What to Do if Your Car is Scratched in a Car Wash

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If your car is scratched in a car wash, you can take it to a professional for detailing, paint correction, or other services for severe scratches. Alternatively, try your hand at removing scratches or nicks by hand polishing or power buffing any imperfections out.
A car wash might be the last place you’d expect to have your vehicle scratched—but it happens. Since you use a car wash at your own risk, they aren’t responsible for any damage your vehicle might sustain and your car insurance won’t cover it either.
Luckily, the car owner’s super app Jerry has you covered with everything you need to know if your car is shiny and clean but you’re left saying, “hey—the car was scratched my car!”

Take it to a professional

There are a slew of services that can help you get that pesky, car wash-inflicted scratch off your car.

Car detailing

Tried and true, car detailing is a top-to-bottom cleaning and polishing of your entire car.
Detailers use special tools and commercial cleaning supplies to get your car looking like new. They often use products not normally sold to the average shopper.
Detailers can do minor color corrections, eliminate any discoloration due to a car wash, and remove particles or debris from a car’s paint. A detailing job well done can extend the life of your car by its thorough removal of dirt, grime, salt, and dust from the car’s body.

Car polishing

Car polishing means erasing and then eliminating any scratches, scuffs, or ‘subsurface defects’ from the body of a car—usually with a buffer.
Polishers use specially developed chemicals to dislodge and remove any particles from a vehicle’s paint job. Most swirl marks or scratches are smoothed out by a professional polish job.
A car polishing is intended to keep both the car's paint job and clear coating (the layer that protects the paint job) intact. Having your car polished is best done by a professional. A poor polishing job can lead to:
  • Burning the car’s paint job
  • Uneven finishes on a car’s paint job
Done well, a great car polishing will:
  • Remove surface damage such as swirl marks, scuff marks, scratches, nicks, etc.
  • Remove any imperfections while rebuilding the car's clear coat (and thus protecting the paint job)
Key Takeaway Most paint jobs on newer vehicles are protected by a clear coat, which is layered on top of the paint job to protect it from damage.

Paintless dent removal (PDR)

Even teensy-weensy dents can affect a car’s structural integrity and lead to problems down the road. 
A PDR specialist can suction or smooth out dents suffered in a car wash. This process involves suctioning or gently pushing the dent out without damaging the vehicle’s paint or clear coat.

Auto body painting

If your car has a series of car wash-related nicks, scratches, and dents that are too serious to merely touch up, you can go the nuclear route—the full autobody paint job.
A new paint job will protect a car from corrosion and rust, and in the end, it will look good as new. Note that a full auto body paint job won’t come cheap!
Here’s how a full body paint job is done:
  • Paint is sanded down to the metal, then cleaned
  • A corrosion-resistant primer is applied and then allowed to cure (dry)
  • Primer is then sanded, smoothed, and cleaned so no dust particles remain
  • Paint is applied (usually a few layers) onto the car
  • Paint job is allowed a few days to cure in a dust-free environment
  • A clear coat is applied to protect the paint and give your vehicle a nice, glossy look
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DIY to remove car wash scratches

You can try and remove light scratches and scuffs by yourself, but it may take you some time.

Prep your car to be polished

Before you polish your car, you’ll need to wash it thoroughly with a soft cloth. First things first—try not to scratch the car yourself. There are two methods you can use:
  • Touchless: Use a pressure washer and air dryer to thoroughly wash your car without scratching the paint any further
  • 2 bucket: Use one bucket of soapy water and one for rinsing your wash mitt, so that any dirt, grit, or particles picked up by the washing mitt are rinsed away when dipped into the rinsing bucket—and not back onto the car
Once you’ve washed your car, go over any trouble spots with a clay bar, which will remove any stubborn grit that won’t come off the surface with just cleaning. In addition, you may need a solid tree sap or bug remover to remove really tough stains on the car's exterior.

Polishing out scratches by hand

Some people like to do this, believe it or not—and you can get minor scratches out by polishing your car by hand! You’ll want to try small patches first to see how it goes.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
  • Use a clay bar to decontaminate trouble spots on your car’s surface
  • Inspect car with a light for any more imperfections that you can remove
  • Get a polishing pad and proper polish that’s intended for removing scratches on cars
  • Polish away by following instructions with polish and polishing pads
  • Reinspect and repeat if necessary
You may need to set aside a few weekends to polish a car by hand, as it will take a significant amount of time.

Polishing out scratches with random orbital buffer

Using a random orbital buffer to polish out scratches on your car will take much less time and will probably be more effective. So long as you use a quality orbital buffer, good polishes, and pads, you won’t buff your car’s paint job off.
Decent orbital buffers have pressure sensors that alert you when you are putting too much pressure onto the car’s exterior—this is a failsafe so you don’t ruin your car’s paint job. The spinner will stop when too much pressure is applied.
Always try milder polishes and buffer pads first. If they don’t get nicks and scratches out, slowly move up to more aggressive polishes and pads until you see the results you want.
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Protecting your car from scratches in the first place

You can protect your car from being beaten up in a car wash by avoiding the offending car wash and trying a new (preferably touchless) one. Alternatively, protect your car’s paint job with paint protection film, ceramic coating, or paint sealant.

Paint protection film

Paint protection film is a clear, sticker-like material that is applied to a portion of your car’s body or the entire thing. It protects against damage from rock chips, particles, dirt, grime, and other small debris.
Installing paint protection film is not a DIY job. This can be quite a pricey procedure and should be done by a professional.
Occasionally, you may need to replace a portion of the film if there is a chip and it starts to peel (it can happen). There is also the possibility that the film will yellow over time. While it’s not usually noticeable on darker cars, it will show on white and lighter-color vehicles.

Ceramic coating

Ceramic coating is a waxy material applied to a car’s exterior. This is typically seen as a long-lasting preventative, guarding your car’s exterior against scratches and swirls on the clear coat.
  • DIY: Try a highly regarded product such as CquartzUK by CarPro. It costs around $100 and will last you about 2 years.
  • Professional: Professionals use stronger types of coating that can last up to 10 years. Getting a professional ceramic coating is cheaper than getting a professional paint protection job—but it will still cost you.

Paint sealant

Paint sealant offers very good protection to your car’s paint job, though it is not as strong as ceramic coating or paint protection film.
This type of protection is ideal for preventing bugs, sap, tar, road debris, particles, or car wash brushes from scratching your car’s paint job. Paint sealant may allow lighter scratches to the clear coat, but your car’s paint coat should be protected.
Using paint sealant is not expensive and it’s relatively easy to apply. You should reapply paint sealant to your car’s exterior annually.

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