WHETHER IT was your fault or not, a car’s bodywork is rarely free from scratches or scruffs. For minor scrapes, the immediate temptation may be to head down to Halfords and pick up a bottle of T-Cut. If the scar is a little more severe, and you are a bit more confident in your DIY skills, perhaps you might want to order online the right shade of paint, sand down the area and respray it yourself. Especially if you’ve had a rather alarming repair quote from your local bodyshop.
Either option is possible, but will the results be satisfactory if you try to repaint a car’s panel yourself? After one of our own cars was involved in a low-speed scrape, Driving got in touch with ChipsAway to witness the process that specialist roadside repairers go through, and it left no doubt in our mind: leave it to the professionals.
Luke Hall, a ChipsAway franchisee for the Esher area, in Surrey, guides us through the stages.
Clean and degrease
It’s imperative that the damaged area is free from dirt, grease and tar, according to Hall. He uses specialist degreasers and cloths and sets up an awning over the car to protect the repair area from the elements. Humidity and temperature affect the quality of the repair.
Sanding back the damaged area removes the scratches and ensures that the final repair is smooth. Hall uses both an orbital sander and sands by hand, working from the rough to the smooth grades of paper. He says there’s no standard methodology here: experience dictates the technique and which grades of sandpaper to go for, and it can involve papers anywhere from 40 grit (coarse) to 4,000 grit (ultra-fine).
Hall applied primer to the largest area of repair, but says not all areas necessarily require it. Again, experience dictates. He masked off the area, including the nearest wheel, to avoid primer reaching beyond where it was needed, then applied it with a spray gun in even layers. A first coat was applied, followed by a 10-minute drying period under infrared heat lamps, followed by a second coat.
Hall then added a guide coat of dark paint and used fine sand paper to remove “highs and lows”, then cleaned the area again with degreaser and used an air gun to blast away dust and dry the area.
The shade of paint is very important, of course. Hall had inspected the damage in an earlier visit (this is standard for ChipsAway, as they need to assess the damage and provide a quotation, and it ensures they can work in a given space and have access to an electrical socket) and so had brought the correct paint, but he used a spectrometer to measure the exact shade at three points around the damaged area. He then uploaded this information to a laptop in his van and mixed the paint to match the natural colour of the panels.
This is clearly a highly specialised process that ensures a top quality finish.
Assuming you can find the correct shade, or at least the nearest off-the-shelf product, next spend some time on preparation. Hall taped off the nearby body panels and lights, as well as a chrome section on the bumper. He then covered the side and rear of the car in a layer of thin plastic film that clung to the body and secured the edges with masking tape. Using a scalpel, he carefully cut away the plastic around the panel to be repaired and used more masking tape to secure the inside edges.
Paint was applied with a spray gun, feathering the edges to ensure the finish is smooth across the whole panel. The water-based paint he used needed just three minutes curing time between coats under the lamps. The heat from the lamps is very important, according to Hall, and damp or humid environments can greatly affect the quality of the finish.
A total of five coats was required for our repair, but this varies depending on the car and the repair.
Lacquer provides a tough, durable glossy finish to the paint. This was sprayed on and allowed to dry over 15 minutes before a final coat was applied.
The final job is to polish the area. Hall used an orbital machine polisher with two grades of 3M pad to add and buff the polish. He recommends that the car isn’t washed for at least three days, preferably a week, but after that can be cleaned as normal.
Should you attempt a DIY car scratch repair?
Hall told us it’s absolutely possible to do it yourself using kit bought at Halfords. You would also save money — typically, a basic bumper repair by a specialist such as ChipsAway will cost anywhere from £160 plus VAT whereas at Halfords, primer, paint and lacquer spray cans cost around just £7-8 each. Sandpaper is very inexpensive.
However, for a repair that isn’t noticeable to the untrained eye, Hall believes you need the right tools and plenty of experience. He says he can never guarantee a factory quality finish but to our eyes, the repaired area on our car is as good as new.
For more examples of Hall’s repair work, visit facebook.com/chipsawayesher.