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Outdoorsmen who take their 4x4s offroad to hunt and fish can pretty much bet the house that at some point the truck’s body will get nicked by flying gravel or raked by buck brush on a tight trail. And though the paint on modern trucks is a lot tougher these days, any scratch that cuts through to bare metal will give rust an entry point.
But there’s an easy way to fix this—automotive touch-up paint.
I recently talked with Jeremy Thurnau, founder and president of AutomotiveTouchup.com, an online supplier of paint and accessories, about keeping your hunting and fishing truck in top shape.
“Small cosmetic repairs don’t require a costly trip to the body shop,” he says. “By using the right tools and techniques you can get rid of those nicks and scratches in your own garage. It’s easy, and virtually anyone can do this.”
He says the first, and most important, step for any vehicle repair project, from a nick to a bumper restoration, is to get a perfect color match. “Really, what you want is an invisible repair, and the only way to get that is to match the color precisely.”
The key to cracking this color code is contained in the vehicle’s color code.
“The trick is finding it,” Thurnau says. “It can be located in a number of places, though the inside of the door is the most common. Our website has been designed to clearly display how to find the color code, and we will verify a color code before shipping.”
AutomotiveTouchup.com offers its products in several formats. Which is best for you?
“Pens are best for small rock chips and nicks smaller than a pencil eraser, and also for thin scratches,” he says. “Bottles should be used for small areas no larger than a dime. A half-ounce bottle is sufficient for most uses, and a two-ounce bottle is also available. Aerosols are for larger areas, and a single 12-ounce aerosol can will cover about a six-square-foot area.”
Test Color First
“It’s important that before you do any type of repair that you test the color match of the touch-up paint and compare it to the vehicle’s existing paint,” Thurnau says. “We enclose a test card with each order to preview the color before applying, and you can also view a how-to video on our website with techniques to take full advantage of this color-preview tool.”
What follows is a brief summary of Thurnau’s tips for a professional-looking touch-up paint job. You’ll find a lot more detail at the company’s website
Thoroughly clean the area to be repaired with dish soap (Joy, Dawn, etc.) and water to remove wax, silicone, and oils. Don’t use soap formulated for vehicles; it often contains wax. Dry the area completely. Use prep solvent and a clean lint-free towel to assure the surface is completely free of wax, silicone, and oils.
This is usually required for an aerosol-spray project. The directions for paint pens and bottles involve fewer steps, less sanding, and no masking off. If needed, sand rust, scratches, or bad surface damage with 180-320 grit sandpaper. Primer will cover over 180-320 grit sand scratches. Use 600-grit wet sandpaper to sand the area where you will use basecoat. Wet sand the blend panel (area that might get some basecoat and will get clearcoated) with 1,000-1,500 grit wet sandpaper. The entire area to be painted should be dull and smooth.
For new plastic parts, lightly scuff the area with a fine scuff pad. For new metal parts you may lightly use a medium scuff pad for topcoating with solid colors. Use a fine scuff pad for metallic and pearl surfaces.
Masking Off Adjacent Panels
Mask off adjacent panels to prevent overspray. Try not try to tape off a small square and limit the primer or paint to a tiny square area. Working on a small area means that as soon as you remove the tape you can see the lines, and that’s not something you want to see. If you have to tape something off mid-panel, try not to spray the paint directly against the tape edge. If you notice a break in the body line, you might be able to get away with “back taping” to soften the tape-line effect. See the how-to video “Masking Techniques” at AutomotiveTouchup.com.
Use 3M automotive-grade 3/4-inch masking tape and masking paper or pretaped film. Never tape off mid-panel or you will see a tape line. Make a line with tape first, then tape paper to your existing tape line. Doubling up newspaper will work, but paint has a possibility of bleeding through with excessive heavy coats. Use 1½-inch or 2-inch masking tape for small areas like tail lights and reflectors. If you are painting in an enclosed area, mask the entire car with plastic sheeting to prevent overspray.
Before priming plastic and fiberglass parts, use plastic-parts adhesion promoter over bare plastic or fiberglass. (Note: this is only required for aerosol paints, not pens or bottles). Spray two light coats over the lightly scuffed surface.
Shake primer well. Apply aerosol primer over clean, sanded metal or plastic treated with plastic-parts adhesion promoter. Many primer colors are available for better paint coverage. Primer will fill 180-320 grit wet sandpaper scratches. Apply three or more coats, allowing five to ten minutes of dry time in between coats. Sand the primer in 30 minutes with 600-grit wet sandpaper. Use regular water to clean off sanding dust, then dry the area and replace the dust-contaminated masking tape and paper. Do not use prep solvent over the fresh primer. Use a tack rag to pick up lint and dust particles.
Thoroughly shake the basecoat color pen, bottle, or spray can before applying. Spray a test panel with basecoat and clearcoat first to compare color match and coverage. Apply as many medium coats as necessary to cover the area, waiting at least 10 minutes between light coats. Each coat should appear uniform and dry before applying another coat. You may gently use a tack cloth between each dry coat of basecoat.
It’s important to use a blending technique when doing an automotive paint repair so it looks less obvious compared to a paint repair done incorrectly by masking off a small section. Blending is the art of making a line disappear, and AutomotiveTouchup provides a how-to video to help you learn tricks and techniques to blend new automotive paint with your existing paint. The final step, the clearcoat, covers the entire surface so everything is more uniform.
Shake aerosol clearcoat well. Allow 30 minutes after basecoat color has been applied to apply the clearcoat. Apply two to four wet coats, waiting five to ten minutes in between coats for aerosol, 10 to 20 minutes for bottles and pens. With these brush-on products, be gentle with the brush so the undercoats are not disturbed. For aerosol, each coat should look wet and glossy but not dripping. Clearcoat should be dry to the touch in one to two hours but will completely dry overnight. Wait one day to use rubbing compound for an optimum gloss level. For aerosol, you can sand out orange peel, light texture, or dust embedded in the clearcoat film with 1,500 wet sandpaper, and then use rubbing compound to bring out the gloss.
Nine Helpful Tips
- Practice using touch-up paint before applying to get a feel for the paint and to check the color match. Use a glossy sheet of paper or metal can as a practice surface.
- Apply in an area with adequate ventilation.
- Use several light coats rather than one heavy coat.
- Allow the correct amount of drying time. Drying times can vary depending on the temperature. If the temperature is below 70°F, the paint can take longer to dry.
- Store touch-up products in a cool, dry location, not in a vehicle.
- Do not spray primer, paint, or clearcoat in direct sunlight.
- Post touch-up, fresh paint is a little soft and its best not to do any hard scrubbing. The solvents in the wax can attack the clearcoat if it hasn’t had time to cure.
- Do not wax for 30 days.
- Touch-up products including primer and clearcoats are hazardous. Keep away from children and wear safety glasses and a respirator mask.