how to buff out a scratch on a car

Pro Guide: How To Buff Out A Scratch On A Car

Nothing is more disappointing than coming to the sight of a scratch in your car’s paint. Even after doing everything correctly to take care of your pride and joy, eventually it’s going to happen.

You don’t always need new car paint or touch up paint.  In fact, buffing out scratches and scuff marks is often the best option.  Shopping carts, children, unfortunate mishaps - whatever it is that has damaged your car’s finish, a quick buff and polish on a cloudy day may be just what the doctor ordered.

Good news, with the right professional rubbing compound, a little bit of elbow grease (or power tools if you’re into that sort of thing) anyone can do this. Read on to learn the easy step by step instructions for how to buff out a scratch on a car.


How to Buff Out A Scratch On A Car: Everything To Know

  • Check out the extent of damage

Are they really scratches? It’s easy to confuse debris and road tar for a scratch at first glance. Gently run your fingernail across the scratch to see if it catches slightly. No? Easy. Skip to the rubbing compound step below.  Yes? Remember that your car finish has layers, usually clear coat, color, primer, and steel from top to bottom. Take a close look at the scratch to see if your case extends to the clear coat or color only.  There’s good news because you can handle it on your own with just a little extra work. If you can see the gray of primer or steel, however, you likely need to head to the body shop.

  • Clean!

Cleaning is crucial!. You can expect more abrasions if you work on a surface with stuck dirt or debris. Focus on the scratched area and spray with soapy water and a good wax and grease remover. Get rid of the dirt with a soft sponge as you spray the car with water. Ensure it dries completely using a clean microfiber cloth. 

  • Sand the scratches

Some scratches are deep enough to need a little bit of sanding. Using a new piece of clean 2000-grit wet sandpaper, sand lightly until you can no longer feel a ridge with your fingernail. Let the sandpaper do its job, and don’t press too hard so you have a nice smooth feathering.  Keep your sandpaper clean to avoid making new scratches from dirt or debris! Take care not to sand too much clearcoat.  If you’re nervous, it’s likely time to stop and move on to the next step.

  • Clean the sanded surface

Rinse the sanded area thoroughly with clean water. Wipe it using a high-quality and clean microfiber cloth. Your old or roughly textured rags shouldn't be used for the exercise unless you want some swirl marks to buff out as well.

  • Application of the rubbing compound

Choose a compound appropriate for the depth of the scratch.  If the scratch is still fairly deep, you may need to use a heavy compound first, and then a polishing compound second. Already have the best rubbing compound for car scratches? It's time to put it into use. The rubbing compound is an abrasive element that gently removes a miniscule amount of paint while simultaneously polishing the surface. It simply smoothes out the scratched surface. Onto the affected area, apply a drop, no bigger than a nickel. 

  • Buffing the best rubbing compound

Rubbing compound can dry out on a hot day, so just like waxing, choose to work in the garage or on a cloudy day.  Buff the surface while the compound is wet. You can take a clean microfiber cloth and some pressure plus elbow grease to work through the area.  Rub, rub, rub!  You’ll start to see the scratch disappear and any sanded areas shine up.  If you wipe the area and still have a dull spot, go again.

If you’re going to use a power buffer, start with a lower speed and pay attention to the buffing pad you choose.  Talk to the folks at your local auto body supply store to make sure you have the right buffing pad for the job. Keep the buffer moving to avoid burning your clearcoat and causing a bigger problem. Move constantly in multiple directions and don’t hold it in the same place. Buff until the area is smooth with no scratches on sight.

  • Rinse and wash once more

To clear the residue of the rubbing compound, wash the area using clean water and wipe it downl. You may see a little bit of compound still in a crevice if the scratch isn’t completely removed, but in a lot of cases this is the best that can be done.  You likely won’t notice it was ever there even with a small divet left behind.  Clean any compound off the area with your microfiber cloth and check out the final result. 

  • Waxing

Since you’re already out on a cloudy day, it’s a good time to apply some quality wax to seal off the paint. Once you're done, buff it again for a smoother and shinier result.


Now that you know how to buff out a scratch on a car, those dreaded marks can be kept at bay! Besides, owning a car makes this a regular thing you have to deal with. 

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