CLICK & CLACK : Painful Scratches

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 15-year-old son offered to wash my silver 2008 Toyota Sequoia. After about 30 minutes, I went to check on his progress, and my son was using a scourer to clean the car! You know, those little kitchen scouring pads that have a sponge on one side and a green scourer on the other. He had used this scourer on the driver's side and the hood. Needless to say, I now have an array of scratches in various patterns. Now, how do I remove these scratches? I have tried Scratch Doctor and Turtle Wax Compound, to no good effect. -- Ian

TOM: You need to visit a body shop, Ian.

RAY: Most cars have two coats of paint: a colored undercoat, and then a clear coat on top. In the worst-case scenario, your son sanded through the clear coat and into the undercoat. In that case, you might want to just get used to the scratches. Because you'll have to dock his allowance though graduate school to ever have a chance of recouping the cost of a paint job from him.

TOM: If he just scratched the clear top coat, then chances are a body shop can buff out the scratches for you. They've got professional buffing equipment that they'll use with an abrasive compound.

RAY: But if it's really bad, they may need to sand the car down and repaint both layers. That'll cost you thousands of dollars.

TOM: You also might want to check with your car insurance and homeowner's insurance providers. It's possible that this sort of "accident" is covered by one of those policies.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently had my 2006 Chevy HHR worked on at the dealership where I purchased it new. Long story short, the mechanic put antifreeze in the windshield-washer reservoir. Of course, the dealer believes his mechanic would never make that kind of mistake, and wanted to charge me a large sum of money to remove and flush the whole system. Is there a way that I can clean it out myself? -- Catherine

RAY: Use a siphon or a turkey baster, and remove as much of the combined fluid as you can. Antifreeze is a toxic waste that shouldn't be poured on the ground, so put the stuff you remove into a container, and then seal it and dispose of it properly (by dropping it off at a gas station or repair shop).

TOM: Once it's mostly empty, you can blot up the bulk of what's left with paper towels. And then, to wash it out, turn the garden hose on it. Just stick the hose in the windshield-washer reservoir and let it run for a few minutes. The water will overflow, and the tiny amount of remaining coolant will be washed out with it.

RAY: Then go to a good auto-parts store and pick up a bottle of windshield-washer concentrate. That's basically concentrated washer fluid that you mix with water. Put a little bit in the coolant reservoir, and use half as much water as it says to use. Then sit in the car, and use the front and rear windshield washers until you stop seeing the greasy mix. That means the new fluid has worked its way through the rubber washer hoses and cleaned them out.

TOM: Then you're all set. Total cost: $10 in windshield-washer concentrate (but you'll have enough left over to last you a year), and $1.69 for paper towels.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at

Copyright 2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

© 2009 The Washington Post Company