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Surface Damage Repairs

The Planning

A clean car looks sharp at a distance but scratches, rock chips, and dull headlights can really kill the image close-up. Detailing involves some light repair work and you can fix some minor issues.

Before doing anything, go inspect the clean vehicle and look at the surface to figure out what kind of damage you have. The Surface Damage Field Guide can help determine what’s on your paint as well as what’s fixable and what’s not. For swirls and scratches that don’t catch your fingernail, see the Paint Correction section.

The Buying

Check out the Beginner’s Buying Guide and the Recommended Kits articles.

The Rock Chips & Deep Scratches

How-To Guides: Repair Rock Chips


  • Touch up paint, either OEM or a matching Dr. Colorchip kit
  • Wax
  • IPA solution
  • Toothpicks
  • Small brushes
  • Heat gun (optional)
  • 2000 grit sandpaper
  • DA polisher
  • Compound and/or polish
  • Appropriate polishing pads


  1. Make sure the vehicle (or the part you’re working on) is as clean as possible. Wash the vehicle as usual. Then gently wipe the area down with a microfiber that has been dotted with the IPA solution.
  2. Using a toothpick or small brush, let the paint flow into the chip. Don’t dab and smear it around, you want the paint to soak down into the chip for uniform coverage.
    • If you are using the Dr. Colorchip kit, follow the directions for the Sealact stage.
  3. Using a heat gun, dry the fresh paint until it is hard. Without a heat gun this can take a while to dry normally.
    • If you are happy with these initial results, you can skip to step 8, otherwise keep reading.
  4. Soak the 2000 grit sandpaper in water for at least 5 minutes. After it has soaked, lightly rub it against the chip for a more uniform appearance. This will expose any parts that need additional paint.
  5. If you wet sand, you must follow up with a compound or aggressive polish to remove the haze left behind from the wet sanding.
  6. Continue steps 2-6 until you are satisfied.
  7. Wax when finished.

The Headlights

How-To Guides: Restoring Headlights


  • 400, 800, 1500, 3000 grit sandpaper*
  • PlastX or headlight polish
  • Wax or sealant of your choice
  • Water in a small bucket
  • Painters tape
  • (alternative) Headlight repair kit**

* If your headlights have a very hard factory coating you may also need 320 grit.
** If you use a kit, follow the instructions in it for the best results. The 3M drill one is great.

No toothpaste or gimmicks. Use the right tools for the job whether it’s a DA or good ol’ fashioned elbow grease so your headlights will clear up and stay clear.


  1. Tape off the paint around the headlights.
  2. Sand down the factory coating using the 400 grit sandpaper. Keep the paper wet to control the dust going everywhere.
  3. When the surface looks very hazy and the factory coating is gone, wipe it down and swap to the 800 grit.
  4. When the sanding marks are finer, wipe it down swap to the 1500 grit.
  5. The headlight will be clearing up a bit. Wipe it down and swap to the 3000 grit to smooth it out.
  6. Close to done! Apply a pea-sized amount of PlastX or polish to a microfiber or foam applicator and buff it clear.
  7. Wipe it all down and apply your wax or sealant of choice.
Updated on 21 November 2022

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