Despite economic conditions gradually improving, the recent recession caused many Americans to be more cautious about spending their money, leading them to repair rather than replace and to take better care of what they already own. Naturally, vehicles are at the top of that list.

For carwashing and detailing professionals looking to recover from that earnings plunge, strengthening customer retention has been a major focus through boosting customer service and providing a broader array of offerings.

One tack that is a growing trend is to include paint touch-up services to repair chips, dings and small scratches. According to a 2014 survey of automotive appearance professionals, 48 percent of detailers and other auto appearance techs reported offering customers paint touch-up services, and 68 percent noted that they were self-taught. With an estimated 80 percent of all vehicles on the road needing some kind of paint touch-up work, this is a decent way to increase services and income.

Touch-up services save your customers the expense and aggravation of having to visit a repair shop for minor damages. Your customers not only bring their cars to a place they are familiar with, but also repairing minor paint issues provides a spotless ride that looks years newer.

You will want to be ready with the information and advice your customers need regarding how they can get their paint problems solved. This requires being aware of some of the important aspects of offering paint touch-up services.

Scratches are not created equal

First, understand not all scratches and chips should be repaired with touch-up paint. A touch-up is more of a camouflage than a full-on repair. While many scratches and chips can be touched up effectively, in general hairline scratches are often the most difficult to repair; and, deeper gouges may be touched up but the scratch indentation will remain — unless you are willing to sand out the scratch and repaint the area with an aerosol or spray gun.

Be prepared to be a resource, and answer questions knowledgeably when your customers have an inquiry. Carwash owners/operators and detailers should have the knowledge and information necessary to explain what a customer can expect from a touch-up repair and what options are available for that repair. For instance, does it require minor sanding, sanding and an automotive body filler, or more extensive repairs? In short, know your limitations, and set clear expectations.

Partner up

Most repairs performed by carwashes and detailers are small, requiring little time and cost. However, there are occasions when a scratch will need more time and materials than you can spare.

For more complex repairs, mobile touch-up companies — both national chains and independently run — perform on-site repairs. That’s why it’s good to have a relationship with a mobile touch-up business. Find out which company is the best in your area, and determine whether a complementary arrangement is feasible.

Mobile repair businesses rely on their extreme flexibility and can perform most minor repairs — from small chips to deep, multipanel scrapes at your site or at a customer’s home or work.

Mobile repair businesses commonly use paint specifically designed for touch-up work, too; and they also have access to custom-blended touch-up paints to match colors on most cars, even older and rare vehicles. Moreover, if you can provide regular work for them, most mobile outfits will offer better pricing compared to the cost for one-time jobs.

What’s involved

If you plan to offer paint touch-up services at your carwash or detailing company, read on to understand the basics.

High-quality touch-up products work together as part of a complete automotive paint system. Ideally, the primer, base coat and clear coat all should come from the same brand. Be sure to practice using the touch-up paint before applying it to a vehicle to get a feel for the paint and to check the color match. Completing your touch-up project with a clear coat is an essential finishing step.

The key to the perfect color match is contained in the vehicle’s color code. The trick is finding it, since it can be located in a number of places — with the inside of the door being the most common. The alternative, ordering by color name, is a challenge since the possibilities for color names are endless. For practice, use a glossy sheet of paper or a piece of metal as a test surface.

For the best results, choose the formulation that fits the type of repair needed such as:

  • Pens: These are best for small rock chips and nicks smaller than a pencil eraser, and also for thin scratches.
  • Bottles: Use bottles for small areas no larger than a dime. A half-ounce bottle is sufficient for most uses, and two-ounce bottles are also available. Bottles are packaged for a long shelf life when stored correctly — in a cool, dry location.
  • Aerosol: For larger areas, a single 12-ounce aerosol can covers about a six-square-foot area. Look for products with a special spray tip that create a finely atomized spray fan application. The ideal temperature for aerosol cans is 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideal humidity should be 50 percent or less.
  • Spray guns: For larger restoration projects that require a spray gun, use ready-to-spray products in pints, quarts and gallons.

As for other materials, for simple pen and bottle touch-ups, a pair of disposable gloves might be all that’s needed. When the project involves more repair steps and aerosol products, additional materials can include a body filler, sandpaper, a dust mask or respirator, safety glasses, a prep solvent, an adhesion promoter, masking tape or masking film, tack cloth and a rubbing compound. It all depends on the level of paint touch-up service you choose to offer.

For more information on performing touch-up work, there are many online resources with how-to directions and videos for touching up scratches, chips and dings. If your carwash is new at providing these types of services to customers, this research ahead of application can prove to be quite valuable.


Jeremy Thurnau, owner of AutomotiveTouchup, created a leading custom touch-up paint company in the U.S. At 20 years old, Thurnau began his career in an automotive paint store where he learned about different paint systems and the refinishing industry. He then received training in automotive touch-up techniques and earned a degree in business administration. He launched Microfinish LLC in 2002. To succeed in the highly competitive paint services market, Thurnau identified specialty touch-up paint as a strong niche within the emerging e-commerce industry, and AutomotiveTouchup became the flagship consumer brand division of the company. For more information, visit www.automotivetouchup.com and/or call 888-710-5192.