These days, its not a matter of "if" you'll get a scratch, it's when. Unfortunately, bodywork scratches happen often and they cost a premium to fix. Luckily, you don't have to be a professional detailer to remove unsightly scratches or even paint transfers.
These repair kits can help to remove light to medium scratches (clearcoat). They all come with a scratch removal compound and some also come with abrasive materials like wet sanding sponges and pads.
The Best Car Scratch Removers
Note: To preface this entire article. Don't expect the world from these compounds. If you have a scratch that's deep (base coat, primer, or body panel) these products will disappoint you.
1. Meguiar's Ultimate Compound
Meguiar has been a dominant brand in the detailing industry for a long time; A number of their products are across this site in a variety of categories.
Their ultimate compound is a solid product. It's non-hazardous and can be applied both by hand or with a dual action polisher.
Note: These reviews assume experience levels of the readers. Most "beginners" or people who simply want to remove scratches from their vehicle may or may not have access to a drill or buffer. A drill or buffer will ALWAYS be better at removing scratches in comparison to hand application.
Meguiar's advertises this as being "safe for clear coat" as it works via their exclusive micro-abrasive technology to remove oxidation, scratches, water spots, and blemishes.
Meguiar's packaging even notes: "Guaranteed to outperform all other rubbing compounds in every way possible - or your money back."
2. 3M Scratch Remover System
3M is a very well known brand, even if you're not into automotive detailing and maintenance.
As noted above, scratch removal with a buffer or drill applicator pad will always be better than hand application. Then again, you could argue one just takes longer.
This scratch removal system comes with 3,000 Grit Abrasive Square, a disc pad holder, purple compounding pad, black polishing pad, 3M rubbing compound, and 3M scratch remover. You'll also need a drill, microfiber cloth, water, and spray bottle.
This kit uses a 3-step approach to scratch removal:
- Spray water on the repair area and wet sand by hand with the 3,000 grit sandpaper; Apply light to medium pressure to sand the immediate area. A white slurry/foam will appear, indicating the process is working. Continue to wet sand until the scratch disppears. The treated area will appear hazy, this will be removed in the subsequent steps.
- Mount the disc pad holder into your household drill. Attach the purple compounding pad to the disc pad holder. Add 3M rubbing compound to the compounding pad. Before turning drill on, smear the compound onto the surface to prevent product from slinging. Turn the drill on and buff the area with light to medium pressure. Remove rubbing compound with microfiber cloth.
- Remove purple pad and attach the black polishing pad. Add 3M scratch remover and smear over the affected area. Polish the affected area and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.
In terms of scratch removal on clearcoat, you'd be hard pressed to find a product that can compare with 3M.
3. Meguiar's Quik Scratch Eraser Kit
In a similar vein to the 3M scratch remover, this kit by Meguiar's also requires you to have a household drill.
Included in the Meguiar's kit is: 4oz. Scratch X 2.0, 4" Scratch Eraser drill mounted pad, and microfiber towel.
The process works as follows:
- Attach the scratch eraser drill mounted pad.
- Apply a small amount of Scratch X to the pad by creating an "X" pattern on the pad.
- Place the pad flat on the affected area. Turn the drill on and using medium speed make 5-6 overlapping passes along the repair area.
- Repair as needed until the scratch is no longer noticeable.
- Use the microfiber towel to remove excess material and buff the affected area.
Unlike 3M, Meguiar's formulation contains microscopic abrasives that functions like a rubbing compound to remove the scratch while simultaneously polishing the repair area.
4. Turtle Wax Premium Grade Scratch Repair Kit
Turtle Wax is a relatively well known brand in the detailing world. They're known for offering solid products at an affordable price.
The Turtle Wax Scratch repair kit includes a scratch repair pen, spray lubricant, 3 color-coded restoration pads, and paint clarifying compound.
Application works as follows:
- Apply the clarifying compound to the repair area with a cotton towel and rub for one minute. You likely won't notice much of a change on the surface level of the scratch.
- Wet the repair area with spray lubricant. Start with the brown pad/600 grit and wet sand the area. Wipe back and forth 20 times with light hand pressure. Repeat until most of the scratch has disappeared.
- Switch to the #4 sandpaper and continue applying spray lubricant and wet sanding the repair area. The repair area will likely be hazy/dull, this will be remedied in step four.
- Apply paint clarifying compound with a new cotton towel to the repair area.
Note: The pen is used for lighter scratches on the clear coat. The process of wet sanding with the spray lubricant is used for deeper scratches.
5. Chemical Guys Scratch and Swirl Remover
Chemical Guys makes a number of really solid detailing products. They note that their scratch and swirl remover functions as a compound, polish, and cleaner. The compound is also wax and silicone free.
It functions as a 3-in-1 product but is a 1-step high-gloss polish. They note that it works well for all clear coat and single stage paint (no clearcoat).
This product works well for situations involving light to moderate swirl marks, scratches, and paint defects.
Note: This product works best with a dual-action/rotary buffing machines.
Factors to Consider in a Car Scratch Remover
Before using a scratch remover, it's best to determine the depth level of the scratch.
Analyzing the Car's Scratches
There are four different layers to a car's exterior and each one can be scratched. The effectiveness of a scratch remover is heavily dependent on the penetration level of scratch.
Layer 1: Body Panel
The Body Panel is the actual frame/bare metal of the vehicle. Having a scratch get down to this level means it's deep. They tend to require extensive repair work and may even require removal of the entire panel or re-paint.
A body shop will likely be the only solution to this type of scratch as scratch removers work on a more superficial level.
Touch-up paint may work as a temporary solution, however it won't be viable due to the possibility for rust; If rust happens you'll have bigger issues than just scratches.
Layer 2: Primer
In terms of paint, the primer is the hardest type of scratch to remove. Most primer scratches are a result of large debris like rock.
While it's not impossible to repair primer scratches, they are usually not able to be repaired with car scratch remover. There are touch-up/color pens, however like the bare metal, it's a temporary solution.
Layer 3: Basecoat
A basecoat scratch will penetrate the clearcoat. It's usually caused by physical objects hitting the vehicle and chipping the paint. It may even be from severe oxidation that has worn away the clearcoat.
Basecoat scratches are much more difficult to remove than clearcoat scratches. Meaning, there's no hard and fast way to effectively fix them.
There are a number of products that exist that attempt to remedy these scratchers, however the results are usually less than optimal. A repair shop will be able to perform the leveling process that requires total clearcoat removal to reach the penetration level.
Layer 4: Clearcoat
Clearcoat scratches only penetrate the outermost paint layer. They are the most common as the clearcoat is exposed to the outside elements.
Swirl marks are the best example of clearcoat scratching; They typically occur due to improper materials or dirty cloths that rub against the surface. Road debris, acid rain, and polish can even wear away the clearcoat.
For the sake of transparency, in terms of scratch removal, technically paint correction or polishing is the best option. These processes work to grind down a small portion of the clearcoat's surface. Some of the materials used to polish can even fill in the scratches not removed by the polishing process.
With that said, scratch removal paste (the ones above) can also work. These products are for isolated, localized, surface-level (clearcoat) scratches.
Wax and/or ceramic coating can then be applied over the clearcoat to help mitigate scratches as well ( these are not permanent layers).
Types of Scratch Removers
When looking for a scratch remover/solution you'll quickly discover words like rubbing compounds, polishing compounds, and abrasives.
Rubbing compounds are typically more abrasive than a scratch removal compound and will require a polishing compound to be used after.
A scratch removal compound typically doesn't require a polishing step.
There are also kits (there are three above) that will feature compounds, applicator pads, abrasive pads (varying degrees of grit sandpaper).
Scratch Remover Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What Does a Scratch Remover Do?
A: A scratch remover works by removing a small layer of the vehicle's clear coat so that it matches the depth level of the scratch. The removal of clear coat is done through the use of micro-abrasive compounds by either hand application or through the use of a buffer or drill (with attachment).
Q: How Can I Determine How Deep the Scratches Are?
A: There are a few ways to assess the depth of the scratch.
By performing a visual inspection, if you see paint missing, it's likely that it's deeper than a clear-coat scratch.
If it appears superficial, you can spray the area with some water, if the scratch "disappears" it's likely a clear-coat scratch.
The most common test is the "finger-nail" test. When you run your nail along the scratch, does the edge of the paint catch your nail? If it does, it's likely too deep to be repaired with a scratch remover.
Inspect your scratches, determine the level of damage, and settle on your plan of action. If the scratch is deeper, likely the products above won't work very well. However, superficial scratches can repaired quite easily.