint, so to get it right, you need to apply a LOT of pressure on one small area at a time.
Continue doing this until you have covered the entire repaired area, but bear in mind that you can only work an area for a maximum of two minutes; any more, and you run the risk of removing the paint. Be sure to remove all residues when you have covered the entire area under repair.
Next, repeat the process with tube #2, but do NOT use the same cloth. Use a new (supplied) cloth, and cover one small area with as much pressure as you can, but also for a maximum of two minutes per section. Continue until you have covered the entire area under repair. Remove all residues when you are done.
Step 10 – Polish the repair
Assuming that you applied enough pressure to blend the repaired area into the surrounding paint, the repaired area should now be almost invisible from a distance of two or three feet. However, you now need to polish the repaired area to match the surrounding paint, so use a clean micro-fibre towel to polish the area with polishing compound.
Do NOT use burnishing or rubbing compound. These are too abrasive, and you could end up leaving scratch or swirl marks. The best thing to do at this point is to polish one section of the repair until the finish matches the rest of the car before moving on to the next section. This step is as important to get right as any of the preceding steps, so take enough time to ensure that you get it right.
After polishing, the repair should be all but invisible, but this depends on how well the touch-up paint matches the original paint of the car, which is the single biggest problem with fixing scratches on white cars.
We hope that you have found this guide instructive, but if you want to know more about why white paint is so difficult to work with, please take a few minutes to read the following section in which we explain.
The problem with white paint
As car paints go, white paint is the hardest paint you will ever have to work on, in the sense that the paint itself is very hard, since the white pigment is titanium oxide, a substance that ranks #7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. By way of contrast, black paint, in which carbon black is the pigment, ranks at only #2, which is many orders of magnitude softer than white paint.
What this means in practice is that white paint is much more difficult to sand down or polish than almost any other color of paint, so the actual process of scratch removal may require different techniques. Moreover, because white paint is so heard-wearing, up until about 15 years or so ago, car manufacturers did not apply a clear coat over the white color coat, a fact that has some implications for whether a scratch on an old car is repairable or not.
For instance, repairing a scratch involves some polishing of the area under repair, and on single-stage paints, such as a white layer without a clear coat, the polishing may alter the appearance of the paint over a relatively large area, which will make the repaired area stand out more than the scratch ever did. But there is more, such as the fact that
White paint gets dirty
While all cars get dirty, regardless of its color, white paint has a relatively low reflectivity index which means that white paint can get a whole dirtier than other colors before it becomes noticeable. By “dirty” we don’t mean the normal, run-of-the mill dirt and grime that collects on a car; what we mean is that the effects of aerial pollutants, as well as the cumulative effects of UV radiation can cause dirt and grime to become etched into the paint.
So since white paint does not reflect as much light as say, black paint does, the fact that the entire car has eventually accumulated an etched-in layer of grime does not become noticeable for a long time. When it does become noticeable, any repair work that involves polishing removes a part of the layer of dirt, meaning that some parts of the car will have a higher reflectivity index than the rest of the car.
This can give the give the car a “blotchy” appearance, especially when several, widely spaced scratches need to be repaired. However, this is not much of a problem with new cars on which dirt and grime had not yet become etched into the paint, but there is a more serious problem with white paint, and it has to do with the fact that-
White paint is almost impossible to match
To the untrained eye, all white cars may look equally white. However, the fact is that there are thousands of shades of white, and some can only be told apart with specialized equipment that can measure the individual wavelengths of the light that is reflected by all the of the ingredients and pigments that went into making up the entire paint volume. An analysis of this nature can thus determine the purity and particle size of the titanium dioxide powder, which can differ between production batches and suppliers.
The color white is essentially a blend of the several million shades of all the colors and hues that humans can see. So when a paint manufacturer mixes up a batch of white paint to match a previous batch, he has to be certain that his suppliers have supplied him with gums, resins, solvents, and pigments that are identical in purity, composition, and molecular weight than the previous batch they sent him, since color differences in say, the resins and gums that go into the paint can influence the final hue.
Consistent quality is particularly important in the case of the white pigment powder, since larger or smaller particle diameters will reflect light differently, even though all the other ingredients may be identical to previous batches. So to avoid large variations in the final color(s) of their products, paint manufacturers have very strict quality requirements to ensure color consistency, but even so, some variation in color is unavoidable.
While it is possible to correct or adjust the hue on paints of other colors by adding, or reducing some pigments, this cannot be done with white paint. There is noting that can be added to white paint to make it more white; if it is tainted with color, no amount of white titanium powder can mask the taint, since its “whiteness” is a function of the quality of its ingredients, as opposed to being the result of a combination of its pigments.
For this reason, car manufacturers will only purchase paint from a few suppliers that can supply large volumes of paint, and then only paint that was produced in one batch. However, no paint manufacturer can supply all of a car manufacturer’s needs in one batch big enough to last for say, several months.
Therefore, car manufacturers blend large volumes made up of different batches to even out any inconsistencies in color and hue, but herein lies a major problem for the average car enthusiast who wants to repair a scratch on his white car.
Of course, there is much more to ensuring color consistency than the brief description given here, but if you want to repair a scratch on your car with white touch-up paint, you are at a major disadvantage, simply because-
You don’t know what you are getting
There is simply no guarantee that the touch-up paint you buy from the dealer will match the car’s paint code, and especially if you buy pearl-white paint. Slightly mis-matched paint in dark colors is not much of a problem, since these paints are generally very soft, which makes blending them into the surrounding paint relatively easy.
However, white paint, and especially pearl white, is a different kettle of fish altogether. All paints other than white are produced by mixing differently colored pigments in complicated recipes and combinations, but white paint derives its color from titanium oxide only. The problem with this is that there is no telling from which batch the your touch-up paint was taken, meaning that your repaired scratch could have a yellow, blue, or sometimes even a reddish tinge to the paint on it when it dries.
There are many reasons for this, such as the fact that the same white paint will appear to have a different hue when it is applied to plastic than it would have on variously colored primers, but the most common problem involves the consistency of the touch-up paint. If it is too thick, it might scatter blue light, giving it a blue-ish hue; if the paint is too thin, it might absorb some yellow light, giving it a yellow or reddish tint.
At the risk of overstating the case, it should by now be clear that the process of fixing defects in white paint is somewhat different than fixing defects in other colors. As we stated before, the mechanics of the repair is much the same for all colors, but the overriding consideration to keep in mind is the fact that unless white paint is properly matched, the repair will almost certainly look worse than the defect ever did.
It is therefore crucially important to match white paints as closely as possible, even it if it means paying a specialist paint shop to mix up a gallon of paint when you need only a thimbleful, simply because it is easier to obtain a close color match by mixing up a large volume of paint, than it is by mixing up only a few ounces.
Image credit: The dirty white car image is by Charlie on Flickr.