Understanding the 3 Types of Car Scratches

The 3 Different Types of Car Scratches

Car scratches are extremely common and nearly impossible to avoid entirely.

You probably have a handful of scratches on your car, but they are likely not all the same, as there are several different types of scratches.

These different types of scratches affect the paint in different ways and require different methods of fixing. 

While some scratches can be fixed within minutes using a single product, others may require a lot more time and advanced techniques.

The 3 different types of car scratches are:

  1. Clear coat scratches are light scratches on the outer layer of the car.

  2. Color coat scratches are medium-depth scratches that remove color from the car.

  3. Primer scratches are deep scratches that expose bare metal.

This article will explain these types of scratches and the paint layers that are affected. 

paint layers

There are 3 layers that make up your car’s paint.

The primer coat is the first paint layer on your car. It is applied to the metal surface of the car to prepare the surface for the remaining paint layers. It also adds a layer of protection to the metal beneath it.

The color coat, also called the base coat, is what gives the car it’s color. It is the thinnest layer and its main purpose is to provide color.

paint layers

The clear coat is the outermost layer on your car’s paint. It is thick, transparent, and provides two main functions:

  1. Protects the paint layers beneath it from abrasion, sun-damage, and more.

  2. Gives the car a glossy, shiny appearance.

You can read all about your car’s clear coat here!

Now that you fully understand the paint layers and their functions, here are the 3 different types of car scratches.

Clear Coat Scratches

This type of car scratch does not extend into the color (or base coat) layer, therefore do not remove any actual color. Rather, it reflects light unevenly from the surface, therefore becoming visible.

Due to the thickness of the clear coat, these can be light or deep scratches. Both require different products and methods to fix but can be done by yourself at home.

These are the most common type of car scratches, as the clear coat is the outermost layer of your car’s paint.

They can be caused by many different things, such as improper washing, contact with the car (such as leaning against it), or grabbing a door handle with keys in your hand.

It is very easy to scratch the clear coat, therefore you should be careful to avoid contacting it unless you’re washing the car.

Want to learn how to repair clear coat scratches by yourself? 
Check out:  How to Fix Clear Coat Scratches

Color Coat Scratches

These scratches are deeper than clear coat scratches, but do not expose the bare metal of the car.

A color coat (or base coat) scratch will remove the color from the vehicle’s paint. 

This means it will be more difficult to repair than a clear coat scratch, as the spot will need re-painted.

Although it is more advanced and may be better left to a professional, it can still be fixed at home with touch-up paint and a few other materials.

These scratches are caused by moderate-heavy contact with hard objects. For example, they can be caused by hitting branches on the road while driving or someone “keying” your car.

Color coat scratches are typically unpreventable since they aren’t caused by simply rubbing against the paint or washing incorrectly.

They are usually caused by accidents or intentional damage from others.

Primer Scratches

This is the deepest type of scratch and can cause much more damage than simply looking bad like the other types of scratches.

Primer scratches expose the bare metal of the car which rusts very quickly. If a primer scratch is left untreated, even for a few days, rust can start to form.

This can cause irreparable damage and make your car unsafe to drive over time. It will also affect the resale value of the car, as rust is extremely undesirable.

Primer scratches are caused by the same situations as color coat scratch, but they just extend further into the paint. Car accidents will typically yield deep car scratches, such as primer scratches.

If you think you might have a primer scratch, get the car examined by a professional immediately. It is important to stop rust from forming in the scratch as soon as possible.

Common Causes of Car Scratches

Car scratches are extremely common and there are many different causes.

Here are a few of the most common causes for car scratches.

1. Improper Washing

Washing your car incorrectly is probably the most common cause of car scratches.

Your car’s paint is much more delicate than you’d think, and it can become scratched very easily.

If you don’t use proper methods 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, damages your paint immensely by filling it with scratches.

Not only is your car susceptible to scratches during hand-washing, but automatic car washing can also cause a ton of damage to your car’s paint. You can read about this in detail by clicking here.

2. Rocks and Road Debris

Scratches and chips 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 come in contact with your car.

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

3. Car Accidents

This is the most obvious cause of car scratches, as you can’t really get into a car accident without resulting in many scratches.

They are caused by the car’s surface coming in contact with a solid object, such as another car.

These scratches are often concentrated in the area of impact and extend deep into the paint.

Preventing Scratches

Although scratches are very common, you can take steps to help avoid and prevent them.

A great way to help protect the paint from light clear coat scratches is to apply a wax layer. 

A wax layer will add a thin protective layer to further protect your car’s clear coat. Although it won’t protect against deep scratches, it may help prevent some lighter scratches.

car handle with scratches

Recommended Article: 11 Benefits of Waxing Your Car

Another way to prevent scratches is to learn how to wash your car properly. Hand-washing incorrectly is one of the most common ways for a car to become filled with scratches.

Hand-washing is not the only way your car can become damaged through washing. Automatic car washes can also cause massive amounts of damage to your paint, especially touch car washes.

You should also be aware of areas that are commonly scratched, such as door handles. Identify the areas where your car is scratched and try to figure out what might be causing the scratches.

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