Touch up the nicks to save your car's paint job

Salt and gravel are good for wintry roads, but they can punish a car's finish. Here's how to touch up your car like an expert: Filling body dents

1. Try to pound out any dents that are more than a half inch below the body surface. The purpose is to make the dented cavity more shallow so that the putty used in Step 3 will not crack or pop out during or after refinishing.

If the dent is in the hood, trunk lid, or an area that you can reach behind, place a wood block on the dented outer surface and pound out the dent from the inner surface, using a rubber mallet. Check the results of your blows repeatedly until the dimple pops out or is sufficiently raised.

Note: Do not use a regular or ball-peen hammer.

If the dent is in a door, fender, or an area that you cannot reach behind, carefully drill a hole in the dent.

Note: Do not let the drill bit plunge in forcefully or too deep as this could cut or damage the internal wiring or mechanisms, such as window-regulator parts.

If the dent is wide, the holes should be spaced about two inches apart.

Next, thread a self-tapping sheet-metal screw halfway into each hole and, with pliers or Vise-Grips, pull outward on the screw until the dent is within a half inch of the surface.

2. Sand the dented area to bare metal, using a piece of coarse sandpaper. Roughen a one-ince border around the dent itself. Clean the sanded area with a wet rag and let it dry.

3. Apply a quality plastic body filler or putty to the dent. Many filler kits, complete with special instructions and an easy-to-use applicator, are available at auto-supply and accessory stores.

Unless the instructions say differently, fill the dent higher than the surrounding surface so as to allow for shrinkage as the putty dries. 4. Sand the hardened putty with coarse sandpaper wrapped around a wood block. Note: When sanding, work in one direction as much as possible, preferably lengthwise with the panel (much like the grain in wood). Paint. Prepping nicks and scratches:

1. to prepare minor blemishes for painting, clean the damaged surface with soap and water and let it dry. If necessary, use a precleaning solvent to thoroughly remove any wax or grease.

2. If the nicked or scratched area is small and the primer has not been removed, go ahead and apply paint. But if the nick or scratch is deeper than the primer, sand the damaged area to bare metal, roughen a one-inch border around the blemish, and paint. Painting procedures:

1. Whether you need a small bottle of paint or an aerosol can, try to obtain the exact color that matches your car as well as the same type of finish that was originally used, such as lacquer, acrylic lacquer, enamel, etc.

Your new-car dealer or auto-supply store salesman can assist you if you supply the correct code number on your car. The number is included on the identification plat which attached to the firewall or door pillar.

2. To touch up minor blemishes that did not require sanding, just touch the area with a brush. Let the paint dry. Apply several coats. For blemishes that required sanding or for putty-filled dents, go on to Step 3.

3. Using a damp rag, wipe the sanded area clean of dust, dirt, and contaminants that may have collected during the sanding-painting interim.

4. Carefully mask all surfaces (glass, metal or chrome trim, original painted panels, etc.) around the area to be painted. Newspapers and masking tape will effectively protect both large and small areas.

5. Cut a home in the center of a piece of cardboard to make a template for painting.

6. Practice spraying the primer through the template onto a piece of cardboard. To use an aerosol can or spray gun, hold the sprayer about 8 inches from the surface and move it in a back-and-forth motion, overlapping each stroke just enough to ensure an even coat. Now, apply a thin coat of primer on the actual surface, letting it dry for the length of time noted on the product label.

7. Using a wet-and-dry-type fine sandpaper, dip it in water and sand the primed area just enough to roughen the surface. After sanding, wipe the area with an alcohol-soaked rag.

8. Apply the first coal of paint, using the template as specified in Step 6. Allow the paint to dry for the time noted on the label.

9. Repeat Step 7 and apply a second coat of paint.

10. Remove all newspaper and masking tape once the final coat of paint is fully dry. Apply rubbing compound on the entire painted area and work it in with a damp cloth. Now buff the area with a soft, clean rag.

11. Complete the job by waxing the entire body panel on which you worked.

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