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Body Damage: Scratches

Frequently asked question:

"How much will you pay for scratches on a lease car"

Typically, you will be charged at 'panel price'. This means you will pay the cost of repainting the panel. This is likely to be between £175 - £350+vat depending on the make/model of the car and size of the panel. [more]A real example of scratches on a lease car.

"Will it Polish out?"

Sometimes -- you can't tell until you try. A lease inspector doesn't have the option to try which is why they have to assume the worst. But you do have options. You could try to polish the scratch yourself with a product like T-Cut, which sometimes works and only costs you the price of the product. Or you could have a Professional Machine Polish which typically costs £15-£30+vat. Another option is Cosmetic Repair which around costs £30+vat. Smart Repair may be possible which costs £85+vat. Finally, if it really does require a car body shop repair, then you can shop around prices.

Types of Damage

Fig 16. A cross section diagram of modern paintwork.
Deep scratches (A) that penetrate through all paint and undercoat layers will need to be painted.
Light scratches (B) which do not penetrate through to
the base coat can often be polished out.

As you can see from the cross-section in Figure 16, your car's paintwork is made up of several different layers. First a layer of undercoat is applied to your car (pictured in orange), over this is the base coat which provides your car's colour (pictured red), and over the top of this is the clear coat. This modern configuration is called Clear-over-base.

Although over the life of your car it will get covered in little scratches the vast majority will never penetrate the clear top coat to reach the base colour. What this means is that most scratches can be polished out by using a fine compound which removes a very thin layer of clear coat. Figure 16a is a good example of a scratch which is not too deep and can be polished out, because of the size of this scratch it will need to be addressed before return to the lease company.

Fig 16a. large but light scratch.

Fig 16a. A typical key scratch. This one has not penetrated the base coat. Polishing can remove this.

Any scratches which penetrate the clear coat can expose your car's bodywork which will lead to rust. These need to be addressed regardless of their size. This can be done by filling in the scratch with a touch-in paint.

Fig 17. Key scratch damage - the only acceptable solution is to repaint the bonnet.

Fig 17. Vandalism on a car bonnet. This will require a claim on the insurance to have the bonnet fully repainted at a body shop.

If a neat job can be made of this then it may pass inspection, but in cases of severe or large areas of damages such as shown on figure 17 it may need the panel to be repainted at a body shop. Unfortunately this may be the only kind of repair which is acceptable to the lease company as they do not allow 'obvious signs or repair'.

Fig 18. dent with score

Fig 18. This scratch is also dented, the scratch forms a score line within the dent which means it is impossible to remove with paintless dent removal, this damage will have to be repaired at a body shop requiring the painting of the whole body panel.

Another form of scratch damage which will require body shop repair are those where the scratch has caused a score line. The scratch in fig 18 does not penetrate the base coat, but because it has resulted in a score line paintless dent removal is not possible, so it isn't worth attempting to polish out the scratch.

Fig 19. Scratch needs touchng in.

Fig 19. Refer to your Fair Wear & Tear Guide for damage such as this. You will find that despite the small size, it will not pass because it has penetrated the paint to expose the metal panel.

Figure 19 shows a scratch which is only about 14mm across. Scratches of this size are acceptable under the fair wear and tear standard, however because it has penetrated the paintwork through to the bodywork it needs to be filled in with a touch-up paint.

We have a full article on how to touch in stone chips and scratches on the following page [more]How to fix stone chips.


It is difficult to avoid getting scratches as virtually anything that touches your paintwork can scratch it including the tools you use to clean the dirt off your car, and the dirt it's self. This is why recommend washing your car yourself and staying away from automated car washes.

We recommend getting a paint sealant as this coats your paintwork with a very thin PVC plastic coating, it also fills in microscopic holes and ridges making your paintwork considerably stronger reducing stone chip and scratch damage.

You should also avoid putting things on your car. It's very tempting to rest a cardboard box on your roof or boot while you are fumbling for your keys, but this is the cause of many of the scratches we see at New Again.

You should also avoid leaning up against your car or sitting on it. If your car has not been recently washed it could be covered in grit which will scratch if you rub up against it. And there are always the copper rivets on jeans, zip, buttons and buckles on jackets and handbags, and even jewellery can cause you problems which is why our staff are not allowed to wear any!

Keys, feet and luggage also cause damage so be careful when unlocking your car in the dark, do not shut (slam) the doors with the keys hanging out of them. And as you or your luggage enter or exit the vehicle be sure to make sure it clears the car and does not scrape the boot area or door-shuts.

A cheap method of protection is to invest in a travel blanket and keep it in the boot. you can then lay this over the back bumper and boot entrance when you are lifting things in and out of the car. It also works well for padding when you are transporting stuff.
If part of your job involves transporting equipment or the tools of your trade, it may be worth having the vulnerable areas around the doors coated in a self adhesive plastic coating.

As careful as you are with your own car, other people will not be. Many scratches will be from getting in or out of the car parked side-by-side with yours. It is worth parking a bit further away so that you can place your car in a less busy part of the car park - also try and park in places which have plenty of space around them so that people (including you) are not trying to squeeze by.

If you are parking on the road every day and you start to accumulate scratches you may find that this is because people are brushing by your car as they walk around it. So put some thought into where you park.. parking opposite an alleyway may not be such a good idea.

Not all damage is accidental and even if somebody decides to target you specifically there is not much you can do about it, apart from trying to park in well lit places away from where kids hang around or constantly walk past. (See Crime prevention advice from Essex Police)


If you have damage something like that shown above, and you are wondering if it can be repaired, how it can be repaired, and how much it will cost, upload a photo to 'Ask the Experts' and we'll advise you - no obligation.

Ask the Experts
De-Fleet Services

Our End-of-Lease Services provide quality repair for excessive wear and tear, and is acceptable and appropriate for Contract Hire, Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), Private Lease, Contract Purchase and Lease Purchase. Fleet managers wishing to efficiently prepare off-lease vehicles can contact us or send their drivers directly to our Q&A. Our advisors are trianed by Manheim to work to the BVRLA guidelines.


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This page was last updated on Wed, 12 October, 2011
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