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Why Does Car Paint Scratch So Easily?

Whether you’re someone who’s very enthusiastic about cars or just the average Sunday driver, you’re probably aware that car paint scratches easily. Minor, seemingly insignificant incidents and occurrences can leave you with an unexpected, unpleasing scratch on your otherwise pristine vehicle. Why exactly does car paint scratch so easily?

Hand holding car scratch

Car paint scratches so easily because it’s typically made of polyurethane-based enamel, which adds color to your vehicle and protects it from the elements and environmental threats. So despite being very resistant to chipping and cracking, it’s particularly vulnerable to scratching.

In this article, I will go on to explore in further detail why car paint scratches so easily, what the primary causes of car paint scratches are, and how you can deal with one. Keep reading to learn more.

The Reasons Car Paint Scratches So Easily

Red car with scratch

You might think that the primary purpose of car paint is to provide you with the ability to customize the color and aesthetic of your vehicle. While car paint does fulfill that role excellently, it is also intended to protect the exterior of your vehicle from environmental threats.

Environmental threats can refer to anything that would be harmful to the exterior of your vehicle, such as abrasion, excessive heat and cold (can lead to thermal expansion and compression), UV-light, stones and common road debris, and harsh weather conditions.

Car paint is designed to be able to offer protection against said threats, and so it develops resistance to chipping and cracking, which is typical of other kinds of paints. This resistance allows car paint to be able to take collisions from small road debris etc., and minimize damage.

If you’ve seen a damaged car, you may have noticed that its metal exterior crumbles entirely, while the paint coat sustains much less damage.

However, unfortunately, car paint is not resistant to scratches from sharp and pointy objects. This is simply because of the nature of its ingredients. Most car paints are acrylic water-based polyurethane enamel.

The layer of car paint typically applied to a car is also very thin – thinner than you might think; according to Wikipedia, car paint is only 0.1mm in thickness.

Another factor that might contribute to the susceptibility of car paint to scratches is that car paint has to be somewhat flexible and expandable. This allows it to fit firmly onto the car, of course, but it must also be flexible because temperature differences during the seasons can result in the paint expanding and contracting. If the paint were entirely rigid, it would likely crack.

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Car paint has multiple (often three or four) layers, and even though the clearcoat (the outermost layer) is better able to resist abrasion, it’s still little match for scratches from sharp and pointy objects.

To give you an idea of how vulnerable car paint is to scratches, you could probably create visible scratches on your cat paint with your fingernails if you actually tried (probably better not to try just for the sake of curiosity!).

The Main Culprits

Girl looking at the car scratch

Even though car paint will be noticeably scratched by just about anything if enough force is applied, there are some very common, identifiable, and avoidable causes of car paint scratches.

If you want to reduce the likelihood of your car getting scratched in the future, here is what to avoid:

Dirt and Gravel Roads

This one might be unexpected, since you might think that car paint has nothing to do with what’s beneath your tires. But unfortunately, traveling on a damaged, low-quality, or unbuilt road can increase the likelihood of your car being struck by a rock or stone, especially if there are other cars around.

Other cars can cause road debris to be flung at your car at extremely high speeds, which, as you can probably imagine, will likely cause scratches. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about this, except not travel on such roads.

If you do travel on a road with lots of road debris, try to stay further away from other cars, as the danger lies in their close proximity.

Incorrect Washing Techniques and Practices

This is probably one of the most common causes of minor car paint scratches and can cause the buildup of minor scratches on your car until the point that they become glaringly noticeable.

The common issue here is using a dry, rugged towel or piece of cloth for drying your car after it has been washed. This is likely to leave tiny scratches all over your car.

It is best to use synthetic microfiber cloths for drying your car after it has been washed, as they are built especially for this purpose.

First published on Sep 4, 2022 by

Unfortunately, you are not entirely safe from this issue if you opt to go for cleaning at a car wash, either. Although many car washes are attempting to adapt and improve, it is often the case that older car washes that use hands-on cleaning techniques and especially brushes will cause minor scratches to your paint.

Opening Your Car Door With Keys in Your Hand

Keys are great at scratching car paint. Unfortunately, it feels natural for the majority of us who are unaware of this issue to unlock our car and then proceed to open the door with keys still in hand.

This is likely to cause noticeable scratches near the door handle.

How To Deal With a Car Paint Scratch

Man wiping the car paint scratch

First of all, assess the severity of the scratch. It helps here to know a little bit more about car paint, but essentially, car paint has three different layers.

If only the outermost layer (the clearcoat) appears to be scratched, you can likely repair the scratch yourself using a common scratch removal product.

If the scratch is severe, however, and the inner layers appear to be exposed, it might be best to leave the treatment of the paint scratch to a professional.

Of course, it can be difficult to know for sure how severe the scratch is, so if you can, consult a car expert before deciding on what to do.

This article on Wikihow might prove to be helpful in dealing with this situation.

Final Thoughts

While resistant to cracking and chipping, car paint is vulnerable to scratches. This is because it is made up of acrylic water-based polyurethane enamel, which scratches very easily. Its normal application is also very thin (0.1 mm or 3/64 in).

To protect your car paint from scratches, you’d do well to practice appropriate cleaning and drying methods, be wary of car washes, avoid roads with a lot of dirt, gravel, or debris, and keep in mind to not open your car door with the key still in hand.

It is best to consult an expert for paint scratches.

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