There are few things that can ruin the good looks of a car quite as fast as an unexpected dent or ding. Whether the dent originated from a runaway shopping cart at the supermarket or from a careless driver on the freeway, getting a dent in your car's body can be detrimental to its appearance and value, and repairing those dents at the local body shop can be tremendously expensive.
Luckily, there a number of affordable ways to fix car dents.
Note: Depending how severe the damage actually is, what metals your car’s body is made from, and the dent’s size, it may not respond to the do-it-yourself approach.
Understanding DIY Dent Repair
The only way to completely eradicate a dent is to have an expert use their time, a number of tools, and dozens, if not hundreds, of precision “bends” to reshape the metal and completely erase any sign of warping.
For example, suction cup kits can technically fix a dent in the sense that the crater the dent created will no longer be present. Unfortunately, that same sharp suction action will likely pull the metal too far out, so instead of a dent, you’ll have a bulge. If you’re a stickler and want your car back exactly the way it was, these kits may not be for you, as they may just end up swapping one ugly problem for a less ugly, but still slightly ugly, problem.
However, if you’re like the many people who purchase these dent-puller kits online and in stores, you’ll probably be okay with making that compromise. The post repair bumps that pop outward are not as noticeable or unattractive as conventional dent craters.
If you’re willing to attempt them and sincerely want to avoid paying a body shop, one of these kits is certainly worth a try.
Fixing a Dent
Before getting started, be sure to borrow or purchase a dent pulling kit or dent pulling tool, along with a dolly, which is a specially designed tool made for flattening and reshaping metal. A metalworking hammer will be necessary as well.
Step 1 - Find Your Center
Locate the center of the dent and use a hot glue gun to glue a plastic adapter to the center of the dent. These plastic adapters and glue guns are included in many dent removal kits.
Alternatively, if you are willing to puncture the finish you can drill a hole in the dent’s center with a 1/8" drill bit.
Step 2 - Placing the Dent Puller
Thread the dent-pulling tool into the newly drilled hole, or attach the dent-pulling tool to the plastic circle that is glued on the dent. After the dent pulling tool is in place, pull on it to bring the indented part of the body outward so that it will bend into a position that is more flush with the surrounding body.
Step 3 - Hammering
Carefully hammer the front of the dent using the metalworking hammer, while at the same time holding the dolly firmly against the back of the dent. It may be necessary to go underneath the car, open the trunk, or go behind hood in order to reach the back of the dent.
Step 4 - Grinding Paint
Use a medium-grit disk mounted on a drill to grind the paint down to the bare metal, extending the area out at least 1" around the dent itself. Then fill the entire area with a quality body filler.
Step 5 - Sanding
Allow the body filler to dry completely, then carefully sand the area with sandpaper that has been wrapped around a block of wood. When sanding, begin with a 36-grit sandpaper and work up to a 120-grit sandpaper.
Step 6 - Apply Primer
Use a spray primer to prime the area, being sure to use a primer specially designed for automotive use. Six coats of primer should be used, allowing each coat of primer to dry completely before applying the next coat. Sand the primer using a 600-grit wet and dry sandpaper. This will help to remove any scratches.
Step 7 - Repaint
The area should then be touched up with a matching automotive paint. If the paint is not smooth, sand and repaint the area until you have a smooth surface.
Myths About Popping Out Dents
As you saw above, that fix requires a fair amount of work and equipment. Again, even with your coaxing, dents don’t magically pop out. The furthest you’ll get with suction and hammering a car’s body is a bulge instead of a crater.
A common myth about dents is that under the right temperature conditions, heat and expanding gases on the other side of the indentation will force the metal to shift and the dent will pop back in to shape. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who suggest using dry ice for similar claims of spontaneous self-repair. Neither of these approaches have been proven to work.
Paintless Dent Repair
This refers to a situation where a dent can be repaired so seamlessly and without fuss that the process of fixing it won’t even require you to paint any of the body afterwards. This one isn’t a myth, but it is an incredibly specialized skill set that is usually limited to those who work in body shops.