The car shimmers in the parking lot as you walk up, metal reflecting the sun, hubcaps gleaming, the paint smooth and gorgeous. But when you walk around to the driver’s side to get in, you see something new: a deep, nasty key scratch. Someone has keyed your car.

A “keyed” scratch – most often made when someone digs a key into the paint and drags it across the surface – is an ugly thing, different from most parking lot scratches. It’s deeper, penetrating the car’s clear coat and color, sometimes reaching all the way down through the primer.

What can you do, outside of paying the cost – it can go as high as $1,500 – to fix the scratches at a body shop?


To know what you’ll have to do to repair a key scratch, you have to identify its depth and the extent of its damage. There are actually five classifications:

  • Level 1A: A minor clear-coat scratch or scuff. These don’t even penetrate the clear coat; in fact, they can be hard to see.
  • Level 1BA deeper clear-coat scratch. These can be caused by such things as small road debris, automatic car washes or dirty/textured wash/wax applicators. They have penetrated the clear coat but not all of the paint.
  • Level 2A clear-coat and paint scratch: The scratch is deeper than the above two, but it’s still the same color as the rest of your car, so it didn’t reach the primer layer.
  • Level 3A clear-coat, paint and primer scratch: The scratch is a different color than the rest of your car, meaning it’s gone into the primer layer.
  • Level 4A scratch that reaches the metal: This scratch has penetrated all the layers of paint and protection down to the metal of the car.

Key scratch is most often a combination of the above levels, making repair more multi-faceted. For levels 1A through 2, for instance, you won’t need touch-up paint, but for levels 3 and 4, you will.


There are multiple methods to remove deep scratches, and they don’t all include the same materials or steps. The following is a combination of techniques that covers scratches from 1A to 4. Read through all the steps and be sure you’re confident about your abilities before you attempt this yourself; sanding down a car is not for wimps.

  • Black shoe polish
  • A bucket and water
  • Prep solvent 
  • Wet/dry 2,000 grit sandpaper
  • Clean rags 
  • Rubbing compound 
  • Clean, dry soft cloths to apply compound 
  • Touch-up paint 
  • Fine paintbrush
  • Touch-up clear coat 
  • Polishing compound
  • Wax
  • Rubber sanding block (optional)


The first thing you need to do is wash and dry your car, or at least the entire area that contains the scratch. Then follow these steps:

  1. Work on your car in a shady area, not in direct sunlight. The sun will make the compounds dry too quickly.
  2. If areas of the scratch are difficult to see clearly, rub some black shoe polish into it and then wipe off the excess with a rag. The polish will stay in the scratch and you’ll be able to see it in its entirety.
  3. Spray prep solvent over the entire scratch area, and wipe it off with a clean rag. This removes wax and grease, and improves adhesion for paint.
  4. Soak the sandpaper in cold water for 10 to 15 minutes before you use it. Wrap it around the rubber block (or just use it by hand) and gently begin sanding the scratch. Keep a spray bottle close at hand and spray the scratch regularly to keep the area wet. Repeatedly feel the scratch with your fingers; your goal is to sand the clear coat off the paint and to leave a smooth surface area.
  5. When you are finished sanding, use a microfiber rag to clean the area off. The surface should appear dull if you successfully removed the clear coat. Don’t be alarmed that the sanding left tiny scratches of its own; a later step will take care of that.
  6. Using the fine brush, dab touch-up paint into the scratch wherever needed. You can also use a toothpick for this step if that’s easier. Be patient; this takes a while. Don’t paint too thickly; rather, use more coats if you need to, with 12 hours of drying time between coats.
  7. Once you’re finished with the touch-up paint, let it dry for 12 hours and then apply touch-up clear-coat over the paint. Let this dry thoroughly as well.
  8. Using the cheesecloth or soft application pad, apply the rubbing compound to the entire area. You can buff it by hand – and some experts believe this is preferable – or a buffing machine; if you use the latter, set it at 18 rpm. You may need to use the rubbing compound a few times to remove any excess touch-up paint. When you are finished with this step, clean off any residue with a microfiber towel. This step should remove any leftover sanding scratches.
  9. Apply polishing compound: Just as with the rubbing compound, you can do this step by hand or machine. If you use a polishing machine, set it at 1,000 rpm. Wipe any residue with the towel.
  10. Apply wax, by hand or polishing machine set at 1,000 rpm. This step will seal the new paint and clear coat, and your scratch should be barely detectable.


Whether you’ve had to repair a deep scratch or are simply worried about the possibility, there is more you can do than just parking your car off by itself in the far corner of the parking lot. Consider a Paint Protection Film that will preserve the factory paint for the life of your car. The self-healing film is custom-cut for each vehicle, and protect against chips, fading, bugs, sand, road debris and scratches.


If you want specific details on vehicle wraps, give us a call today or visit our website! We look forward to working with you to assist you with your vehicle wrap.

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