December 5, 2023

Fanaticism about the appearance of your ride doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got an issue.

After all, it’s a major financial investment and was marketed to you in a large part based on its appearance.

And, as we Canadians are keeping our vehicles for a decade on average, taking care of paint chips isn’t just a cosmetic repair; it can help keep rust at bay.

The outer paint surface of our vehicles is a lot like our skin, with the constant threat of rust (or infection) getting in through an open wound. The increased use of aluminum for hoods has reduced some of the risk of this, however stone chips on non-steel panels can lead to paint separation and some ugly bubbling if not attended to in a timely manner.

The main concern with using a paint touch-up pen or stick to handle small chips and scratches is the obvious bandage-repair appearance that often results. Fortunately, there are ways to smooth out those paint ridge bumps and without hauling out the wet sanding gear or ending up with a job you have to take to the pros to fix.

First, consider that all modern vehicles are painted in a multi-step process with primers, colour coats, and clear coats (more for higher end rides with pearl-coat type finishes). Even with a factory-sourced paint stick, simply applying a layer of the colour coat isn’t likely to deliver a perfect match unless you apply a layer of clear coat after the original touch-up has dried. This can be especially problematic when dealing with lighter colours, of which silver is the worst.

Today, many automakers supply these sticks with two compartments; one for the base colour and one for the clear-coat.

Step one is to obtain the correct touch-up paint stick. Paint codes are usually printed on the driver’s door label, but a dealership can pull up the correct code by vehicle serial number. If your maker doesn’t offer a stick with both colour and clear coatings in one applicator, get a separate clear-coat stick.

Clean the damaged area well and finish the job with a wipe of rubbing alcohol to remove any remnants of road grime. If there’s any corrosion showing, clean it out with a small piece of emery cloth.

Some touch-up paint applicators will have an abrasive tip built onto the end of the cap for this purpose.

Don’t try to cover a chip in one shot. Instead, do it in steps, applying one or two coats, letting it set up for a day or two before re-cleaning the spot and adding another layer.

Finish things off with an application of the clear coat, then let things set up for a few days before treating the spot with a bit of regular car wax. Applying wax to paint that hasn’t completely hardened will permit better blending and a smoother finish.

Scratches of any length aren’t as easy to hide with touch up sticks. It can be done, but usually requires the use of a polish (wax with some grit) and some experience to avoid creating a mess of swirls — or worse yet, wearing away the paint.

For those jobs you may want to enlist the services of a mobile detailer. Auto dealers use them all the time and can provide contact information.


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