The Ultimate Car Scratch Remover Guide

Ultimate Car Scratch Remover Guide (Remove Paint Scratches Without Breaking the Bank)

As much as some companies would like to lead consumers to believe, there is no magic car scratch remover. Most commercial products that claim to be an all in one car scratch remover product that you just apply to your paint, rub a little bit with a rag, and the scratches will be gone simply don’t just work that easily! These types of scratch removing products will only work on the lightest, barely visible unless your head is right on the paint job type of scratches.

REALLY deep scratches that extend past the clear coat (sometimes even down to the primer!) typically are not repairable simply through polishing. Scratches as the result of keys, screwdrivers, or some other malicious act are TYPICALLY only repairable through a professional auto body repair shop. A good rule of thumb is if your fingernail can catch on the scratch, it is probably too deep and you should seek a professional repair.

Lucky for the readership here at Car Care Fanatic (but not so lucky for me!) my three year old son recently decided to run his new toy fire truck across the hood of my daily driver prior to me getting a chance to remove all the plastic “anti-theft” appendages from the bottom of his new toy. This resulted in some pretty nice scratches on the hood of my car.

Check them out here:

Before Scratches

Those are some pretty bad scratches, don’t you think? There are three solutions here: deal with the embarrassment of having a scratched car, fix it yourself or spend a ton of money at an auto body shop to have the panel repaired. There was no way I could be angry with my toddler son, and thankfully I have the tools to make this repair myself. To make the best out of a bad situation, not only am I repairing it myself, but will document it all here so others can learn the steps to fix scratches on their own car.

Ultimate Car Scratch Remover Guide

I’m pretty confident that these scratches are fairly deep. In this situation I would normally jump right to doing a light sanding and polishing it with the rotary polisher. However, for the purposes of this guide I will go ahead and do the steps needed for lighter scratches which are less intensive on the paint work and often cure lighter scratches and will show photos of what my scratches look like after each round.

Here are the tools / products I will be using for this guide.

First round of our car scratch remover expedition: Rubbing Compound

A number of car paint scratches that are not very significant can be removed with a cutting compound or a rubbing compound. One of the most popular cutting compounds on the market is the Meguiar’s M105 Mirror Glaze Ultra-Cut Compound. An extremely popular rubbing compound with both auto body shops and car detailers is the 3M Perfect-It II Rubbing Compound. For the purpose of this guide, I will use both products, by hand, on the scratches on the hood of my car. Please note; due to the severity of the scratches on my car I do not expect much to come from this step. I wanted to throw it in there because the fact is that many scratches which aren’t as bad could potentially be rubbed away with some of these types of products.

Here is the result of the Cutting Compound/Rubbing Compound experiment. I used the Meguiar’s M105 Mirror Glaze Ultra-Cut Compound on the left side and 3M Perfect-It II Rubbing Compound on the right. It seems to have made a little bit of a difference, but not a ton.

Meguiar’s M105 vs 3M Rubbing Compound

Second round of our car scratch remover expedition: Dual Action Polisher

The fact is, sometimes the abrasives in the rubbing or cutting compounds that I used in the previous step are possibly enough to remove the scratches on the car’s paint but by doing it by hand is what is holding the compounds back from doing their job. There are two choices of machines for this type of situation; a rotary polisher such as the Milwaukee 5460-6 Polisher with Electronic Speed Control or the Porter Cable 7424XP Dual Action Polisher.

I always start with the Dual Action Polisher first. The reason is, the “dual action” of the Dual Action Polisher moves the polishing pad in a fashion that is least likely to burn through the paint or take off too much paint material. The Rotary Polisher spins in one direction, very fast. If you are not careful with a Rotary Polisher it is easy to ruin paint in no time at all.

There are some cases (such as this one I suspect) where a dual action polisher will just not cut it and a rotary polisher is necessary to make the repair. The dual action polisher in those cases just does not produce enough heat to cut deep into the paint to repair deeper scratches and the Rotary Polisher is necessary.

For this step I will start with the Meguiar’s M105 Mirror Glaze Ultra-Cut Compound with my Porter Cable 7424XP Dual Action Polisher and an Orange Chemical Guys Cutting pad. To apply the compound, I turn on the machine, let it wind up, and then turn it off. As it is slowing down, I dribble the compound onto the pad. The ending result typically ends up looking like a circular swirl of compound on the pad. (as you can see below, I put the compound on a little early this time 🙂 ) The lesson here; it doesn’t have to be perfect!

Polishing Pad Pad with Meguiar's 105

Priming the Pad

If the pad you are using is brand new (obviously I have used mine a number of times) you will achieve better results from priming the pad.

Check out this video from Autotopia Car Care on how to prime a pad for an initial use:


After the pad is primed with polish, apply the pad on the paints surface, turn on the machine to speed “3” and while applying gentle pressure work the polisher side to side in an approximate 12” x 12” section, when I reach the bottom of that section, I go up the side of the section, back down at a diagonal to the other corner of the section, and back up that side. This motion is more or less working in a “N” formation. If it looks like it is working, I sometimes will kick the speed up to the maximum and work a little faster (to avoid burning the paint) in an effort to produce a little more heat to possible complete the repair. In this case, I started at 3, and finished at 5.

Here is the result of the Dual Action Polisher with the M105 Compound:

Split Photo of two compounds /M105 Dual Action Polisher After

Third round of our car scratch remover expedition: Rotary Polisher

In all honesty, I believe this repair is going to require at least some 2000 grit sandpaper (maybe even 1500) followed by the Rotary Polisher but am working my way up to that from the least aggressive to the most aggressive for the purposes of this guide.

First, I will be using my Milwaukee Rotary Polisher with the same Chemical Guys Orange Cutting Pad and the Meguiar’s M105 Cutting Compound. I will be moving the rotary polisher in the same motion as noted previously (N formation). There is one critical difference though because the rotary polisher builds heat VERY quickly, I will keep the polisher moving AT ALL TIMES so that the heat doesn’t concentrate in one spot as the rotary polisher can burn through the paint on my car in no time at all.

Here is the result of the Milwaukee Rotary Polisher with Meguiar’s M105 Cutting Compound:

M105 Dual Action Polisher After/M105 Rotary Polisher After

The next step is going to be changing the compound used. For the next step I will be using the Milwaukee Rotary Polisher with 3M Perfect-It II Rubbing Compound.

Here is the result of the Milwaukee Rotary Polisher with 3M Perfect-It II Rubbing Compound:

M105 Rotary Polisher After/3M Perfect It II After

Finally starting to make some progress, don’t you think?

Fourth round of our car scratch remover expedition: Sandpaper

Obviously, in my situation sadly I was correct. To properly correct the paint on the hood of my car it is going to take sandpaper. The correct sandpaper in this situation is the 3M Wet/Dry sandpaper. The sandpaper is available online at places like Amazon. You also can get it at your local auto parts store.

The highest grit sandpaper “readily available” usually is 2,000 grit. I have seen 2,500 grit and sometimes 3,000 grit on occasion.  However, I typically have only found that at specialty auto body supply stores. In most situations for repairs that can be done “at home” and not at an auto body shop, 2,000 grit is a good all-around paper to start with. DO NOT ever use sandpaper not designed for the auto body application on your car’s paint. YOU WILL RUIN THE PAINT.

For this repair, I will wet the 2,000 grit sandpaper and work it back and forth on the scratches. It is important as you sand the paint with the paper that the surface remains wet. I started with a 2,000 grit and ended up going down to 1,500 to totally remove the scratches. Then I went back to 2,000 to smooth the 1,500 grit marks.

This is what the hood of the car looks like after sanding, prior to polishing:

Picture of hood sanded

Then I finished the hood with the Milwaukee Rotary Polisher with 3M Perfect-It II Rubbing Compound.

This is what the hood looks like after sanding and after polishing with the 3M rubbing compound:

Picture of hood polished

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

Last, I will finish off the hood with a quality wax. My wax of choice is the Griot’s Garage Best of Show Wax. Using multiple light coats (as recommended in my wax tip article), I gradually waxed the hood of the car.

Final shot after wax was applied:

Car Scratch Remover Final

The difference is dramatic isn’t it?

Car Scratch Remover Comparison

Final Words

Obviously, my hunch was correct. These scratches were pretty bad. If I wasn’t doing this repair for the purposes of this guide I would have jumped to the most extreme.  Which is; sanding the scratches, polishing with the compound using the rotary polisher, and finishing with a good quality wax.

I have quite a bit of experience though and was able to judge what repair was necessary pretty quickly. Start with the least abrasive that you feel might be the solution and work up from there.

For example my wife’s car had a scratch a couple months back. I expected that repair could be finished with just the Dual Action Polisher and the M105 compound. In the end, it needed the M105 compound and the rotary polisher, but no sandpaper. Start small, work your way up.

I hope you found this Car Scratch Remover Guide useful for repairing your car and good luck with your repairs!

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