Can You Repair Auto Body Damage Yourself?


Damage to the bodywork of your car, truck, SUV or van can seriously affect the resale value if you don’t get it repaired, but can you repair auto body damage yourself to save some money or could it end up costing you even more in the long run?

Yes, you can repair auto body damage yourself and it can save you an expensive trip to the body shop. However, you really do need to know what you’re doing and you shouldn’t attempt any auto body repairs that are beyond your current skill level. A botched repair job can look even worse than the damage you’re trying to fix and further reduce your resale value, so learn how to do the repair properly from an expert “how-to” guide and make sure you have all the right equipment before attempting a repair.

If you’d like to learn about how to repair all sorts of car body damage, check out this very affordable course that could more than pay for itself after your fist small DIY repair job.

By the way, if you’d like to know about some of the very best products, services and companies I’ve found for buying, selling, and helping with vehicle ownership then please check out my recommended products and services page right here. As well as telling you where to go to get the very lowest prices on new and used vehicles, I also cover finance, insurance, parts, detailing and other stuff too.

Pros and cons of DIY auto body repair

The big difference between repairing auto body damage yourself and repairing your vehicle’s engine, brakes, suspension or electrical systems yourself is a bad bodywork repair isn’t a threat to the safety of you or your passengers. A bad attempt at repairing a small dent in a fender or a scuff on a bumper can affect the value of your car slightly, or it could cost you more to get fixed by a professional than if you’d gone to them in the first place. On the other hand, a poor mechanical or electrical repair could end up costing you a lot more than just money.

Before you try to fix body damage yourself or before you book your car in for a potentially expensive trip to a professional body shop, here are some pros and cons of DIY auto body repair to consider.

Pros

Improve your resale value

Fixing those numerous little dings, scuffs and scratches will make your vehicle a lot more attractive to prospective buyers when you’re looking to sell it. Also, a well presented car in good condition will always fetch a better price than an identical vehicle that hasn’t got such impressively clean and blemish-free bodywork. If your car isn’t worth a ton of money it might not be worth it financially to go to the expense of getting it professionally repaired, so leaving it as it is or doing your own repairs could be your only options.

DIY is cheaper

Even the smallest dent, scratch, scrape or scuff can be expensive to get repaired by a professional, and when most people go to a body shop for a quote for body repairs the first time they get a real shock. Even a small scratch or dent can cost hundreds of dollars to get repaired, and bigger jobs can easily run into thousands. If you can do the repair yourself all it will cost you is your time and the materials.

It can be enjoyable

For some people, DIY auto body repairs are about more than just saving money. Plenty of people actually enjoy working on their cars, and even if you don’t like the idea of messing with the mechanicals you can do work on your vehicle’s body without worrying about compromising safety. There can be a huge feeling of self-satisfaction when you stand back and look at the part of your vehicle that was damaged and now it looks like new because of your efforts.

Timescale

Time is money, and you’ll be amazed at how long it can sometimes take for a body shop to fix what you think is relatively minor damage. Also, you can sometimes have to wait days or even weeks to get your vehicle into a body shop to be worked on, especially at times of the year when bad weather makes accidents more common.

The best body shops are often seriously busy, so you might not be able to get the work done as quickly as you want or need it doing. If you do the work yourself you can get on with it right away. If you’re trading your car in next week and you get some damage, if you can fix it yourself you won’t get beat down on your trade-in price due to damage that wasn’t there when it was originally appraised.

Gain expertise

It can be amazing where things can lead. You could start off learning how to repair a scuff on an unpainted bumper and eventually progress to pulling out large dents and re-spraying entire panels. Being able to do high-quality auto body repairs is an in-demand skill, and you could end up doing work for others for a little side hustle or even embarking on an entirely new and rewarding career.

Cons

Make things worse

You may well start off with the very best intentions of doing a world-class repair job on that scratch on the passenger door you noticed when you came home from the mall parking lot, but the end result could be anything but world-class. It’s amazing how a small blemish can turn into something much bigger and much worse if you’re not really up to the task or you don’t have the necessary equipment and skills.

As well as finding that scratch that might have cost $100 to get fixed at the body shop if you’d gone there in the first place will now cost $600 for the whole door re-spraying after your botched attempt, there’s also the embarrassment of the professional knowing you tried to do it yourself and failed.

You could invalidate your warranty

Have you noticed how cars don’t rust these days like they used to? That’s because paint and paint application technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few decades, and most new vehicles now come with impressively long warranties covering the paintwork. If you do a repair yourself and you haven’t adhered to the correct procedure you could invalidate that warranty, and if you then have corrosion problems later on you’ll have to pay to get it sorted out of your own pocket.

DIY might be more expensive

If you’re attempting to repair car body damage yourself to save money instead of paying a professional to do it for you, have you stopped to think what your time is worth? It’s more than likely you’ll take a lot longer to get the job done right than a professional body shop would, so what’s your hourly rate? If you’re a skilled worker in your field you might easily earn more in the time you spend on the repair than it would have cost to get a professional to do it for you. Let’s face it, if you’re a lawyer and you spend 10 hours repairing a fender it would need to be pretty serious damage for it cost more to get done at a shop than you could have earned in 10 hours doing your day job!

What body repairs can you do yourself?

There are many different types of auto body damage you might want to consider fixing yourself if you have the skills, the equipment, the time and the right place to do the work. The different types of damage include:

  • Dings and dents – often caused by other people’s car doors and shopping carts in parking lots.
  • Paint scratches – these also often happen in parking lots but they can occur in lots of ways, even from something as simple as a zipper on a coat or a buckle on a bag.
  • Paint blemishes – blemishes can appear as a result of a previous poor repair job, but they can also be a result of environmental reasons such as bird droppings or tree sap
  • Weather damage – the heat and sun of long summer days may be great for the soul, but it’s not always great for your car’s paint as harmful UV rays can cause fading and even peeling.
  • Rust – Modern vehicles don’t rust in the way they used to, but if a scratch or dent isn’t repaired quickly then rust can set in. Of course, if you have an old or classic vehicle then fighting rust might be an ongoing battle.
  • Accident damage – a huge amount of vehicle bodywork damage comes from accidents and the size and seriousness of the damage can vary massively. There comes a point when accident damage is simply too severe for an amateur repair, so make sure you know your limitations.

Even if you’ve done the learning and gained the skills and experience from gradually attempting and successfully completing bigger and more demanding jobs, there will come a point when a job is too much for the space and equipment you have available. The top professional body shops have paint booths, ovens, dryers and all sorts of tools that make repairs easy for them, and that’s part of the reason they can charge big money.

Any of the bodywork damage listed above can be done as a DIY project as long as they are not too big. The key is learning to know what’s required to fix the damage and how big a job it will be. You could have a scratch that’s relatively shallow and doesn’t go down to the metal, but if it goes across two panels and you have an expensive metallic or pearlescent paint then it’s going to be a big job that’s probably beyond DIY.

How to fix bodywork damage

Rust

Rust can be a multi-faceted problem that often goes deeper than what you can see. Surface rust on a bare metal surface is easy to deal with, but rust on painted areas can be a big job to deal with. There are plenty of products on the market that remove rust that can make consumers think all they have to do is apply it and the problem is sorted. While these products are easy to use and they will eliminate the appearance of rust, the rust may have penetrated deeper and will soon reappear.

On top of that, even if you do remove the rust completely you then have the problem of painting the treated area at least. If the problem has been severe and you’ve had to grind away some deep rust you’ll have to fill the area, smooth it, prime it, paint it, etc.

There are some fantastic products on the market that actually turn the rust into a rust-free hard surface that can then be painted. These are superb products but they still don’t remove the need for a skilled paint job, although they can avoid having to cut areas of metal out that then need to be replaced and treated.

Scratches in paintwork

You’ve probably seen advertisements all over the place for pens that magically repair scratches in vehicle paint, but do they really work? The answer is yes and no I’m afraid. In some cases, some of these products can work really well and save you having to spend a ton of cash at a body shop. If you’re selling your vehicle and you want to fix small scratches in the paint, but you don’t want to spend the time and money required for a professional job doing, these pens are a great option.

They won’t fool a seasoned auto dealer when they’re doing an appraisal of your trade-in, but if you’re selling privately they could make all the difference. However, if the scratch is deep enough to have penetrated the clear coat and gone down to the primer, a scratch repair pen isn’t going to be enough.

Don’t underestimate what you can achieve by polishing. Light scratches that don’t go too deep can easily be removed by using nothing more than a cutting compound and a bit of elbow grease.

Deeper, more severe scratches and other paintwork blemishes can be removed by machine polishing. Machine polishing is a moderately skilled procedure that’s done using an electric drill fitted with polishing pads and various different cutting and polishing compounds to achieve the desired results.

As well as being a great way of removing specific scratches and faults in the paintwork, a full machine polish can restore tired, faded paintwork to a condition that looks as though it’s just come from the factory or had a respray. It costs very little to do and most people can achieve great results, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you can go too far and ruin your car. Get the proper instruction first and you’ll be amazed at how a good machine polish can transform the look of your old vehicle.

Removing dents

Whether a dent is appropriate for you to try and fix yourself depends on where it is, how big it is and how deep it goes. The way modern vehicles are made means that sometimes you can simply reach inside the panel and pop the dent out with your bare hand. Larger dents may require tools to get them out, but you can easily get them online or from your local auto parts store.

Unfortunately, popping the dent out isn’t the whole story some of the time. The impact that caused the dent in the first place could also have damaged the paint, and even if it didn’t, the process of removing the dent could cause paint damage. You’re then into the same problems mentioned above with scratches.

Bumper scuffs

Repairing a scuffed bumper might well be the sort of job you’ll think of doing yourself to save a few dollars, especially if the bumper is unpainted. To be honest, repairing a scratched or scuffed bumper is just as involved as painting a body panel, especially if it’s painted. While plastic is an easier and more forgiving material to work on than metal, a repair will still require cleaning and de-greasing, rubbing down, filling, priming, clear coating, polishing, etc. If the bumper is cracked it might be easier to replace it, but if the replacement comes unpainted you’re still into a big job to paint it to match the rest of your vehicle.

Painting

Painting a car isn’t like painting a house. Anyone can make a decent job of painting a wall, and even rubbing down, preparing and painting a wooden window isn’t beyond even the most amateurish of amateur decorators. Painting a car is very different.

One of the most difficult things about painting even a small area of a car’s bodywork is matching with the rest of the vehicle. Even the finest quality car paint fades over time and exposure to the elements, so even if you match the paint code exactly to the original specifications your new painted area could easily look very different from the rest of the bodywork.

Professional body shops are skilled at matching and blending paints to a vehicle’s existing bodywork. It’s as much an art as it is a science, so don’t beat yourself up if it’s beyond your skillset. Even if there hasn’t been any fading to the original paintwork, re-spraying and area of metallic or pearlescent paint so it blends in seamlessly to the surrounding areas is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of skill and experience.

If you have something like a front grille that’s scratched and worn, that’s the kind of job you can easily do at home without too much trouble, especially if it’s flat black. Even so, it’s still a good idea to learn about how to apply the paint properly to avoid runs that will give away the fact the respray is a DIY job.

“orange peel” bad paint job (left)

Should you attempt DIY auto body repairs?

If you’re looking to sell your vehicle and it has minor issues such as light scratches or the odd little dent from a shopping cart, then a DIY repair could help you get a sale and possibly a bit more money for your vehicle. If you have body damage that’s more substantial that requires a proper paint job of some sort and you’ve never done that sort of thing before, then get it done professionally.

On the other hand, if you like the idea of being able to carry out more substantial repair work on vehicle bodywork and you’re prepared to learn how to do it properly, then go ahead and get yourself a useful and rewarding new set of skills that can save you money and perhaps even make you money in the future.

The problem with “having a go” yourself if you haven’t looked into what’s required to do a bodywork repair properly is it can end up costing you much more in the long run. A botched repair will cost more to get fixed by a professional than the original damage would have done, and if you don’t get it fixed it could seriously hurt the value of your vehicle when you come to sell.

If you’re going to attempt DIY auto body repairs that require more than a scratch pen, learn how to do it properly before going anywhere near your or anyone else’s vehicle. One of the best courses I’ve come across that teaches you everything you need to know is right here, and it will more than pay for itself if you only ever fix one piece of damage yourself using the knowledge you gain from it.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and an automotive writer and journalist for the last 8 years

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