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How to Fix a Dent in a Car — and When to Bring it to an Expert

How to fix a dent in a car

Ask your auto buddies about how to fix a dent in a car and you’re likely to get many different answers depending on the size of the dent and where it’s located. The problem with most at-home fixes, regardless of the tools you use, is that they all require a steady hand and lots of practice. Before you get your blowtorch out, it’s important to know that removing even small dents requires a lot of skill.

What to Consider

Whether your dent came from a run-in with a car, a bike or a tree, consider the following: If the dent broke through the paint sealant, your car is at risk for rusting and corrosion — especially if your vehicle is exposed to the weather. In other words, you’ll want to repair your dent right away.

If you are a novice at car repair and you want your car to look professionally done, think twice about doing it yourself. Consider your vehicle’s resale value and overall look before taking on the project. If you have the soul and skills of a car mechanic then doing it yourself is certainly an option.

What You’ll NeedA badly dented car may require body filler, or replacing a part

Your dent-repairing strategy and the equipment you’ll need depends on nature of the damage. If you’re working with a small dent in an area that you can easily manually adjust, such as the hood, you’ll need a household heating device like the hairdryer to soften the metel and manually bend it into shape. If you’re dealing with the door, suction cups might be your best bet.

If you are dealing with a high level of damage that requires body filler, double-check with a mechanic before you begin the process. If you consult an expert and still decide you are up for the task, you will need:

  • A mask
  • Goggles
  • Industrial-strength gloves
  • A rotating disc for sanding
  • Plastic board for mixing the filler
  • A paddle for smoothing the filler into the dent
  • Sandpaper grits
  • A properly vented working area

Working With Body Filler

  1. Purchase body filler. There is a variety of filler strengths available. Use heavier fill for bigger dents, lighter for smaller ones.
  2. Remove paint and primer. Sand with a rotating disc using a 40 grit sandpaper (for heavier filler) or 80 grit (for lighter filler) on a disc.
  3. Mix the body filler. Follow the directions. You only need a small amount of hardener, a ratio of 50:1. A major mistake that amateurs make is putting in too much hardener. Allow yourself some test runs. Spread the filler on a plastic mixing board and add the hardener to make the mix. The final color will come out pink, light blue or green. Work quickly before the mixture hardens (up to seven minutes). Use a paddle that is the approximate size of the glitch. Apply using smooth, even strokes. If you slap it on or whip it up, you’ll create air bubbles.
  4. Allow the filler to harden. This will take around 30 minutes or more. Sand smooth using the appropriate grit sandpaper (80-100). Use your hand and a good source of light to check the smoothness. It may take a couple of layers depending on your skill.

The next step? Repainting the area — which requires another “how to” list!

Check out all the paint & body products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to fix a dent in a car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Holly Reich View All

Holly Reich writes about cars, culture, travel,  health, beauty and more.Her work has appeared in Fortune, Parents, NY Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Redbook, NY Observer and dozens more. Holly, a recipient of several writing awards, has also reported on media outlets including: Fox, Lifetime TV, The Discovery Channel, AutoLab and AutoWorld radio. She is a voting member of WWCOTY (Women's World Car of the Year), TAWA (Texas Auto Writers Association) and Citizens NYC. Holly's passions include,  cooking, swimming, Pilates, gardening and hanging with her family in NYC.

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