How to Remove Key Scratches from Car Quickly & Effectively

Author: Pat Freling | Updated: | Affiliate links may be present.

Dents, dings, and scratches are a normal part of car ownership. But just because they are to be expected doesn’t make them any less irritating. Key scratches on your car’s paint are also fairly normal.

I have a habit of putting my keys in my back pocket. In one instance, I did this and leaned back against my car while chatting with my neighbor. Unfortunately, I was left with several gouges on my front fender because I was careless.

Thankfully though, buffing out key scratches on your car is pretty easy & I was able to get the job done myself with just a few products from my local auto parts store.

Determine How Deep the Scratch Is

Before you head to the store (or online) to purchase your repair supplies, check to see if the key scratch is just in your clear coat or if it has gone down to your paint.

To do this, simply run your nail horizontally across the scratch. If your nail doesn’t catch, then the scratch has only damaged your clear coat. This is good news for you because clear coat scratches are the easiest to repair.

If your nail does catch, that means the base coat (and maybe even the primer) has been damaged. While it’s still possible to remove these on your own, you will need more patience and more products.

For Clear Coat Scratches

Clear Coat Pens

These superficial scratches can be fixed quickly and effortlessly with the help of a clear coat pen. These pens contain a non-pigmented resin that simply fills in the scratch, so it blends in with the rest of the paint.

You will want to wash and dry the area with a microfiber cloth to rid it of any debris. Check the instructions on the particular type of pen you have purchased, as they can vary slightly. You will need to press the product on a paper towel a few times to get it flowing evenly through the pen.

Allow it at least 24 hours to dry, and then buff away any excess product, either by hand or with a rotary buffer.

Buffing Compound

A good alternative to clear coat pens would be buffing compounds. These car key scratch remover kits are made up of a buffing liquid and a buffing pad. It is suggested to only use these if you have a rotary buffer, as doing it by hand will be arduous and won’t produce as good of results.

These compounds are slightly abrasive and help to remove the “ridge” on surface-level scratches as well as add some shine to the coat, all in one step. When you’re done, wipe away any extra product with a microfiber towel.

You can repeat the buffing process several times until you feel the scratch is sufficiently reduced or gone.

For Deeper/Base Coat Scratches

Primer Scratches

These types of key scratches don’t usually occur by accident and are common when you have been the victim of vandalism. They are the deepest scratches your car can have and can be particularly annoying to repair on your own.

Another downside to these deep scratches is that the metal underneath all of your paint layers will most likely be exposed. This means that you need to repair it as soon as possible, or else rust could start forming on the metal.

First, clean the scratched area thoroughly with regular car soap and water. Next, you need to sand down just the edges of the scratch with either 800 or 1,000-grit sandpaper. Keep sanding until you can run your finger across the scratch and not feel any jagged edges. Your nail should not catch at all anymore.

Next, quickly and gently rub the area with some rubbing alcohol to completely remove the sanding debris because you don’t want to paint overtop of any dust.

Then apply your preferred car primer across the scratch. Sometimes these can be bought in a pen variety, but you will need to check with your specific auto repair shop. If not, a thin paintbrush and a can of primer will do the trick.

Allow your primer to dry completely before you move on to the paint repair.

Base Coat Scratches

This will either be the second phase of repairing primer scratches or the first phase of your scratch repair if your scratch didn’t go deep enough to affect the primer. Before you begin, make sure you get a touch-up paint pen that is color matched to your car’s base coat.

Whether or not you applied primer, you will still need to sand the area in the same way, to smooth everything out. Some touch-up pens come equipped with an abrasive tip that will help you achieve this without needing to use sandpaper.

Take your time when applying the touch-up paint. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but don’t over-apply the product. A small amount of overlap on the surrounding paint will not hurt because it will be buffed out in the final step.

Once the touch-up paint has dried, sand across the scratch once more to blend out the paint lines and make it even with the surrounding paint. At this point, you can use a clear coat pen if the scratch is fairly wide, otherwise, you can go straight to polishing.

Always Remember to Buff and Polish

While buffing and polishing may be enough to remove clear coat scratches, it is also a crucial step in finishing any touch-up paint work.

Even after you have sanded and blended the touch-up paint to where it is completely smooth, minute paint lines will still be visible until you polish it up and give it a good shine.

There is no shortage of popular car polishes on the market, but I found great luck with Meguiars Ultimate Polish. It should be used in combination with a small polishing pad, but this step can be done by hand.

It took me approximately 15 mins to complete the final step, and by the time I was done, the scratches were completely gone.

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About Pat Freling

Pat has been into DIY painting since he was 14 years old. He's painted interior walls, decks, patio, and even the first car that he'd purchased at 18.

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