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How Much Does it Cost to Fix a Keyed Car?

Last Updated on February 28, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Getting your car keyed can be an incredibly frustrating and expensive experience. A single deep scratch can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to properly repair. In this article, we’ll break down the average costs of repairing keyed car damage, factors that influence the price, tips for finding a quality repair shop, and whether insurance may be able to help cover the costs.

How Much Does it Cost to Fix a Keyed Car?

The cost of repairing a keyed car can vary between $200 and $5,000 based on the severity of the damage. Here are some typical price ranges:

  • Minor paint scratches or clear coat scratches – $200 to $400. Light surface scratches that don’t penetrate down to the metal can often be polished and buffed out by a professional detailer or paint repair specialist. This is one of the cheapest fixes.
  • Deep paint scratches – $400 to $900. Deeper scratches that expose the primer or metal underneath will require more extensive paint work to fill, smooth out, and repaint the damaged area.
  • Multiple deep scratches or long key scratches – $800 to $3,000. The more extensive the scratches over large areas, the higher the repair costs. Long scratches along an entire door or panel that require repainting multiple body parts could reach the higher end of this range.
  • Extensive vandalism with body damage – $2,000 to $5,000. In cases where the keyed damage is severe enough to cause dents, chips, or gouges in the metal body, bodywork repairs and extensive paint work could cost several thousand dollars.

According to ValuePenguin.com, the cost to repair a key scratch varies significantly depending on how deep it is and how far it penetrates the layers of paint.

The cost can range from $150 to $300 for a repair shop to buff out a scratch that has not broken through the clear coat, to $1,000 or more per scratch to fix extensive damage. Most car insurance policies cover vandalism under comprehensive coverage.

Freeway Insurance writes that the cost of repairing a keyed car can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of the damage. If you have comprehensive coverage on your vehicle, then the cost to fix a keyed car will be covered under your policy.

Keep in mind these prices can also go higher depending on the make, model, and paint type of your vehicle. Luxury cars, custom paint jobs, and specialty finishes tend to be more expensive to repaint and match.

Keyed Car Damage Explained

Keying refers to when a vandal deliberately scratches or scrapes a sharp object such as a key against a vehicle’s painted exterior. This can create anything from minor surface scratches to deep grooves that penetrate through multiple paint layers.

The damage caused by keying can include:

  • Light surface scratches in the clear coat.
  • Scratches that expose the colored base coat.
  • Deep grooves down to the primer or metal body.
  • Paint chipping and flaking around scratch edges.
  • Dents or gouges in the sheet metal.

The depth of the scratches and how far they extend through the paint will determine how extensive the repairs need to be.

Factors Influencing Repair Costs

Many factors influence how much it will cost to repair key scratches on a vehicle:

  • Depth of the scratches – Deeper scratches that remove more layers of paint or expose bare metal will cost much more to fix than light surface scratches.
  • Number and length of scratches – Additional scratches over large surface areas will require more extensive refinishing work to repair.
  • Location on the vehicle – It’s more expensive to repaint protruding body parts like doors versus flat panels or sections. Hard-to-reach areas also cost more.
  • Vehicle make and model – Luxury or specialty vehicles with custom paints can be far more expensive to color match and refinish.
  • Paint type and finish – Matte, pearl, metallic, or multi-stage paints cost more to blend and match than solid colors.
  • Body damage – If the keying caused dents, gouges, or body damage, adding bodywork repairs will increase the price.
  • Shop labor rates – Prices can vary between high-end dealership body shops versus smaller independent repair shops.

Choosing the Right Repair Service

The company you choose to repair keyed damage can significantly impact the quality of the repairs and final costs. Here are a few tips for picking the right shop:

  • Inspect sample work and read reviews of body shops’ paint and vandalism repair skills.
  • Ask if they have experience matching your vehicle’s exact paint color and type.
  • Get at least three written estimates from different shops to compare costs.
  • Verify they work with your auto insurance if you plan to file an insurance claim.
  • Ask about warranties on their work against defects like flaking or peeling.
  • For deep scratches, look for a full-service body shop versus just a paint detailer.

Reputable professionals with specialized skills, proper equipment, and experience matching OEM paints are worth the extra investment. Attempting to buff out or touch up severe keyed scratches yourself risks making the damage much worse and more costly to fix.

Does Car Insurance Cover Vandalism?

Most standard car insurance policies will cover repairs for vandalism damage like keyed paint, minus your deductible. Here’s how to start the claims process:

  • File a police report for the vandalism crime within 24 hours.
  • Inform your insurer of the damage and provide details plus the police report.
  • Get a written estimate from a shop of your choice for the insurer.
  • Your insurer will likely inspect the damage themselves before approving the repairs.
  • After approval, the shop can complete the repairs and your insurer will pay them directly, minus your deductible.

Keyed damage should fall under your comprehensive coverage with a typical $500 to $1,000 deductible. So for a $1,000 repair, you’d be responsible for paying your $500 deductible portion.

Also check out how much people pay to paint a car, fix a dent without paint, and reupholster a car.

DIY vs. Professional Repair

Trying to repair severe keyed scratches yourself using DIY methods can save money over a professional shop but comes with risks and limitations:

  • DIY buffing can only improve very minor scratches, not deep ones.
  • Touch up paint pens don’t blend well into surrounding paint.
  • Incorrect techniques could worsen the scratches.
  • Matching your exact OEM paint is nearly impossible.

You’re almost always better off having serious keyed damage repaired by professionals with proper tools, materials, and training for the highest quality finish. Paying a shop $1,000 for an invisible repair is better than a messy DIY touch-up that ruins your paint.

Prevention and Protection

To help prevent your vehicle from getting keyed in the future:

  • Park in well-lit areas and avoid isolated, dark parking lots when possible.
  • Install security cameras if parking in areas prone to crime.
  • Get a vinyl wrap or protective clear bra installed on the most vulnerable parts of the exterior.
  • Use common sense on where you park to avoid attracting trouble. Don’t park in disputed areas.
  • If threatened or harassed, immediately move your vehicle. Report any concerning behaviors.

While you can’t prevent every instance of vandalism, taking logical precautions will significantly reduce your risks. Promptly fixing any damage that does occur will also protect your car from further wear.

Long-Term Impact of Keyed Car Damage

person scratching a carIgnoring severe keyed damage not only looks unsightly but can create bigger problems down the road:

  • Rust – Deep scratches expose bare metal underneath to moisture and can lead to rust damage.
  • Flaking/peeling – Surrounding paint may bubble up or peel around bad scratches.
  • Devalued resale value – Vehicles with obvious exterior damage sell for much lower prices. Few want to buy a ‘keyed’ car.
  • Further damage – Existing scratches attract and cause additional scratching from debris and car washes.

The longer deep scratches go untreated, the more it will cost to properly fix them as the damage spreads. Even if you can tolerate the unsightly appearance, promptly repairing any keyed damage protects your asset.

How to Repair a Keyed Car For Cheap

If you’re looking for cheaper options to fix keyed car damage yourself, here are a few tips:

For light scratches – Carefully use rubbing and polishing compounds by hand or with a buffer to gently smooth and minimize the appearance of fine scratches. Take caution not to burn through the clear coat.

Touch up paint pens – For deeper scratches, touch-up paint pens can mask damage decently well for less than $20 but require skill for blending. Multiple thin layers and coats are key.

DIY Paint kits – For longer scratches or sections under 4 inches, DIY auto paint kits can be used to spot repair damage if you closely follow instructions. Consider adding a clear coat layer on top for added protection. Proper surface prep is crucial.

Add pinstriping – Strategically placing pinstripe tape along damaged edges can help visually break up and conceal scratches. Should be used sparingly.

Detailing products – Frequent professional detailing and scratch-filling wax/sealant products can help maintain a flawless appearance despite scratches. Won’t fix deep damage but minimizes visibility.

Window tinting – If scratches are isolated to edges or low sections, tint film applied over the damaged sections can obscure them well.

While these DIY methods can help improve the appearance of scratched paint at a budget price, they are really just temporary quick fixes. For severely keyed cars, you will still need professional repainting if you want to fully eliminate the visual damage and protect the underlying metal from rusting. But small touch ups can buy you more time to save up for a proper repair job.


Getting your vehicle keyed can be a headache but is usually repairable. For light scratches, skilled auto detailing may be enough for under $500. But deep gouges penetrating the paint often require extensive bodywork, sanding, priming, and repainting by a professional auto body shop, ranging from $500 to several thousand dollars.

Car insurance policies typically cover this type of vandalism damage minus your deductible. While DIY repair methods exist and can temporarily mask scratches, painted metal correction should be left to the professionals for the highest quality finish.

Your best bet is addressing any keyed damage quickly before rust or additional scratches occur, using reputable services trusted by your insurance company. With some patience and diligence, even the most extensive key scratches can eventually be restored to an attractive, flawless finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth fixing scratches on car?

Fixing scratches on your car is usually worth the investment for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Even minor scratches visually detract from your car’s appearance and reduce its resale value.

More importantly, deep scratches that expose bare metal can lead to rust and other permanent damage if left untreated. Properly repairing scratches protects your vehicle’s integrity over the long run.

The cost of quality scratch removal or touch-up is minor compared to letting scratches ruin your paint and lead to extensive repairs later on. However, you want to use discretion – fixing every tiny nick on an older, high-mileage vehicle may not be cost-effective.

Focus on addressing deeper scratches prone to spreading or rusting. For most vehicles, keeping the exterior in flawless shape makes ownership more enjoyable and retains resale value.

Will a deep scratch rust?

Yes, deep scratches that expose bare metal underneath the paint are at high risk of rusting, especially if on a horizontal panel where moisture can collect. When the protective paint layers get penetrated, air and water can reach the steel or iron metal, causing oxidation and rust.

What begins as an eyesore scratch will quickly turn into permanent rust spreading under the paint. Even small areas of rust can lead to bubbling, flaking, and excessive damage over time.

That’s why it’s critical to fix deep scratches quickly, by either touching up the exposed area or having it professionally repainted and sealed. A little surface rust can often be removed first via sanding or a rust converter product.

But extensive rust damage requires replacing entire panels. Getting deep scratches repaired promptly reduces the chances of rust taking hold in the first place.

Can wd40 remove car scratches?

WD-40 can help improve the appearance of very light surface scratches, but it is not an effective treatment for deeper scratches damaging the paint. The light lubricating oils and cleaning agents in WD-40 can give scratched shiny finishes a quick shine boost by smoothing over fine swirl marks in the clear coat.

However, wd40 cannot actually fill or repair scratches that penetrate through the clear and color coats of paint. Using it is mostly a temporary cosmetic improvement. For deeper scratches, wd40 cannot prevent rusting if bare metal is exposed.

Any masking effect also washes away quickly. While WD-40 is useful for general vehicle cleaning and shine, other products like scratch repair kits must be used to actually fix and seal scratches, especially before they rust. WD-40 helps superficial swirl marks but deeper damage needs professional paint work.

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