Cars play an important role in all of our lives. They take us to work, to school, to the store, and around the country.
When you scrimp and save to buy a car, it’s important to keep on top of maintenance issues.
One maintenance issue that usually gets pushed to the side is that of scuffs and scratches.
If you own a car, you may know the feeling of walking out to your car one day and seeing a scratch or a scuff that you never noticed before.
A lot of times these seem minor and you certainly don’t want to involve your insurance company because usually these scratches cost less than your deductible and you don’t want to worry about premium increases.
If money is tight, you may choose to wait to repair a scratch. After all, it’s cosmetic. But it may not be that simple.
Cars are exposed to the elements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your car experiences direct sunlight, heavy rain, mist, dew, snow, ice, hail, and much more.
While the paint and coating on your car are designed to protect your car from the elements, a scratch compromises that protection.
The longer that you drive around (or even just let the car sit outside uncovered) with scratches the chances increase that your vehicle will be damaged even more.
Once the paint and protective coating have been compromised, elements like rain, snow, salt (from icy roads), and intense heat can increase the damage.
Paint can peel away or chip off and the more the metal is exposed, the easier it is for rust to form.
When rust forms it can eat away at your car causing the dreaded body rot.
And while repairing a scratch can seem like an unnecessary expense or something you can put off for months or even years, it will cost much more the longer you wait. What could start out as a $100 fix, could wind up costing several hundred or even into the $1000 range.
And that’s only if the vehicle needs to simply be sanded, primed, and repainted. If rot is involved, you’re looking at even more.
Why Cars Are Painted
From an aesthetic perspective, cars are painted to appeal to buyers. Some colors appeal to buyers more than others do.
That wasn’t always the case. The most successful car built in America was the Ford Model T. Ford offered the Model T in green, blue, red, and grey.
By 1914, Henry Ford had switched policy and only offered the car in black. In Ford’s 1922 autobiography My Life and Work, he stated: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”
The start of World War I hampered the ability of car manufacturers (as well as other industries) to obtain colored paint. As a result, Ford made the decision to go with black.
And they made a science of it as they painted some cars with up to 30 different types of black paint based on the part that was being painted. This was due to durability and drying times.
The 1920s saw the invention of nitrocellulose lacquers which reduced the need for multiple coats of paint and tremendously reduced drying times.
But nitrocellulose lacquer wasn’t just used for the drying time. And this brings me to the other reason cars are painted. The lacquer was added to the cars to protect them.
Cars are painted and coated to prevent rust.
Why is Rust Bad for Your Car?
I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve seen an old, rusty piece of metal, such as a pipe. You’ll notice that if you grab it the rust color may rub off on your hand.
Sometimes you’ll even see the rust flake off as you grab something rusty.
The reason in a process called oxidation.
When a metal, such as iron, is exposed to the elements, it can oxidize.
The oxidation process is usually spurred on by moisture. Rain, snow, dew, and other forms of precipitation make contact with the metal and the result is that the oxygen molecules combine with metal molecules and form a chemical reaction. That reaction produces a new molecule. In the case of iron, it produces iron oxide, or as we more commonly know it, rust.
As untreated metal is exposed to moisture, more oxidation occurs and eventually corrodes the metal. If you’ve seen some cars in bad shape, you may have seen holes in the fenders of some cars. Some cars have had the rust spread to the point that floorboards have rotted out making the car dangerous, if not impossible to drive.
But oxidation isn’t just limited to a standard H2O water molecule. Chlorine can also cause metal to rust. The result is known as green rust. Green rust is less common. But a number of municipalities add chlorine to the local water systems, so each time you wash your car, it is exposed to the chlorine added to the system.
If you own a pool, the chlorine used to treat the pool can be absorbed into groundwater and into the air, so when it rains, your car gets a dose of chlorine in addition to the simple H2O.
How Where You Live and Drive Affects Your Car’s Paint
People that have lived in both the Northeastern and the Southern parts of the United States may have experienced 30° below zero winters and 110° summers. They are acutely aware that the climate affects a car’s paint and finish differently.
Let’s look at New England. For that matter, anywhere you can expect a lot of ice and snow each winter. When you drive in ice and snow, you get those huge snow and ice chunks that form in your wheel wells. But it’s not just ice and snow. It’s chemicals that the road crews that are responsible for clearing the ice and snow off of the road use to treat the roads to make them safer for driving. Those chemicals get trapped in the wheel well and slowly seep onto the metal portions of your vehicle as it melts. Salt, chlorine, and a host of other chemicals are now reacting with the metal of your car.
So if your car has scratches or peeling paint down there, rust forms. Eventually, you’ll see body rot if it’s not treated.
Speaking of New England, let’s discuss the big attraction of the area, the coast. Each summer, tens of thousands of people head to the beaches like Salisbury Massachusetts, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, or Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
One distinctive feature of heading to the beach, and this is any beach along any coast, Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, or any other of the Seven Seas, is that the closer you get to the ocean, the more intense the smell of the salt water is.
And while smelling salt water can be invigorating, the fact that the odor is in the air means that salt is in the air and can affect your car.
And when it rains, the rain has more salt in it than it does inland, so it will affect a car as much as the salt on the road to melt ice.
You may think that if you like in an area that doesn’t get a lot of snow or isn’t coastal makes you less prone to damage to your car’s paint and body, but unfortunately, the South and Southwest have other issues.
In the South and Southwest US, a big factor that can affect your vehicle is heat.
Summers in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona can see weeks and months of 100° to 110°+ temperatures.
These can exacerbate the coating on any car, but if your car is unprotected, it could do even worse harm.
Once a scratch has “cracked” the protective coating and paint of your car, then excessive heat can cause the paint around it to flake off and cause the issue to spread.
One of the more common areas for this to happen is on the hood of a vehicle.
The heat of the sun beating down on the outside of the hood and the heat of the engine working on the interior of the hood can easily cause paint to flake off when scratched, especially if you have a long commute that forces the vehicle’s engine to be hot for long periods of time.
Another issue in lots of populous states and states with a growing population is constant road construction. Many highways may be under construction for years. Some projects in places like California, New York, and Texas are done in 3 or 4 phases and each phase can take 3 to 5 years each.
The constant barrage of loose rocks, sand and other items that can kick up and hit your car is indeed a problem.
Remember, sand alone can be a problem. The process of “sandblasting” as a way to remove paint and debris from surfaces, so it can definitely affect your car’s finish.
How To Take Care of Scratches and Prevent Rust
It’s useless to know about what problems you face if you can’t find a solution. And luckily there’s a solution to prevent rust and repair scratches.
Now, you can certainly take the car into a body shop and have the work done. If you don’t feel that you’re capable of making the repairs yourself, a professional is usually the best choice.
But for scratches and even dents, you can usually repair them yourself.
Look at the scratch. If it’s a minor scratch or a scuff, you may be able to buff it out. The key is to see if the scuff or the scratch has penetrated the coat on your car. If it hasn’t you can buff it out. Auto parts store usually sell solutions and kits to buff scratches out.
For dents and scratches, you may need to make a trip to your local auto parts store and buy a dent puller. You can find hundreds of videos on YouTube about pulling dents. The scratches will require you to do some prep work. This includes cleaning and sanding the surface to get the rust and any debris off of the car to make sure that the paint and finish adhere to the car properly.
When you buy paint to touch up your car, you need to work with your auto parts supplier to match the color perfectly. Each car manufacturer uses a different color for each car. Some use multiple colors on the same car. Remember, Henry Ford used up to 30 different colors of black on the same car.
The paint kits will include a primer paint and the exterior paint. It can come in spray, a jar or can, and a pen.
Choose the one the works best for you. Each kit comes with detailed instructions and also gives you a card to practice on before applying the paint to your car.
If you’re the type that likes to jump right in and without reading the instructions, this will likely result in a disaster for you. You need to read and reread the instructions to ensure that you don’t have a multicolored car, or worse, the paint doesn’t adhere and your car gets rusty.
Be sure you have a few days to let the car sit. That way it can dry completely. Then you can wax and polish as you normally would.
Fixing scratches quickly can save you from a lot of heartache down the road. People can argue that scratches will negatively affect the resale value and that’s completely true.
But beyond the resale value, allowing scratches to remain invites rust, and rust can eat away at the car. Aside from rust, scratches can cause the paint on a vehicle to flake, expanding the unprotected area.
As the unprotected area then oxidizes and starts to rust. As the rust continues, it eats through the metal on the vehicle and causes body rot.
That’s why it’s important to take care of scratches as soon as possible.