If you spend long enough driving your car, especially on the highway, you’re bound to experience some rock chips in your paint. While these tiny spots of damage are unsightly, a rock chip on a metal panel can present an even bigger issue.
Your vehicle’s paint job is more than just cosmetic — it also provides a layer of protection from the elements. If moisture gets to the metal underneath, it will result in oxidation (rust), which can eat through the metal in that spot and spread quickly, compromising the integrity of the whole panel. Fortunately, if you address the issue early, fixing a rock chip is a relatively easy DIY that won’t break the bank.
Full disclosure: the result probably won’t look like a fresh paint job right from the factory floor, but if the job is done right, that won’t be noticeable unless you look closely. The most important thing is stopping the rust before it starts. To fix rock chips on your car, follow the steps outlined below.
1. Choose Your Color
You can match the right touch-up paint to your existing color using the year, make and model of your vehicle. You can search your model and year’s colors online, contact your dealership or check to see if the color is noted on the VIN sticker itself. If the vehicle has been repainted from its original color, you’re going to have to do a little more in-depth hunting and look back at records or samples.
Vehicle touch-up paint is usually sold in easy-to-apply pens or bottles with small brushes, but if you’re having trouble locating your color, spray paint can also be used. Just spray a small amount into a cap and use a small brush as an applicator.
2. Prepare the Area
Wash your vehicle well and let it dry completely to help avoid rusting. Use tweezers to remove any debris still stuck in the chipped areas. Note that if the chips have already begun to rust, you’re going to need to pursue a more involved scratch removal process than this.
Apply just a touch of automotive polishing compound to a cotton cloth, and work it around using a small circular motion on the damaged area to smooth down the edges of the chip. Don’t be too forceful, as you don’t want to wear into the clearcoat of the surrounding paint. Next, remove the polish and waxy residue with denatured alcohol on a cloth.
3. Prime and Paint
Before you start painting, note that none of this work should be done in direct sunlight or in near-freezing temperatures, as these factors can affect the curing process. Fill the area left by the chip with primer up to the edge, and let it dry for at least half an hour or as long as the directions specify.
Allowing time for drying after each step is important to ensure the most professional-looking touch-up. Once the primer is dry, paint over it and let that dry as well. Then, paint a second coat. The metal underneath is now protected. After the paint has cured for a week or so, take the polishing compound out and make a few passes to lightly smooth out the repair and make it a little less conspicuous. Be careful not to go too deep or damage the surrounding paint. With this finished, you should be left with a small defect that’s noticeable only to those looking for it.
For more preventative measures, invest in a car bra, which can come as either a leather-like cover or a clear synthetic one. This should protect the front end of your vehicle, where rock chip damage is most likely to be sustained.
If you’re willing to put in a little extra work now and then, rock chips on your vehicle can be stopped in their tracks before they get out of hand and lead to additional issues.
Check out all the paint and body equipment available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on rock chips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.