long scratch on car

6 Common Causes Of Car Scratches That Makes You Pissed

Ron Buckley

Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Chase Manhattan

Almost every car has scratches, but many of them seem to be a mystery. It’s difficult to identify out how your car got scratched, but it can be easier once you know the most common causes of car scratches because then you can remove them depending on the type of scratch.

The following is a list of the 6 most common causes of car scratches

  1. Improper Washing and Drying
  2. Automatic Car Washes
  3. Rocks and Road Debris
  4. Rubbing Against the Car
  5. Car Accidents
  6. Intentional Damage

Read on to find out more details and also how you can prevent car scratches from happening!

6 Types Of Car Scratches

Improper Washing and Drying

washing car

Washing and drying your car incorrectly is one of the most common causes of car scratches. Your car’s paint is much more delicate than you’d think and can become scratched very easily.

If you don’t use a proper method when washing your car, dirt can become trapped onto your sponge, scratching the paint.

Additionally, using the wrong materials, such as an old t-shirt as a wash rag, will damage your paint immensely by filling it with scratches.

It’s always best to instead use synthetic microfiber towels, which are designed to do such tasks without causing any damage.

Similarly, drying your car the wrong way can cause scratches since there is little lubrication between your towel and the car’s paint.

Even when using synthetic microfiber towels, it is important to wash and dry the car from top to bottom. Even when a car wash is prepared correctly, leftover dirt and grime will stick lower on the car. By washing and drying your car from top to bottom you eliminate the risk of picking up any extra dirt from the lower part of the car.

It’s very important to use a safe drying method to avoid scratching your car.

Automatic Car Washes

car going through car wash

One of the easiest ways for your car to become filled with scratches is by using an automatic car wash.

Brushes used in automatic car washes accumulate dirt from every car that passes through, creating a material filled with dirt and grit.

This essentially acts like sandpaper against your paint which creates scratches and swirl marks all over the car.

Not only will it affect your paint, but they easily break parts of your car such as antennas and windshield wipers. The bristles wrap around the parts and snap them off.

Even touchless car washes can cause scratches with their high-pressure streams of water. They can push dirt into your paint and scratch the surface; but can also clean harder to reach areas including your undercarriage.

For more information, read: Why You Should NEVER Use Automatic Car Washes

As an alternative to automatic car washes with brushes, it is possible to find an automatic car wash that is completely touch free. Touch free washes are not the best for your car, but they are better than other automatic washes because there are only steams of water and soap touching your car.

Rocks and Road Debris

scratch on rear door of car

Scratches and chips on cars are commonly caused by rocks and road debris.

Obviously, rock chips occur when pebbles and stones are launched into the air by another car, then hitting your car and leaving damage.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent this.

Flying rocks are not the only way your car can become scratched while driving, as road debris can also damage your paint.

Hitting road debris, such as a stick in the road, loose tire tread, or similar items can cause scratches when they contact your car.

These can often be avoided by paying close attention to the road while driving, but sometimes are preventable.

[Related Article: Car Clear Coat: What Is It?]

Rubbing Against the Car

car handle with scratches

Rubbing against your car is often the biggest cause of light clear coat scratches.

They can occur in many different ways, such as opening a door with keys in your hand, dragging the keys across the paint job accidentally or placing a coffee cup on top of your car.

These scratches are usually very light and can be fixed using a scratch removal product and a microfiber towel.

Car Accidents

dented and scratched car door

This is the most obvious cause of car scratches, because you can’t really get into a car accident without being left with many of them.

They are caused by the car’s surface contacting with a solid object, such as another car. These scratches are often concentrated in the area of impact and extend deep into the paint.

Scratches from a car accident typically must be fixed by a professional along with the other damage.


Intentional Damage

keyed car

Although these scratches are less likely, they still occur for some people.

These scratches are caused by someone in order to intentionally cause damage to, or vandalize, someone’s car. The most common form of this is called “keying.”

When someone “keys” a car, they take their keys (or another sharp object) and drag it across the paint while applying pressure.

This scrapes deep into the paint and typically extends over a large portion of the car. These can be expensive to repair depending on how much area they cover. This is why it’s important to know how to fix a keyed car to save yourself the money and the hassle.

How Can I Prevent Car Scratches?

Preventing car scratches isn’t easy since there are so many ways they can occur, but you can take steps to reduce the chances of getting them.

The best way to prevent scratches is to avoid the situations mentioned above but also by regularly waxing your car. Amongst many other benefits, waxing your car frequently will provide a protective layer to your paint job that will decrease the likelihood of developing scratches over time. To fully achieve and maintain these benefits, it’s recommended you use a high-quality wax like Turtle Wax’s Wax and Dry. You can read our Turtle Wax: Wax and Dry Review here.

Not all scratches can be prevented, as it is a part of owning a vehicle, but you can be more cautious to prevent some of them.

Helpful Tips:

  • Learn the proper ways to wash and dry your car.
  • Don’t use automatic car washes.
  • Don’t open your car door with keys or other items in your hand.
  • Be aware of areas that are commonly scratched on your vehicle
  • Avoid gravel and dirt roads.
  • Wax your car regularly.

How Deep Is My Car Scratch?

Not all car scratches are equal depending on the depth of the scratch.

Some scratches can cause extensive damage, while others are strictly cosmetic. Additionally, each type of scratch requires different methods of repair.

There are several layers that make up your car’s paint:

  1. Primer Layer
  2. Color Layer
  3. Clear Coat Layer

Scratches differ depending on which paint layers they effect.

Read our full article, 3 Different Types of Car Scratches, to learn more.

paint layers

How Can I Repair Car Scratches?

There isn’t one general method to fix car scratches since they aren’t all created equal. Therefore, you’ll need to identify which type of car scratch you have before fixing them.

When in doubt, consult a professional.

Repairing Clear Coat Scratches

Clear coat scratches are the most common type of scratch and are the easiest to fix.

Since the scratch doesn’t extend into the color layer, it won’t need re-painted. Rather, you must simply smoothen the surface of the clear coat to reduce the visual effects of the scratch.

For more information, read our full guide to repairing clear coat scratches.

Repairing Primer/Color Layer Scratches

Primer and color layer scratches are repaired using similar methods.

Both types of scratches require using touch-up paint to restore the color that was taken off by the scratch. This is an advanced process that may be better left to a professional, but it can still be done by yourself.

If you’re repairing a primer scratch that was left untreated and has developed rust, it may need to be removed before re-painting.

[Related Article: 10 Best Electric Buffer For Car Waxing And Buying Guide]

How Much Does It Cost To Repair Car Scratches

If you prefer to engage in auto body repair, make sure to do your research and bring your vehicle to a reputable body shop

For minor scratches, the rough estimate of auto body shops should charge less than $100 on average

However, for deep paint scratches, it can be quite expensive to repair, with auto body shops charging anywhere from $800 to $1,500 on average

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