Paint chip? Here's how to fix at home.

Photography by Tim Suddard

Problem: You’re peacefully enjoying some back roads with your classic when some jerk suddenly pulls in front of you and–bam!–chucks a pebble at your hood. 

Solution: If you’re patient, you can fix the resulting chip yourself and make the repair invisible. The experts at Automotive Restorations, Inc., showed us how to do the job right.

Step 1: Thoroughly clean the blemish with solvent. Something like DuPont Prep-Sol body wash or even CRC Brakleen will do the job.

Step 2: Next, sand the damaged area to rough up the surface. Automotive Restorations, Inc., uses a sanding pen, a clever little tool tipped with thousands of etching burs that can easily reach tight surfaces. Several different companies make these pens–Pro MotorCar Products, K Tool International and even 3M–and they usually retail for less than $10 each. 

Step 3: Now it’s time to protect and prime. For this step, shop owner Kent Bain recommends two products that will really improve the quality of your repair. Assuming you’re working with steel and not fiberglass, treat the repair area with Skyco Ospho, a metal primer that retards rust. You’ll also need a quality self-etching primer like the one available from SEM. To apply spray primer to a small area, first spray some into a cup. Then, dip a brush into the cup and paint on a thin coat.

Step 4: You’re ready to paint. To get the perfect hue, take an easily removable piece of the body to your local paint store or body shop and ask them to computer-match the color.

Then it's time to fill the chip with paint. Automotive Restorations, Inc., uses these neat E-Z Dabbers disposable paint applicators. According to the manufacturer, each one can deliver as little as an eighth of a drop of paint. A pack of 40 will cost you about $15. (While the E-Z Dabbers work nicely, you can achieve similar results with a small artist’s paintbrush or even a toothpick.)

To properly apply the paint, dab a layer into the chip indentation and wait for it to dry. Repeat that step until your repair surface sits just a bit higher than the original paint finish. If you’re using modern two-part paints, make sure to correctly mix in the hardener so each layer dries quickly. 

Step 5: Once your paintwork is fully dry, you’ll need to sand down the repair. Start with 1200-grit paper before moving to 1500- and finally 2000-grit paper. This step isn’t difficult, but take your time to do it right.

Step 6: A sanding block will help. The crew at Automotive Restorations, Inc., machined a little block just for this type of repair. You can also fashion one out of a scrap of wood, a chunk of rubber or a paint stick.

Step 7: Use water to lubricate the sandpaper. Your goal is to sand the chip until it’s the same height as the original paintwork.

Step 8: Yes, there will be lots of sanding. The folks at Automotive Restorations, Inc., patiently and carefully wet-sand the painted area until it’s totally flat.

Step 9: Next comes the buffing. This shop uses a small orbital buffer and two different pads: a coarse pad with 3M Perfect-It EX Rubbing Compound followed by a fine pad with 3M Perfect-It Machine Polish. You can do this step by hand, but little power buffers are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and much quicker. 

Step 10: Buffing is an art, but one an at-home restorer can easily master. Excellent results will come with practice, but here’s some advice to live by until then: Let the compound do the work. Use small amounts, go easy, and don’t bear down on the tool.

Step 11: Voilà! The chip is gone and the repair is essentially imperceptible.

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aircooled MegaDork
8/27/21 10:56 a.m.

This solution may work with flat paint, but does not work well at all with metallic paint (which of course almost all new cars are).   It will result in a rather clear color difference.  Using the "smear" technique (putting a blob in the chip then wiping it flat with a surgical glove) is a big improvement, but is still hard to get invisible.

JimGruber New Reader
6/26/24 12:34 p.m.

And don't forget the Clear Coat. Need to leave room for a tiny spot of that as well before finishing and buffing.

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