When & How to Use Touch Up Paint

You can fix minor paint problems (those that don’t require a complete overhaul) by following a few simple steps. Here’s a closer look at exactly what car paint touch ups are and how you can perform your own at home.

A car paint touch up is an ideal way to return your car’s body to near-perfect condition. Pick up the supplies needed at AutoZone and follow these steps. Within 1-3 hours, you’ll no longer cringe when you see a scratch or chip in your otherwise pristine paint job.

What is a car paint touch up?

A car paint touch up is a quick and easy way to fix scratches, chips, and other small damages that have left a mark on the body of your car. It requires a few supplies, such as sandpaper, soft rags, and the paint itself, but the full repair can be finished in three hours max. Kits are available that include all the items you’ll need, and you can get all the gear with a quick stop at a local AutoZone store.

Get started with the right supplies

Performing one of these repairs is easy enough, but it does require some basic research and a few supplies. A variety of paint types are available, but pens are ideal for small damaged areas. However, you may need to use another option if you’re dealing with a larger surface area.

Depending on how deep the damage is and whether there’s any rust, you’ll need a few supplies. Here’s a complete list of what you’ll need:

  • The right color paint
  • Clear coat paint
  • Rubbing compound
  • Sandpaper and a sanding block (you’ll need coarser sandpaper if you have rust)
  • A cotton cloth

How to Touch Up Your Car’s Paint Job

1. Wash and Wax Your Vehicle

Wash and dry the vehicle. Paints and primers always need a good, clean surface to adhere to, and touch up paint is much the same. Use wax and grease remover over the spots to be repaired, or the area can be finally cleaned with glass cleaner to insure there is no grease, oil, or contaminants on the paint in the touched up area.

2. Find a Nice, Shady Spot

Move the vehicle to a shaded area. You want to apply the paint in a mild climate—don’t work in direct sunlight or when the temperature is near freezing.

3. Get the Right Paint for Your Ride

Find the paint code for your car. This number will tell you what color paint you need to exactly match the vehicle’s paint job. Refer to this when you’re purchasing the paint.

4. Prepare the Damaged Area

Remove any flaking paint around the area. If there’s rust, scratches that have cut down to the metal, or larger paint chips, use heavy sandpaper to treat the damaged area and remove any dust with a clean rag. Then apply rubbing compound to smooth the area you’re treating.

5. Paint the Area with Multiple Coats

Apply the paint. Follow the directions listed on the product you’ve purchased. Remember to give it time to dry between coats. Sand the area again to ensure that the new paint is flush against the old paint. Repeat this step as needed until the color is correct and the paint is smooth across the entire area.

6. Finish with Clear Coat

Next, you can choose to then finish the touched up area with clear coat touch up or extra protection. You can then wet sand / buff the area and blend the touched up area into the rest of the cars finish for a much-less noticeable look. To do this, start with 1200 grit wet sanding paper and very gently wet sand the touched up area, making sure not to cut into the surrounding finish. Next, use 2000, and finish off by buffing the area with polishing compound and a DA rotary buffer.

After completing these steps, your car needs a final cleaning over the treated area. Remember to be patient and sand as much as needed to ensure that the new paint matches the body as closely as possible. You can also try practicing on some scrap metal first. After you’ve finished, apply a fresh coat of wax for a consistent shine across the entire vehicle.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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