"If you can feel the paint scratch with your thumbnail, it won't buff out," my dad always warned. He should know. After working for 40 years as a body man, he's seen more chips than an Old Dutch factory.
Anyone who has ever owned a car knows the agony of the first chip or scratch on a brand new vehicle. What can the average consumer to do prevent chips and to minimize costly repairs?
"Move to Phoenix," jokes Barry Bischoff, Manager for A-1 Auto Body Ltd., a Calgary-based auto body shop specializing in collision repair. "The gravel used on roads in Canadian winters can be as much as a half inch round. The windshield on your car is harder than paint and it still gets chipped, so getting paint chips is almost unavoidable."
3M makes a product that covers the front of your vehicle to prevent chips, but it's expensive and is not in common use.
If you see bare metal or a bit of rust as the result of a chip or scratch, you may be able to cover the damage yourself.
Touch up paint is available from hardware stores or a local body shop supply store. Check your owner's manual for the paint code for your vehicle.
By touching up the scratch or chip yourself, you won't get a perfect match. The difference between the factory spray-on and your brush-on chip cover will account for some of that difference, as will environmental impact to date on the car's original paint job. But you will protect your car, to some extent, from further rust and corrosion at the chip site.
Finding the right body shop
If you've determined that the damage is beyond your touch up talents, your next big decision will be how to choose a body shop. A car is a major investment for most families, and car repairs can be costly. How can you be sure you're making the right choice?
"If you're paying for it yourself, decide whether you're more concerned about price or quality," recommends Bischoff. "Ask to see some of the body shop's work and, if you don't like what you see, chances are you won't like what you see after they paint your car."
Ask about the warranty on the paint job and settle on a shop that offers a lifetime warranty.
"I like to compare body shops to fine dining," says Bischoff. "If you have to get scheduled in, odds are they're pretty good."
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