Clear Coat Scratch
To fix or not to fix

You have a clear coat scratch and you probably want to make it disappear. Life is a jungle and any car owner will eventually be faced with a dreadful scratch in the clear coat of their car.

clear coat scratch

The very fact that you came here looking for a way to fix a scratch in the clear coat versus your car paint tells me as an expert that you may not have full understanding:

  • What is the difference between a clear coat scratch and a paint scratch
  • Can scratches in clear coat be fixed
  • How do you fix a scratch in clear coat

These questions and a few more will be answered for you in a way that should help you come to terms with a very unwanted moment.

What is Difference Between Clear Coat Scratch and Paint Scratch

The simple answer is, nothing. They are the same thing.

If you question the difference between the two, this strongly suggests you may not understand the difference between clear coat and car paint to begin with.

scratch in car clear coat

Many people still don't understand what clear coat is. Once you know the fundamentals of ca paint and clear coat, you will automatically understand how a car paint scratch and a clear coat scratch are one in the same.

  • Clear coat is the top layer of any factory paint job
  • Clear coat is applied over the color coat (often referred to as the base coat within the professional world of paint and body)
  • Both the color coat and the clear coat are separate layers of the overall paint system
  • A factory paint system typically includes the following layers: corrosion protection layer, primer coat layer, color coat layer, clear coat layer

If you are picking up what I am putting down, you will begin to understand that a scratch in your clear coat is the same thing as saying you have a scratch in your paint.

And if this is the case, many of you might then wonder why you would use color touch-up paint in an attempt to fix a car paint scratch if the clear coat is the top layer and not the color coat.

And if you didn't ask this, chances are you are questioning it now.

Car Paint Scratch and Touch-up Paint

If you have been following along and accept that every car has a clear top coat laying over a color coat, then at a level, you may wonder why you wouldn't just use a clear coat (clear paint) touch-up pen to attempt to repair any scratch in your clear coat.

This largely has to do with the overlap of people using traditional methods that have not been updated to match new technology. When single stage paint jobs existed (single stage paint refers to paint jobs of the past that did not use clear coat), using touch-up paint that matched the color of your car was the correct fix.

Since the adoption of 2-stage paint systems that use clear as the top layer of a paint job, we now have clear coat touch-up pens that offer the same type of repair but has simply been updated to match the clear layer, rather than a dedicated color.

Turtle Wax T-121 Scratch Repair Pen - 0.3 oz.

  • The simplest way to attempt to fix clear coat scratch
  • Will never be a perfect fix, but can effectively conceal clear coat scratch

Darren's Note: The biggest problem with using any type of touch-up paint to fix a scratch in your car is people's unrealistic expectations. Most people do not have a working understanding of clear coat, touch-up paint, and the mechanics of this type of repair.

This limited knowledge only invites disappointment. Let me lay out some foundational tips regarding this specific clear coat touch-up pen:

  • Most clear coat scratches are hairline scratches

car paint scratch

This picture is a perfect example of a clear coat scratch that is what is referred to as a hairline scratch. The fact that this scratch is so thin will automatically prevent any type of touch-up paint from flowing down into the scratch.

The scratch is too thin to allow any paint to flow down into it. This means that applying clear coat touch-up to this hairline scratch will mean the clear coat paint will lay on top of the hairline clear coat scratch.

The trade-off will then become accepting a shadow that will now be cast due to the thickness of the clear coat paint sitting atop the car paint. The discoloration of the scratch may in fact be diminished, but you will now have created a different sort of discoloration in the form of a clear line casting a shadow.

Since every situation will be truly unique, you won't know what the end result will be until you are there. What you do know for certain is what you are facing without doing anything, and the chance to remove or improve the scratch or scratches is what got you here.

How To Fix A Clear Coat Scratch

Before we dig into fixing scratches in clear coat I need to emphasize the following:

  • Clear coat is the very top layer of any factory paint job
  • Clear coat is extremely thin
  • There is no sure way to determine how deep the clear coat scratch is
  • If the scratch is deep, then the clear coat touch-up pen is likely the best way to conceal
  • If the clear coat scratch is shallow enough, you can actually sand and polish for complete removal

clear coat peeling

This picture shows a few things that are important to understanding not just a clear coat scratch, but clear coat in general:

  • Clear coat is extremely thin (yes, I am repeating for emphasis)
  • Clear coat is what gives the color coat the appearance of depth, gloss, and shine
  • Once the clear coat is removed or peels away, the color coat appears a different color

How Do You Know if a Clear Coat Scratch is Too Deep To Fix

Regardless of the garbage advice you may have seen on YouTube or other websites, there is no hard rule in determining if a scratch in your clear coat can be fixed by sanding and polishing until you actually attempt it.

But there is a few tests you perform as a starting point to a working strategy moving forward:

  • Fingernail Test

The goal of what is commonly referred to as the finger nail test is to determine how deep the scratch on the clear coat is. You do this by pulling your fingernail across the scratch itself to see if, or how much of an edge to the scratch there is.

fingernail test on car clear coat

The more resistance there is when dragging your finger nail across the clear coat scratch, the deeper you can assume the scratch in your clear coat is.You are pulling your fingernail across, not along the scratch itself.

The deeper the scratch, the more limited you will be in eliminating or removing this scratch completely.

  • Water Test

The water test is useful if you think you want to attempt to sand and polish the scratch to diminish or remove completely.

To do this test you need to wipe the scratch and a small area around the scratch so the area is clean. Using a spray bottle with water, you spray the scratch and see if the water is able to hide the scratch.

If the scratch appears to disappear when it is coated with water, then it is fairly safe to assume that light sanding (also referred to as wet sanding or color sanding) and polishing will allow you to remove the scratch completely, or diminish it significantly.

Clear Coat Scratch:
What Would Darren Do (WWDD)

Understanding that not all clear coat scratches are created equal, you as a car owner will literally have to treat each scratch separately. One of my favorite car paint scratch repair kits is the following from Turtle Wax.

Due to the variety of tools and techniques contained in this kit, makes it ideal for any car owner looking to have the best chance possible at repairing clear coat scratches of all kinds.

Turtle Wax T-234KT Premium Grade Scratch Repair Kit

  • This kit allows you to sand and polish and includes clear coat touch-up pen
  • Perfect DIY kit for most clear coat scratches to either remove completely, or diminish significantly

Darren's Note: This is the most versatile paint scratch repair kit I have seen. I have used this in numerous videos for my YouTube channel with great success in removing clear coat scratches that are capable of being removed, as well as diminishing clear coat scratches that cannot be fully removed.

This kit has 4 different sand pad grits (3 sanding pads, comprising of 4 grits: one sanding pad has separate grits on each side), clarifying compound, sanding lubricant, and even a clear coat touch-up pen for scratches that are too deep to be removed.

Instead of ordering the Turtle Wax clear coat touch-up pen separately from above, you can get this kit and take your clear coat scratch repair efforts much further.

I cannot stress enough how every clear coat scratch will truly be unique. This means you simply do not know what you are gonna get with regards to results, until you have gotten them.

If you follow the instructions on the Turtle Wax scratch repair kit you will be 90% there as far as what is possible. The remaining 10% will be about you maintaining realistic expectations knowing that ultimately professional clear coat scratch repair has many moving tangents to it, and even a seasoned veteran like myself is limited by what is being dealt to me in the moment.

Clear Coat Scratch Summary

Ask any question regarding the cosmetics of your car and life will deliver you an endless stream of opinions. Today's world of free information via the Internet is a marvelous resource.

Unfortunately technology doesn't just make advancements in all things good and positive, but now the challenge becomes more about trying discern between good information and misinformation.

I tricky situation we have created for ourselves indeed!

I hope the information provided here delivers real-world solutions for you and your world!


Darren Priest

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