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Hooniverse Asks: Touch-up paint?

Jeff Glucker October 11, 2017 Hooniverse Asks 11 Comments

I’ve been working to bring the paint of my ’74 Benz back to life. The folks at Meguiar’s just helped out a lot by showing me how a proper wax job can do just that. One issue that this has highlighted, however, is all of the dings, dents, and scratches that have accumulated on this 43-year-old body.

That’s led me on a rabbit hole of paintless-dent and scratch repair videos. I’ll leave the PDR to a professional, but I want to knock out a number of the paint issues myself. YouTube is a great resource for finding examples of folks who have done the same, but you are a better resource… the wealth of knowledge here is one of my favorite aspects of this place.

So, dear Hooniversarians, what are you experiences with touch-up paint? What brand do you prefer? What methods work the best?

Help me, help my Benz.

  • P161911

    Touch up paint is usually only good for turning a 20 footer into about a 5-6 footer. Unless you put a lot of time and effort into it.

    • Victor

      Thing is that nobody sees those little defects but us.

  • I_Borgward

    The best use of touch up paint is to re-seal the metal underneath the factory paint if it’s been exposed. If the damage didn’t penetrate the paint, that’s half the battle won already. If there’s rust present, of course, it will rear its ugly head again if not removed or treated. That said, sealing up a -small- crater with a spot of rust using touch up paint is certainly better than leaving it exposed, just know that it will pop up again later. You can even use clear nail polish as a sealant in a pinch.

    So far as appearance, between the inevitable color mismatch and the fact that it’s tough to get touch up paint to lay as flat as factory paint, it’s likely to be visible up close unless you really fuss over it. Metallic finishes are even more difficult to deal with.

    I assume that Benz has non-metallic, single stage paint, which is a bit more manageable. For those with a base coat/clear coat finish, just realize that you’re probably going to layer any touch up paint on top of the clear coat, making it hard to conceal.

  • Victor

    I touched up all the chips in the paint on an old black Ford with a fresh “marks a Lot” felt pen. Worked real well.

    • neight428

      Have done the same with all of the black cars I have owned. The good folks that make Sharpies do so in many different colors and they allow for more precision application than I can manage with a brush.

  • Sjalabais

    I have some experience in the category “lousy paint work”, which probably awards me a tiny skill star? Unless there’s rust forcing your hand, my conclusion is to not touch the paint without proper equipment, time and care. Polishing and waxing will do.

    Starting here with my ’77 242, which needed a lot of attention. Grinding, rust treatment, and no paint because I ran out of money and time, it held okay for two years:

    The ’71 145 was a lost case, but I went for a complete package of grinding, rust treatment, primer and matched paint. The problem was that the original burgundy couldn’t keep up with the fresh paint, even turning pinkish after a first polish. Which sort of limits the “touch up”-concept on 40 year old cars.

    My ’93 245 was supposed to be a keeper, so I invested more. Same procedure as above, more comprehensive work. It got sort of matte, even after sanding and polishing, and the red primer was hard to cover with white.

    So on my ’02 Honda, which has worse rust issues than most of my former ancient Volvos – because of Nippon steel quality? – I went for professional help. No rattle cans. Almost to the day a year later, it looked like this:

    …which made me conclude that even professional car painters can do lousy work (Ey, I can do that!) or that his defence – “if there’s rust, it’ll always come back” – was true. The other rocker, untreated, didn’t look much better under the paint just last month. Popped a moist bubble, did some rust treatment, and then I just put clear coat over it.

    Tl;dr – don’t touch up spots, because it’s a rabbit hole. Do it proper if you do it, and invest a lot of time into doing it right. Otherwise you’ll just regret spending a-wee-bit-short-of-a-lot-of-time on inferior results. But you probably knew that already.

  • Don’t go to the trouble. It won’t match, it will look amaturish and it will bug you every time you see it.

  • wunno sev

    uh, i’ll make a counterpoint to some of the it’ll-never-be-right comments. if you have a light-colored car with paint chips and a lil bit of rust underneath, it’ll be way better to touch it up even if you half-ass it.

    below is a before/after of my car with the touch-ups i’ve been doing. frickin’ cratered up like the moon beforehand, and much better even when it’s not done (need to fix some of the crappy spots where i sanded down to the primer and polish out the biggest blob). a white car makes rusty chipped spots stand out real hard, and the reflections are muted, so slightly duller spots don’t stand out.

    the match is still important – the first paint i got from an aftermarket company was awful, so now i’m using OEM Volvo paint – but if it’s close, it’ll be better than rust spots.

    different lighting, but it’s still a huge improvement in person. the main issue i had was curing time. it was humid when i was doing this work and the paint took ~2 days to dry hard enough to be sandable. this meant i couldn’t drive it and couldn’t work on other cars as it sat in the garage with a space heater and box fan.

  • IMO touch up paint serves basically one purpose when applied with the skill of most DIYers:
    Sealing the body against future rust.
    Usually it doesn’t look great afterwards although usually good is achievable.

    Ideally touch up paint, light sanding, compounding, and polish should make it pretty imperceptible.

  • Alff

    There’s no substitute for using paint mixed with the appropriate thinners and hardeners, shot through a gun. Even if that gun was purchased at Harbor Freight and your driveway serves as a paint booth. This may be overkill for a rock chip or two, but my projects usually involve more than that.

  • Zentropy

    I’ve never had much luck making touch-ups look good. Single-stage finishes are definitely easier to touch-up than base/clear, but nothing compares to a full respray. I think I’m just going to learn to embrace the patina on my old E28 and worry about other issues.