How to repair paint chips in the paint DIY

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Difficulty: 1/5


Your car will get chips in normal driving.  This article shows how to repair minor chips yourself.

Repair the chips as soon as practical to prevent rust or further damage.  This article shows one way of fixing chips.  Many people don't like car bras because they give cars an 80's look.  Clear adhesive paint protection films are currently the best passive protection against chips.  Although there may be pre-cut film kits for your car, professional installation is highly recommended.  Much like window tint, it's very easy to mess up applying the film and it will just waste your time and money.  Please note that most clear adhesive paint protection films are perfectly safe for factory paint but should not be applied over a repainted area.  You can actively decrease chips by increasing following distances, especially when you are in construction zones or other areas where debris is on the road.  If you have a mk4 TDI and noticed flaking paint on the fender wheel wells, see 1000q: fender rust TSB.

The main difference between a chip and scratch is the width.  If it's a scratch, I suggest using a paint pen and then polishing it out.  See 1000q: polishing paint for more details.  Don't bother using the brush because it'll just leave a wide splat of paint.  If the chip is wide and is too noticeable or is through the primer, you should repair it and fill it in.

You could take it to a body shop but I don't suggest this unless you want the car to be perfect or have many chips on 1 panel.  It's not cost effective to take it to a pro for 1 small chip, a shop can make more money by doing a large area, and if they are professionals, this is honestly the best way to get a professional looking repair.  Your results may vary!  It's extremely difficult to spray a small spot on the hood and have it blend into the rest of the panel.  As the repair fades due to sun exposure and age, it will also look different from the rest of the panel.  Good repairs blend the paint up to the edge of the panel (ie., the hood-fender gap) or fade into curves.

Lastly, some colors are harder to blend than others.  Flat red, black, or blue are easier colors and a repair should not be noticeable.  You don't even need to use a clearcoat on top of a small repair, just polish it.  Metallics and pearls are harder colors to match and a clear coat sometimes helps with silver metallic.  Pearl white is a very hard color to perfectly match.


sanding block
thin wire to use as a paintbrush
800 grit wet/dry auto paint sandpaper
1500 or 2000 grit wet/dry auto paint sandpaper
microfiber towels
VW touch up paint, see 1000q: paint code reference table to help find your paint code
rubbing compound and polishing compounds (3M perfect it rubbing and 3M finesse it polishing compound or equivalent quality compound recommended)
porter cable random orbital polisher (optional but highly recommended, see 1000q: polishing paint for polishing technique)

Paint chip repair procedure

First thoroughly clean and dry the affected area. 

Use 800 grit sandpaper to clean away loose paint chips at the edges and smooth down the area.  Make sure you use wet/dry automotive sandpaper and use plenty of water to keep the sandpaper from "loading" up.  Many people like to use a pencil eraser to limit the area of sanding, I just use my finger or something else if it's too small.  You just want to remove any loose paint chips and rough up the area to ensure paint adhesion.  If the chip only goes down to the primer, try to avoid sanding through the primer.  If you can see rust it means that it is exposed down to the metal so sand all the rust away first.  

It's best to try to get the edges of the chip as sharp as possible to hold the paint and get a clean edge as seen below.  The 3 basic steps are illustrated below in a side view.  The gray represents the lower layers of primer or metal, the green is the top coat of paint or clear.  The blue is the touch up paint.  If the edges are too smooth, it will be harder to sand the edges.  You want the edges to be defined so the repair sticks and a defined edge helps to hold the paint within the boundaries of the chip.  The idea is to build up the paint and then sand it flat.

Step 1 - sand and loosen any paint chips.  I sanded a bit much here because there was a scratch next to it anyways.  I recommend using only 1500 grit maximum here, start with 2000 grit if you're not sure.  The edges needed to be cleaned up a little here too.

Use rubbing alcohol to wipe the area clean.  You must remove all wax and grease or else the paint will not stick properly!

If the paint is below 60oF, use a heat gun to warm the area.  You want the paint to flow into the chip properly.  The touch up paint should also be fresh.  Old paint loses thinner and doesn't flow properly.

Dap the touch up paint onto a paintbrush/wire for small areas and scratches.  I like to bend the tip into a "V" or loop to hold the paint.  A larger loop can hold more paint.  That huge sloppy paintbrush in the bottle cap is ok if you have a large area to paint like the chip shown.

You want the paint to fill in the chip, little by little by capillary action for small chips.  For large chips you want to keep the paint within the edges of the chip.  You can use a heat gun to help the paint flash and dry to apply the next layer.  The idea is to build up the chip with more paint than is necessary and sand it flat later.  Keep in mind that the paint will shrink as it dries, so apply plenty of paint.  If it's too cold, the paint won't flow properly to fill in the gaps.  A sharp boundary will help hold the paint, which is another reason why you want to remove any loose chips and clean the area well.

If it is a really large chip, you may have to apply a few coats over a couple of days to let it dry properly.  Many thin coats are better than a few thick coats.  If a small chip, let the paint dry for at least 24 hours and sand it flat with the sanding block and 1000-800 grit wet/dry.  Always use plenty of water during sanding to make sure there is no dirt that could cause scratches.  If you skip using a sanding block, the area will not be flat and it will be more noticeable.  The repair will appear wavy if try to use your finger as a sanding block so don't skip buying the correct supplies!  Avoid sanding the edges and corners too much because you might sand through the new paint or the transition between the touch up and original paint.  The corners can be polished out later.

If there are any low spots or "bubbles and fisheyes", you have to fill them in with more paint now because they will be much more noticeable later.  If not, then you are ready to do the final sanding with 1500/2000 grit sandpaper.  If you do see bubbles or fisheyes, this is normally due to wax, grease, or water contamination.  

Next, use rubbing compound to finish the area and then polish.  Give it a final wash and then wax.

Here is an extreme close up of the final result.  It's most visible at certain angles but from 5 feet away you can't tell that it's there.  It's not perfect, but it's still a huge improvement over the rusty chip and this will prevent any further rust.

A further view - not noticeable unless you are looking for it.

Find the correct touch up paint and color code by searching the site: