Most Common Ways a Car Gets Scratched

Les Façons les plus courantes de rayer une voiture

Car scratches can be nasty surprises. You may walk up to your vehicle one day and wonder, “How did that scratch get there?”

A scrape here or there isn’t a big deal if you’re driving an old beater. But you’ll certainly care after finding new marks on a car that you pride greatly.

What can you do to prevent scratches from happening, or at least minimize the chances?

Understanding common ways that car scratches happen is the best place to start. You can then use this information to protect your vehicle’s exterior from getting harmed.

Keep reading as I discuss common causes of scratches. I’ll also cover the costs of these mishaps and what you can do to prevent, or at least minimize this problem.

The Many Causes of Car Scratches

Sometimes it’s easy to figure out how your car ends up with a scratch. Maybe you open your door into a high curb and hear the sickening thud.

Other times, though, these marks can come as a total surprise. Here are some of the factors and events that can cause harm to your car’s paint.

Self-Serve Car Washes

Washing your car at a self-serve place has its benefits. Two of the biggest advantages include:

  • You have more control over the type of wash and chemicals used.
  • You may only have to spend several quarters for a good wash.

However, the big downside to self-serve car washes is that they can lead to scratches. Most of these places have old brushes that can harm your paint.

You may not get any serious marks from a manual wash. However, your car can accumulate a number of tiny scratches over time.

Touch-less (or brush-less) car washes, on the other hand, won’t cause the same troubles. They use a system of chemicals and high-pressure water jets to clean your vehicle.

You’ll normally pay a little more for this service. But the chances of your car collecting scratches is almost zero.

Driving on Gravel or Dirt Roads

You’re in luck if you live in the United States, because most roads are paved here. However, there are still plenty of dirt and gravel roads across the country, especially around mountains and rural areas.

Going off the beaten path can be an entertaining experience. Unfortunately, your vehicle’s exterior won’t share in the joy.

Your tires will kick up a lot of pebbles and debris on unpaved roads. The pebbles can especially damage your paint.

Drive at a slower speed if you have to go down a stone or dirt road. Doing so reduces the velocity at which your tires will toss stones and sticks.

Parking Lot Pitfalls

Many surprise scratches come from public parking lots. Shopping centers and malls have compact parking spaces, meaning cars don’t have much clearance on either side.

You may be courteous in these situations and gingerly open your door to avoid hitting other cars. But don’t always expect the same courtesy from others.

Big dents caused by another door slamming into your automobile are obvious. Sometimes, though, another person will only lightly open their door into yours.

These small dings can lead to minor scratches. They might also brush up against your car and scratch it with an item they’re carrying, such as the zipper on a purse.

Shopping carts are yet another parking lot pitfall. Other shoppers may ram their cart into your car on accident, or you may simply bump one when trying to park.

Parking lots have areas where people are supposed to put their carts. But some shoppers are too inconsiderate to use these areas. It’s best to park somewhere else when you see a shopping cart anywhere in the vicinity of an open space.

Kids Climbing/Playing On Your Car

It might seem harmless to let your children sit on your car hood. After all, these are heavy pieces of machinery that weigh 1-2 tons and are built to last.

But even an 80-pound kid can do some damage to the surface. For example, a little girl could be wearing a bracelet and scrape the car while climbing up on it.

Children can find plenty of other things to do. They don’t need to be using your automobile as a jungle gym.

Removing Snow

Unless you live in a sunny state like Florida or Arizona, brushing snow off your car is an unfortunate part of winter. You likely just try to finish brushing as fast as possible so you can get into the car.

However, rushing the process increases the odds of scratching your vehicle. After all, you could hit the paint with the scraper if you’re too overzealous.

Some people resort to using their gloved hands to push off light snow. But even this can cause scratches if the gloves have buckles or any other type of metal on them.

You also have to be wary when breaking up ice on the windows. Huge chunks of ice falling on your paint can leave marks.

Take your time when removing snow and ice from a car. If the ice is thick, just leave your car and defroster on to make the job easier.

A Bike Handle Hitting the Side

Parking on the street leaves you open to a number of possibilities that could damage your paint. A bike handle hitting the side of your car is one of the most common.

Bicyclists have to share the road with automobiles, which sometimes puts them in close quarters with parked cars. They may be unaware of how close they are to your car and scrape it.

The unfortunate thing is that some of these same people aren’t going to try and make things right. They’ll simply keep riding as long as there aren’t any witnesses.

Kids riding their bikes present another possibility. They may scratch your car in the driveway when trying to ride between vehicles.

Somebody Keying Your Car

Accidental incidents aren’t the only causes of scratches. Sometimes people purposely “key” a car, meaning they drag their keys across the paint job in a rough manner.

It’s fairly obvious when your car has been keyed. You’ll notice deep scratches moving across the exterior, usually by the driver’s door.

A jaded ex-lover, angry co-worker, or somebody who hates your parking job are common types who commit this petty crime. A random act of vandalism is always a possibility too.

Balancing Too Many Items When Getting Into the Car

Nobody likes making more trips than they have to when bringing items to the car. As a result, you may find yourself cradling a half dozen things when trying to open the door.

Doing so is perfectly fine if you can handle the load. However, problems arise when you start using the car door as an extra set of hands.

Pushing anything with a hard surface against the door has the potential to leave a scratch. You may simply want to make an extra trip if there’s a chance that you’ll need to shove items against the door.

Carelessly Loading a Car

The last thing you want to worry about is scratches when loading your car up with heavy items. However, you should stay mindful of scratches when loading a car.

It’s all too easy to scrape the bottom of your tailgate or the surface just outside of an open door during the process.

Exercising caution is the best way to keep these incidents from happening. If you’re really worried, you can always try covering certain parts of the car until you’re finished loading.

Using a Dry Rag on Your Car

You may enjoy washing your own car and saving money. However, the effort isn’t worth it if you end up scratching your vehicle.

Using a dry rag is one of the most common ways to leave tiny marks. A hard, dry rag can be abrasive on the surface and cause more harm than good.

Make sure to use softer rags that won’t hurt your paint. You also need to use clean rags to avoid dragging particles across the surface.

Getting Into an Accident

Accidents are an obvious cause of scratches. These include everything from hitting another car to lightly bumping a parking lot lamppost.

Your insurance should cover all repairs and details following a serious accident. However, you probably won’t contact them if you run over your kid’s bike or nudge a tree.

These might seem like minor incidents, but they can leave scratches just the same. Keep your eyes peeled when backing up to cut down on such episodes.

Dealership/Body Shop Causing Scratches

Chances are that you’ve had to take your car to the dealership or a body shop for an oil change, new tires, and/or repairs. You likely don’t think about them doing anything harmful to your vehicle while it’s getting worked on.

But accidents do happen in repair shops. A mechanic may drop a tool on the exterior or back into something when moving the car, both of which can leave scratches.

Many shops will let you know if they cause any serious damage and fix it free of charge. However, they may let tiny marks go and only do something if you complain about it.

True Cost of Your Car Getting Scratched

The cost of repairing scratches can vary based on the dealership and area where you live. Generally speaking, though, it’s an expensive process.

You’ll spend upwards of $500 getting several major scratches fixed. Even minor blemishes can cost up to $200 to repair.

At these prices, you may want to ignore tiny marks that are barely visible. But you might seriously consider getting larger scratches fixed if you can afford the bill.

After all, driving a marked-up car around can be embarrassing. You may also simply get tired of answering questions about how your car got scratched.

You also have to worry about these scrapes if/when you decide to sell the vehicle. Do you get them repaired yourself or let the next owner do it?

Any person or dealership that’s buying the car from you will take the scratches into consideration. The only way they won’t consider the marks is if they don’t notice them.

In any case, it’s best to avoid scratching your car in the first place. But this is easier said than done, given everything that can happen.

How to Save Your Car from Scratches

You can never fully guarantee that your automobile won’t get scratched. However, you can at least take proper steps to protect a car.

The first thing you should do is fully understand the causes of scratches. Focus on the points I covered earlier and keep them in mind.

Knowing the causes ensures that you have a better chance of preventing them. Here are some examples on prevention techniques:

  • Use touch-less car washes, or at least avoid using old brushes at self-serve places.
  • Only drive down dirt and gravel roads when absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t let kids play on your car.
  • Thoroughly check your car for scratches after getting it back from the body shop.
  • Try to park with plenty of clearance from other vehicles.
  • Avoid parking on the street if at all possible.
  • Take your time when removing snow, or at least turn the defroster on for a while to melt snow.
  • Don’t use a dry or dirty rag when cleaning your car.
  • Don’t park on the side of the street if possible.
  • Be careful when loading your car.
  • Avoid pissing people off when parking, because somebody might key your vehicle.

Odds are that you’re not going to remember this laundry list of scratch causes and prevention ideas. Hopefully, though, you can mentally store most of these situations and do your best to prevent them.


You don’t need to have a BMW or Mercedes just to care about protecting your vehicle from scratches. Too many blemishes can lead to a hefty repair bill – if you even decide to front the money for repairs.

I don’t blame you for not wanting to pay up. After all, fixing scratches can cost up to $500 or even more in some cases.

The other possibility is that you simply forgo the repairs. But this route leads to another problem when it comes time to sell. A dealership or individual will pay less if they notice lots of scratches.

Therefore, the best thing to do is prevent these problems from happening. Go over what’s covered in this post and do your best to remember everything.

You’re off to a great start if you can just remain aware of the various scenarios that lead to scratches. It’s easier to prevent incidents when you’re expecting them.

For example, you probably don’t think too deeply about how hard you’re scraping snow and ice. However, you can end up scratching the paint in your haste to knock off the snow.

Likewise, you might not put much thought into holding boxes against the car door while opening it. But a box edge could leave a small scratch.

Other situations merely require common sense. You’re probably aware of the dangers of driving down gravel roads or parking on the side of the street. Avoiding these scenarios is a great way to avoid putting your car’s exterior in harm’s way.

Just having a solid understanding of scratch-causing items and situations will severely reduce the chances that your paint job will get ruined. The end result is that your car will stay looking nice and have more resale value when it comes sale time.

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