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May 9, 2010

News & Features

Smooth out scratches and dents with simple products and techniques

Special to NWautos

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For a total spring clean, try a few at-home remedies for dents and scratches. (Cody Ellerd Bay)

So you've given your car a nice spring bath and vacuum -- but how about a little face-lift to get it back to its old familiar glory? Getting rid of scratches and dents doesn't have to cost a lot and, in some cases, can be done in the driveway with common household items.

Fixing a scratch
Since most scratches are V-shaped, they reflect light. The idea is to round out the edges of the V's so that they're less reflective and therefore less visible. Dustin Wilson, a car-care specialist at Griot's Garage in Tacoma, recommends taking the following steps to minimizing your scratch.

If you can't feel the scratch when you run your fingernail across it, it can probably be smoothed out by polishing, either by hand or machine. By hand, use a foam or cotton polishing pad, carefully applying even pressure in strokes perpendicular to the scratch. Wilson says it's worth it to buy a machine -- specifically, a random orbital polisher ($50-$150). "They're very easy to learn," he says, "with great results."

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Products like the Ding King can be used at home to repair dents. (Ding King)

Removing deeper scratches that penetrate the primer or metal probably shouldn't be tackled by an inexperienced DIY-er. Take the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) to a paint shop to get an exact match of your car's color. Apply the touch-up paint (usually under $10) to cover up the scratch, and then follow with a layer of wax.

Or take your car to a professional body shop. The cost of having someone make the repair for you varies widely (from less than $25 to hundreds of dollars) depending on the size, depth, location and age of the scratch, plus the type of paint on your car. The older the scratch, the more difficult and costly it is to fix, so don't let it go for too long.

Fixing a dent
The tools you need to repair a dent depend on the size, shape and location of the dent. For your first line of attack, look no further than an ordinary bathroom plunger. Larger dents that have no crease in the middle can often be taken care of by positioning a clean plunger over the center of the dent, giving it a few pumps for suction, and then pulling it out.

Resources

  • Griot's Garage
    Offers its own line of auto-maintenance and repair products, instructional materials and classes; griotsgarage.com
  • Paintless dent repair
    Dent Wizard: Multiple locations; dentwizard.com
    Ryan Snider PDR: Bellevue; ryanpdr.com
  • Supplies
    Ding King, Bondo Heavy Duty Dent Puller and filler products available at O'Reilly Auto Parts, oreillyauto.com

If that doesn't work, and if you can access the dented area from behind, try tapping the back of the dent with a rubber mallet of the same size. Don't use a steel hammer; it will likely leave ugly marks on the metal.

Relatively inexpensive products such as the "As Seen on TV" Ding King ($20) take the plunger concept further, using specially formulated glue and a suction "bridge," with mixed reviews. Other off-the-shelf tools, such as the Bondo Heavy Duty Dent Puller ($25), require screwing a bolt into the dent to pull it out, then filling the hole with putty and repainting the area, which can affect the overall value of the car.

One of the lesser-known alternatives to a full-service body shop is paintless dent repair. It's a professional service in which a technician gradually massages the metal back to its original form. The process is effective on 1990-and-later-model cars where the paint hasn't been cracked and the dent isn't near the edge of a panel. The often mobile, same-day service generally costs $75-$100 per dent.

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