How to Easily Fix a Keyed Car – Complete Guide

How To Fix a Keyed Car

Have you ever walked to your car only to discover a hideous, jagged scratch across its exterior? Keying a car is the lowest of the low! If someone keyed your car, you want the damage fixed as soon as possible.

Fortunately, DIY repair is possible in many cases. Removing the scratch, and returning your car to pristine condition, is a reasonably simple process.

Here’s your complete guide to fixing a keyed car:

Overview of Automotive Scratch Repair

Vehicles have three layers of paint:

  • Primer
  • Actual color
  • Clear topcoat

Scratches in the topcoat can be buffed out. They’re the easiest to remove. Scratches in the primer and steel underneath are the most difficult to remove. They require more extensive repainting and possibly even complete panel replacement.

Equipment List

Gather up everything needed before you start working. Don’t worry — none of the equipment is particularly rare or complicated. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Paintbrush – Choose one with a fine tip
  • Masking tape
  • Newspapers
  • Shoe polish
  • Sandpaper and sanding block
  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Clear Coat
  • Polish
  • Cloth

Let’s take a closer look at some of these items.

Match the paint as close as possible. Spray pain is usually the best option because it’s the easiest to control. Touch-up pens are another option, but they’re best for smaller areas.

Primer is handy in case you sand down too far. Plus, adding primer helps keeps the paint color consistent.

Finally, you’ll want a spray can of clear coat. Like with the color paint, a spray can is easiest to control.

Finding Your Car’s Paint Type

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know the exact color of your vehicle. It’s “green” or “blue” or another primary color. However, that’s not precise enough when repairing a scratch.

Instead, you’ll want the OEM paint color. OEM stands for “Original Equipment Manufacturer.” The OEM paint type is usually an alphanumeric code. It’s found in your owner’s manual or printed somewhere on the car.

The location of the OEM code varies by manufacturer. Here’s a closer look at where to find the codes in many popular vehicles:


Look for a label on the driver’s side door jamb or door edge. Most Ford colors have two digits (letters, numbers or both). Look for it following the phrases “Exterior Paint” or “EXT PNT.”

If you can’t find the code, call Ford directly at 1-800-392-3673. Tell them your VIN, and they’ll identify the OEM paint number right over the phone.


Honda puts paint codes on the driver’s side door jamb. It’s a six or seven-digit alphanumeric code. Look for the phrase “Ext. Paint.” However, in some cases, the code won’t have any identifying information; it’ll look like an unidentified series of numbers and letters.


Chevy prints their paint codes on white stickers. They change locations fairly frequently, but you’ll typically find them on the driver’s side door or in the glove compartment.

Most Chevy paints codes start with the letters WA or BC/CC U. BC/CC stands for basecoat/clearcoat while U stands for the upper body.

How to Fix a Keyed Car

1. Wash the Car

Technically, you only need to wash the area around the scratch, although many people wash the entire car. Regardless, washing the scratched section has two main benefits:

It prevents additional scratches caused by dirt and debris
It increases visibility so you can see the entire scratch

Dry the car thoroughly. Otherwise, the paint won’t stick properly. A microfiber towel usually works best because it won’t scratch paint or primer (which is the last thing you need).

2. Study the Scratch

Your car’s exterior has five layers. From top to bottom, they are:

  • Wax
  • Clear Coat
  • Paint
  • Primer
  • Car Body

You don’t want a scratch on your car, but if you have one, a “clear coat scratch” is the easiest to fix. You can usually buff them out.

Use a soapy solution to help identify clear coat scratches. Spray soapy water on the scratch then dry it. If the scratch looks like it disappears for a minute or so, but then reappears, it’s a clear coat scratch. The water fills the shallow scratch temporarily.

Also, clear coat scratches have visible paint. If you see your car’s color in any part of the scratch, you’re likely dealing with a clear coat scratch.

However, you might be out of luck if you see steel. Buffing deep scratches isn’t always possible. Instead, scratches in the primer or steel typically require complete panel replacement. Deep, serious scratches often require professional repair services.

3. Protect the Area

Break out the masking tape. You want to block off the scratched area. Outline it with tape. Create a frame with about two or three inches of space around the scratch.

You’ll want to also tape newspapers to surrounding areas of the car. Don’t hold back. Spray paint isn’t easy to control, even on a calm day. Newspaper protects your car from overspray.

4. Apply Shoe Polish

Nothing beats this low-tech trick!

Sanding clear coat gets confusing fast. After all, you can’t see it. It’s difficult to know if you’re sanding down too far.

Shoe polish helps. Rub it onto the scratch. As you sand, the shoe polish disappears to reveal the paint color underneath. When you see the color, you’ve sanded away the scratch.

5. Sand

Take your time. Sanding is a fairly delicate process. Go slow. You can always sand more, but you can’t undo it if you sand too much. Removing a scratch could require several hours of sanding.

Creating an even surface is the goal. It’ll look cloudy, but that’s okay. You’ll remove the cloudiness later with polish or wax.

Use a sanding block. It lets you apply even pressure. Plus, it’s more comfortable on your fingers.

Place the block at a 60-degree angle against the scratch. Use even strokes to sand the scratch. First sand horizontally then vertically. Apply gentle pressure.

Carefully watch the shoe polish. It fades as you approach the end of the scratch.

Mix a solution of car wash soap and water in a bucket. Use it to help lubricate the sandpaper. Dunk the sanding bar into the soapy water before each application. You’ll also want to spray the scratched area with soapy water frequently as you work.

Generally, use sandpaper with grit between 2,000 and 3,000. If you’re sanding primer, use 1,500 grit sandpaper.

6. Apply Primer

The primer provides a base for the paint. It helps the paint look even. Additionally, primer helps prevent rust and corrosion.

Apply at least two coats of primer. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second.

7. Apply Paint

Hold the can about six to eight inches away from the vehicle’s surface. Spray side to side. Move steadily but quickly. You want to apply thin coats. Use the brush to clean up any wayward drips.

Allow each coat to dry before applying the next. Add coats until the new paint is the same level as the original paint.

8. Apply Clear Coat

The clear coat adds an extra layer of protection. Apply it the same way as the color paint. Use fast, steady strokes to add thin layers.

Applying clear coat doesn’t require quite as much precision as applying colored paint because you can’t see the clear coat as easily.

9. Add Polish or Wax

Finally, buff the area with polish or wax. Allow it to dry before wiping it away with a microfiber cloth.

How to Prevent Your Car From Getting Keyed

Unfortunately, repairing damage after a keying is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Ideally, you want to prevent damage from occurring at all. Follow these tips to help keep your car safe:

Park Inside

Keeping your car off the street reduces keying opportunities. Park your car in a closed, locked garage whenever possible.

Park in a Visible, Well-Lit Areas

Don’t try to hide your car on the street. Park under streetlights or in other well-lit areas. Keying a car is a fairly obvious action. People will think twice if they feel easily spotted.

Install a Car Alarm

You can’t key a car without moving it. A motion-activated car alarm is often an effective deterrent. Of course, car alarms are fairly common these days. It’s unlikely concerned citizens will come running to help. However, a loud, irritating alarm will still drive most vandals away.

Two types of people could key your car:

  • Random vandals
  • Someone you know

Random vandalism is usually a crime of opportunity. Prevention strategies should focus on keeping your car difficult to reach when parked.

Preventing someone you know from keying your car is likely more difficult. Ideally, you want to try to avoid angering someone to the point where they want to key your car. If you feel your ride might be a target, contact the police. They might increase patrols in your area or otherwise help.

Final Thoughts

You can’t protect your car from damage 100% of the time. However, if someone scratches your car with a key, you do have options. With a bit of elbow grease, you can hopefully buff out the damage and restore your car to its original style.

Brett Gordon

The engine behind editing at DigMyRide and the brains behind its build. During the day, Brett is a thirty-something dude from SoCal climbing the corporate ladder, but by night, he spends his time contributing to the online world of automotive tech & trends.