How to Fix a Keyed Car? [Complete Guide]

In most cases, keyed cars are the result of jealousy, unconsciousness, feud, vandalism, and drunkenness. Whatever the reason is, you must take instant action to fix a keyed car.

Clean and dry the affected area first. Then, sand the area to make the surface smoother. Apply high-quality primer and paint in the next step. After that, apply a clear coat and wax your car.

However, don’t start doing all the mechanisms right after reading this brief. Please have a look at the detailed steps in the content so you don’t make any mess while fixing your keyed car.

Also, we’ll be discussing how you can take legal action against such illegal acts. Let’s start the piece with surface-level talks about the different types of damage your car may have after being keyed.

Understanding The Different Paint Layers on Your Car

A keyed car can have different degrees of scratch. Specifically, most cars come with three layers of paint and can have three types of scratches that leave a damaged mark on the cars to different degrees.

The three paint layers on your car are:

  • Clear coat: This is the outermost layer of your car. This coat is colourless and its main purpose is to prevent UV rays to reach the base coat.

If the clear coat of a car gets scratched, you’ll notice no colour coming off the car. It just damages the glossy appearance of the car. This type of scratch is very common and there can be several reasons for this scratch.

  • Base coat: The base coat provides the actual colour of the car’s paint. If the layer gets scratched, you’ll see the colour coming off your car. However, clear coat scratches do not expose the metal underneath.

Scratching with a key or other metal object can be a reason for this scratch.

  • Primer: And, the deepest layer is the primer coat. You may guess that a primer scratch will be the most severe scratch. When a scratch cuts through the three layers of paint, it will expose the car’s metal.

Fixing a primer catch is difficult but if you don’t fix it, the metal will eventually rust and you’ll be driving with high risks.

Things Needed To Fix A Keyed Car

You may get a long list of items to fix a keyed car but here we will show you the easiest method. This method only requires a few things. And most of them are available in most people’s houses.

  1. Sandpaper (1000-3000 grit)
  2. Soap Water
  3. Masking tape
  4. Towel
  5. Scratch Polish (optional)
  6. Scratch Wax

How To Fix A Keyed Car?

Once you’re done gathering all the necessary things, let’s start fixing your keyed car.

Step 1: Remove Dirt And Debris

Here we need to take soap water and a dry towel. First, spray the water on the affected area and clean it with a microfiber cloth. Using a microfiber cloth instead of a regular towel will make sure that there are no streaks left while drying your car. 

The cleaning part is important for two compelling reasons. The first one will help you clean the area well and then this will help you understand how deep the scratch is.

Step 2: Tape The Scratch Area

Tape the scratch area leaving 1 inch on every side to separate the scratched area from the non-scratch area. Since you’re going to sand the scratched area, the rest of the part of your car should be out of the chance of damage.

You can use old newspapers for protecting a wider area so the new paint doesn’t touch anywhere else on the car.

Step 3: Take Safety Precautions

Before starting to use the sandpaper, try to wear gloves and an eye protector. Although this part is up to your wish, we highly recommend wearing them.

The gloves will help your hands be free from the sanding blocks and goggles will keep the sand out of your eyes. In case, you’re sensitive to fumes as well, wear a face mask for safety.

Step 4: Polish Using Sandpaper

The sanding part will take some time according to how deep the scratch is. However, you can easily determine whether it’s a clear coat scratch, base coat scratch, or primer coat scratch.

Once you go through step 1, if the scratch disappears and then reappears, it’s a clear coat scratch; otherwise, it will be a base coat scratch. And, if you can clearly see the metal of the car within the scratch, it’s a primer coat scratch.

Now, use sandpaper ranging from 1000-3000. For a clear coat scratch, use 2000-3000 grit sandpaper. Do not overpressure the sandpaper; instead, be gentle when you sand the scratch. And, keep sanding until the scratch is almost invisible.

In case, you’re dealing with a primer coat scratch, you’ll need 1500-grit sandpaper. Keep sanding until the surface is even. Then, exchange the sandpaper with a 3000-grit one and keep sanding the area both ‘side to side’ and ‘up and down’.

Step 4: Apply Primer and Paint

Primer is needed only if the scratch is deeper than the clear coat. You can move onto the polish step if your car has a clear coat scratch.

For a too-deep scratch, it’s hard to fill the full space in a scratch. However, priming always helps fill in any remaining space that exists even after sanding the surface.

After that, choose an appropriate paint for your car. Don’t select an incorrect colour because it can still highlight the keyed area. Try to find the exact paint colour you previously used on your car.

Step 5: Apply Clear Coat

Once you’re done applying the touch-up paint, you’ll want to add some extra protection to it. The clear coat is simply a layer of clear paint which is used to seal the paint on automobiles. The coat gives your car a glossy finish.

However, the step is only needed if the previous clear coat of your car is damaged by the scratches. Small and minor scratches do not penetrate the clear coat but keying does. So, you’re just replacing the damaged clear coat, nothing else.

Still, if you’re not comfortable with the idea, feel free to consult your mechanic before using a clear coat.

Step 6: Wax Your Car

After all the steps like sanding, priming, painting, and applying a clear coat, your car may have a cloudy or blurred appearance which you can fix with wax.

Some car owners prefer polishing their cars before applying wax. Polishing is a part of deep cleaning as it removes a fine layer of paint from your car. However, you should polish it only if you’re planning to use it on the whole car.

Also, make sure to apply the polish before you apply the wax. The wax will make the paint shinier and smooth out everything. Simply use a sponge or microfiber towel to apply the wax and you’re done.

Fixing A Keyed Car infographic

The process is done. Thus you can fix a keyed car just by following these steps at home. This process will take up to 10 minutes but the result will surprise you. You may watch the video for a better understanding of the process.

Cost Insights for Repairing a Keyed Car

The repairing cost of a car depends on factors like how deep the scratch is and how many layers of the car paint the scratch has penetrated. As you can guess, thee the deeper the scratch is, the more you need to spend on that.

Here’s a general idea about the cost insight for different types of scratches on automobiles.

Scratch according to the depthEstimated costs for repairment
Scratch on the clear coat only$150-$300
Scratch reaches the base coat $400-$1,000
Scratch reaches to primer and expose bare metal$800-$1,500

However, the expenditure might vary based on factors like the colour of your car, the length of the scratch, or more.

Is a Keyed Car Covered By Insurance?

The answer is positive because car keying is counted as vandalism. You may already know that there are many comprehensive car insurance options covering vandalism.

Still, keyed car claims are not considered as serious cases as car accidents or other vandalism claims. So, it’s better to check if there’s any specific law in your state that describes these things clearly.

Here’s what you can do to take legal steps against the person you suspect for the damage:

  • Manage evidence: Since car keying is an intentional act done for ill wishes like taking revenge or something like that, it’s classified as a crime. But don’t expect that the busy law enforcement officers will invest a huge time in the case tracking down the suspect.

Unfortunately, the task needs to be managed by you. Try to collect photos or videos from CCTV footage from where your car was parked. Or, just do something to manage strong evidence to make things easier.

  •  File a police report: Since the keying is an act of vandalism, feel free to contact your local police department’s non-emergency number. After that, the next steps will be easier with the help of the officers.
  • Call your insurance agent: This time, you need to contact your insurance agent and manage the claim adjuster of your insurance company to talk about the damage.

The insurance company should have a preferred body shop that the company relies on for such vandalism cases. So, you talk to them and get the repairs done.

However, be prepared for an increased rate of insurance after you file a claim for this issue. And, the extent of this increment will vary according to your driving record and claim history.

Are Keyed Car And Scratch The Same?

Both of them are the same in one scene and different in other considerations. A keyed car is a form of scratch. But they are made using vehicle keys. And scratches are not usually that deep. 

On the other hand, scratch is a broad thing. It can happen by accidents, car washes or any other reason.

In most cases, keyed cars get a colour-coat scratch that you can recognize easily. And, if the primer coat is damaged by a key, it’ll be easily recognizable.

How to Prevent Cars from Getting Keyed?

Let’s look at some additional tips that will help your car to prevent getting keyed.

  • If you have spare keys for your car, don’t leave them somewhere easy to find.
  • Always park your car in secured areas with CC cameras.
  • Try to install call alarms or dash cams in your car.
  • Park your car in a visible area whenever possible.
  • Try not to leave anything inside the car if you don’t need to.

These tips should help you be a bit more conscious about your vehicle’s safety.


The process is a bit detailed, but don’t worry, if you can read from first to last, there is less chance of making a mistake. Your keyed car will be the same as the new and you will be satisfied mentally. Thanks for reading from us. 

We have some other articles on cars and their problem solutions. You may read these articles also to find DIY methods to solve car issues.

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William Baldwin

This Is William Baldwin, The Founder & Managing Editor of this website. Me and my team share automotive tips, tricks, and news

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Talha Atta

Talha Atta, a Mechanical Engineer and experienced technical content writer and editor at with a passion for the automotive industry.