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How To Touch Up Car Paint: The Complete Guide

Got Chipped Paint? Here’s A Step-by-Step Guide on How To Successfully Touch Up Car Paint!

how to touch up car paint

Knowing how to touch up car paint is a wonderful skill to have. It doesn’t take much for your car to end up with chipped paint. If you drive your car at all, gravel and other debris from the road can easily cause chip damage. And severe weather or even a drive down a newly paved road might mar your car’s exterior. And, yet, small-scale paint damage is seldom a reason to get an entirely new paint job, which would be both incredibly expensive and unnecessary. If the paint damage is severe, it may be time to call a professional in. But if the chips are fairly small, then you can be your own professional!

Touch Up Car Paint Yourself With These Methods

If the chips are generally small, with the proper supplies and technique, you can touch up your car’s paint. The process is rather time-consuming, but the end result is worthwhile. Not only will touching up your car paint make it look better, but it will also protect your car from future corrosion.

We’ll walk you through how to touch up car paint here. You’ll learn about the best products, and, most importantly, the necessary methods in order to prevent further damage.

Below, you will find the steps on how to touch up car paint. We separated the process into two categories. First, there is a list on how to prepare the area for touching up the car. Then, there is a list of the actual process of touching up the paint.

Steps For Prepping The Area: 

Before beginning the process of touching up your car paint, you need to prep the area using these four simple steps.

Step 1: Gather All Products

First and foremost, you need the correct paint to touch up your car. Get touch up paint that is the EXACT color of your car. Any color, lighter or darker, will be very obvious.

Depending on your car, you can find the car color code in various spots. Often, you can find it on the drive’s side door jamb. The color code is a number near the bottom of a sticker usually reading, for example, “C/TR: 202/FC40.” In this case, “202” is the paint color code. If the code is not inside your door, check your glove box or the sun visor on the passenger side.

If you cannot find it, look up the exact make and model of your car, using your cars VIN number, to find the color code online. Once you find the color code, take the code to an auto parts store. From there, they will get you the correct touch-up paint!

Along with the correct touch-up paint, you will need the following items: 

  1. Car Wash Soap
  2. 2-4 Microfiber Towels
  3. 2000-Grit Sandpaper
  4. Color Coat (Touch Up Paint)
  5. Automotive Clear Coat
  6. Fine-tip Paintbrush
  7. Wax & Grease Remover
  8. Car Wax Spray (OPTIONAL)
  9. Rust Arrestor/Primer (OPTIONAL)

Once you have these items, you’ll be ready to touch up your car paint WHENEVER it is needed. While the last two items on the list are optional, they’re often needed in order to improve the area of the car that needs touching up. Specifically, the wax will add a protective coat over the new paint while also giving your car the glossy look of its original paint.

Step 2: Wash Area Of Car That Needs Paint

It is very important to only touch up car paint on a clean surface. If you don’t wash the area before touching up the paint, you may capture dirt and debris in the new paint, potentially causing even more damage to your car.

With that being said, use car soap, water, and a microfiber towel to wash the area surrounding the chipped paint. Once you are done washing, thoroughly dry the area using a clean, dry microfiber towel.

Our guide on How to Wash Your Car provides a detailed step-by-step on how to wash your car like a pro. For this specific process, you only need to wash the part of your car where you will be touching up the car paint.

Step 3: Remove Excess Debris (Rust, Dust, Wax, And Grease)

If after you wash the car, there is still lingering residue in the area, you may need to take more measures to fully clean the area before applying new paint. You will want to be sure the area is clear of all visible rust, wax, or grease.

Sanding the area where you will be touching up with paint is vital. Whether you see rust or not, the area around the paint chip is probably not level. You should use sandpaper to clean, smooth, and prep the area prior to touching up the paint.

If there are any traces of rust, this step is especially important. Use the 2000-grit sandpaper to remove the rust and any other debris. Once you are done sanding, dry the area fully with a microfiber towel.

You can also use the rust arrestor to remove the rust. Unless your car is very old, the use of a rust arrestor will probably not be needed.

After that, use the wax and grease remover and a microfiber towel on the area. This is vital to ensure the new paint to properly adheres to the car. You may need to purchase a spray bottle to apply the remover. Just spray it on to a microfiber towel and gently rub on the area.

Step 4: Wash Area Again To Prep For Painting

After you have fully finished the pre-treating process, wash the area again using car soap, water, and a microfiber towel. This will ensure the area is fully debris-free. Once washed, dry the area completely.

Steps For Touching Up Car Paint:

Now, you are ready for the actual touching up process! While this first step may feel tedious, spend the time to thoroughly prep the affected area is vital to ensure an effective and long-lasting result. Take your time with the steps below. This process will require patience and precision. But, as we have outlined exactly how to do it, you don’t need to worry. Set aside a weekend. Open up that garage. We got you!

OPTIONAL: If Needed, Apply Primer On Chipped Area

In most cases, applying a primer is not needed. But if the chip is very deep, go ahead and apply primer. Apply the primer ONLY if the chip reaches metal — new paint does not adhere to metal so the primer will ensure your touch-up paint sticks. Squeeze a small amount of the primer onto the area. Using a small, fine-tip brush, gently cover the metal area with a thin coat. Then, wait for the primer to dry. It is important to only put the primer onto the chipped area, as it could potentially damage the finish of the car in the surrounding area. If the primer does get on the surrounding area, wipe it off immediately.

As an alternative to the primer, rust arrester also works for this step. If you opt to use both a rust arrestor and primer, make sure to use the rust arrestor BEFORE the primer.

Step 1: Test The Paint

First, shake the paint well. Then, using your fine-tip brush, test the paint on a hidden or less visible part of your car like the door jamb to confirm the paint color matches your car and that the paint is the correct consistency. You also want to make sure the touch-up paint does not negatively interact with the surface of the car. Hopefully, by purchasing quality touch-up paint, there should be no issues. Wait for your test spot to dry, and if it looks good, you are all set to start!

Step 2: Apply Paint To The Chipped Area

Now, for the actual painting! While there isn’t much creative freedom in touching up car paint, patience and precision are the keys to success.

Apply the paint to the chipped area using a fine-tip paintbrush. Dab a single drop of paint into the chipped area, slowly covering it. Only use enough paint to cover the chip, avoiding getting it on the surrounding area. After painting, the spot will look slightly elevated compared to the surrounding area — that is okay and to be expected. When you sand the touched-up area in a few days, you will smooth this surface down.

You will likely need to repeat this process and paint 2-3 coats on the area. It is essential that you wait at least an hour between each coat.

After you have applied 2-3 coats of paint, you are done for the day. The rest of the process for touching up car paint, outlined in steps 3-5, will take place 24 hours later.

Step 3: Sand Touched-Up Area

Well, now it is 24 hours later, and here we are!

Using your 2000-grit sandpaper, sand the freshly painted area. Be gentle and do not apply immense pressure. If the sandpaper you are using is too large, you can cut a smaller piece off to use for this process. Try to only sand the touched-up area, but if you end up sanding a little bit of the surrounding area, that is okay. The area will get fully leveled out after you apply the clear coat and sand the area one more time in steps 4 and 5. Wipe any excess dust away using a microfiber towel.

Step 4: Apply The Clear Coat

Depending on the clear coat product you choose, you can either spray it on or apply the clear coat with a fine-tip paintbrush. Just like the touch-up paint, you may need to do 2-3 coats. Apply after each subsequent coat dries — allow about an hour for each coat to dry. While it may be tempting to just apply one thick coat, it is better to apply 2-3 thin coats. This step is also your final test of patience, and we believe in you!

Step 5: Sand The Area Again

Use your 2000-grit sandpaper to level out the area one more time. The main thing to focus on with this round of sanding is to get the touched-up area level with the rest of the car’s paint. The area needs to be smoothed and fully blended with the surrounding area. Once the painted area is fully level, wipe any excess dust using a microfiber towel.

Extra credit: After 48 Hours, Wax The Entire Car! 

While not required, waxing your car will give your car a lovely shine and added protection. Two days after you’ve finished all the steps, using a gentle and circular motion, apply wax to the car. After a few minutes, remove the wax using a microfiber towel.

Steps For Touching Up Car Paint

Prepping the Area

  • 1: Gather All Products
  • 2: Wash Area Of Car That Needs Paint
  • 3: Remove Excess Debris (Rust, Dust, Wax, And Grease)
  • 4: Wash Area Again To Prep For Painting

Touching Up Paint

  • 1: Test The Paint
  • 2: Apply Paint To The Chipped Area
  • 3: Sand Touched-Up Area
  • 4: Apply The Clear Coat
  • 5: Sand The Area Again

Inspired To Clean Your Car Even More? 

If your new paint job inspires you to go all out, be sure to check Autowise’s Car Cleaning & Maintenence tips. Learn How To Disinfect Your Car, How To Remove Tree Sap From Your Car, and, even, How To Get Cigarette Smell Out Of Your Car.

For added protection after touching up your car paint, you can also go for some “extra credit” by protecting your car paint with the best possible products.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you touch up scratches on a car?

If the scratches on the car are not deep, you could benefit from using a Car Scratch Remover. With a very easy application, you can often fix shallow scratches. The product will also restore the gloss and finish if used with the sponge, and it is advertised as being safe on all car finishes. However, if the scratches are deep and large, this product may not help.

With that said, the same steps used to touch up paint chips can be used to touch up scratches as well.

Where do you find the car color code on a car?

First off, your car’s color code is typically three to six characters long, containing both letters and numbers. Typically the color code is at the bottom of the driver’s side door jamb, the bottom right of the windshield next to the VIN number, or in the glove box. Sometimes, it is in the inside of the car hood or on the passenger side sun visor.

You don’t want to just go off the name of the color of your car because that color will vary from year to year. The only way to guarantee that you purchase the right color is by identifying your car’s exact color code.

If you can’t seem to find it in any of those places, contact your dealer, and they should be able to help you out.

Where do I get touch up paint?

You can purchase touch up paint at your local auto parts shop. Sometimes, you can also purchase it at the car dealership. More common colors should be readily available. Just make sure you have your correct color code on hand. If your car color is more unique, you may need to call ahead to verify that the store has it in stock. If they don’t, they might need to order it in.

Never order a generic color for your touch-up paint! With that, you run the risk of it not matching your car’s original paint color at all.

Does touch up paint last?

In order to get the longest-lasting touch-up job, make sure to closely follow all of the steps. By adding multiple thin layers of both the touch-up paint and the clear coat, the car touch-up paint job should last.

Ensuring the surface of your car is completely clean, maintaining the surface smoothness throughout the process with sandpaper, applying the paint properly, and making certain you have the correct paint color will all give you a professional-quality car touch-up paint job.

About Joybeth Sullivan

Joybeth Sullivan is an accomplished content creator. She does it all as a writer, photographer, and videographer. Her work has been published in local and international outlets. She graduated from the University of Georgia in May of 2020 with a dual-degree in English & Film. Today, she is based out of Denver, CO. When she isn't writing, you can find her on long drives in the mountains with her husky, Newman, riding shotgun.