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Scratches, chips and other imperfections are just about unavoidable, but a careful repair job can be almost totally invisible.

Here’s how to fix a paint scratch on your car, step by step.

Unless the car you’re repairing is over 20 years old or was custom-painted,­ the paint is almost certainly a clear-coated catalysed enamel. Artificially hardened by toxic chemicals, it’s stable within hours of factory application.

On the other hand, the paint you’re applying, whether it’s primer, colour or clear, is a lacquer. Lacquers dry because the solvent evaporates, leaving the solids behind. While they may feel hard and be sand-able within a few minutes, they will continue to shrink for a while. Allow lacquers to dry at least overnight so they can shrink before you add another coat. If you need multiple coats to build up the paint film to full thickness for a repair, one coat a day is best. Of course, be safe. The amounts of solvents used are small, but work in a well-­ventilated area. Make sure to de-grease the area with solvent before starting.

Minor scratches, ones that don’t go through the clear coat into the colour, or areas of low gloss or orange-peel texture can often simply be polished out with compound. Yes, this removes some of the clear coat, so polish the minimum area necessary or you’ll have to respray some of that protective top layer. Thoroughly clean the panel after you’re done to remove the abrasive compound.

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