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DIY Dent Repair

It happens to the best of us. While we’re picking up a gallon of milk, while we’re navigating rush hour traffic during our afternoon commute or when stormy weather flings trees and backyard play structures through normally quiet neighborhood streets, our cars get dented. Before you let your emotions get the best of you, take a deep breath and relax: you might be able to fix it yourself. Even better, it might take less than 10 minutes.

Assess the Damage
Once you get over your initial shock, irritation or frustration, get up-close-and-personal with your car. Make note of where the dent is located and whether it extends from one panel of your car’s body to another; if it extends from the fender to the door, for example, you’re actually looking at two separate dents that might take different techniques to repair.

Most small to mid-sized dents can be repaired in your own driveway. However, dents that crack or permanently disfigure the metal might require professional help.

Millimeters Matter
If you have a measuring tape handy, stretch it between the widest points of the dent. Try to gauge how deep it is while you’re there. The width and depth of your dent will help you determine the best method to smooth out the surface and get your car back in shape.

Tools of the Trade
The length, depth and severity of your dent will point you toward which tools you need to use to fix it. The good news? You probably already have them laying around the house. Start a scavenger hunt for:
a hair dryer
aluminum foil
a plunger
an air duster (canned air for electronics)
a lighter

Start with a Blank Slate
Hose down the dented area of your car to remove any dirt or debris that could get in the way of your repair. Wipe a wide area around it with a clean, damp cloth to remove small pieces of dust and debris that could further damage your paint and wait for it to dry completely before you dive in.

How to Remove a Small or Medium Dent with a Lighter, an Air Duster and Aluminum Foil
Perhaps one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to fix a small dent is to create a "perfect storm" that makes it pop itself out. You’ll need an ordinary lighter, canned air, a piece of aluminum foil that’s larger than your dent, and a small amount of tape.

Safety first: keep the canned air away from the lighter at all times, and keep the open flame off of your paint job.

Tape the aluminum foil so it’s hanging freely over the dent; once it’s secured, wave the lighter over the surface of the foil to heat the entire area over the dent for about 30 seconds. Quickly remove the foil and spray the air duster over the entire area. The sudden cold causes a contraction in the metal, which will force the dent to pop itself out, resulting in a smooth surface.

If you’d rather not play with fire, using a hair dryer to heat up your dent works just as well but it takes a little longer to reach the high temperature you need.

How to Remove a Small or Medium-Sized Dent with a Plunger
As long as your dent is smaller than the diameter of your plunger, you might be able to pop it out quickly. You can heat the area with a hair dryer before you take the plunge many DIY dent repair experts suggest that it will prevent your paint from cracking.

Center the plunger over your dent, press it in and pull back as soon as you feel the suction take hold.

Using a Hammer to Repair a Dent
Some people use a tried-and-true method from Grandpa’s garage: banging out a dent with a hammer. However, if you choose to use a hammer on your dent, you’ll either need a dolly hammer with multiple surfaces or an ordinary hammer accompanied by a flat sheet of metal that’s a little larger than the dent. You’ll also need to be able to access the inside of the dent to use this method.

If you have a dolly hammer, you’ll need to reach beneath the dent with a flat surface and tap gently on the highest point; remember, the highest point on the inside is the lowest point of the dent on the outside. Work your way outward from there.

If you’re using a claw hammer, place the flat sheet of metal against the inside of the dent before you start tapping away. That way, you won’t cause further damage by hitting too hard or smooth out the dent unevenly. Work your way outward from the deepest groove in the dent until it’s popped back into shape.

Repairing a Small Dent with Body Filler
Save body filler as a last resort; it’s not as easy to work with as the other tools listed here, and it requires quite a bit of follow-up work. If you choose to use body filler, you’ll need sandpaper, hard and soft plastic spreaders, primer and touch-up paint.

The process is simple, but time-consuming. Fill the hole with store-bought putty according to the manufacturer’s directions. Generally, you’ll need to do it in small increments to prevent bubbling as it hardens. Once the hole is filled, sand it down to a smooth finish, prime it and repaint it. Doing it correctly requires at least two to three hours, depending on the dent’s size and location.

The Finishing Touches
Inspect the formerly dented area to make sure you don’t need to deal with cracked paint, scratches or other scars. You might have to apply a little bit of touch-up paint over the areas worst affected by the dent, but other than that, your car should be looking like new in no time.