Scratches and Chips on the Road – October 2019

October 11, 2019

How to Stop them – How to Fix them

Whether you spend most of your time on the highway or exploring backroads, paint chips and scratches happen. They are unavoidable. Following narrow one-lane side roads in Baja, you can hear the screech of the sharp mesquite needles etching racing strips along the door panels of your truck/camper/SUV/4X4. They can be nearly impossible to rub out. If you are really proud of your ride, the scratches are painful. They can be prevented by covering the exposed areas with a product called Tracwrap by XPEL. This clear, easily applied and removed vinyl material comes in 4-inch 20-foot rolls or for bigger jobs, it is available in 18-inch wide 100-foot rolls. If you keep the backing paper on some sections it can be saved for later use. Otherwise, we just peel it off and throw it away.

Following narrow one-lane side roads in Baja, you can hear the screech of the sharp mesquite needles etching racing strips along the door panels.

Rock Chips

Rock chips are another problem. You can’t see them coming, but you can hear the little ‘tick” as a tiny bit of gravel takes a piece of your paint off. At 70 miles an hour, bugs can do the same damage. Again, we turned to XPEL. They make computerized precut sections of paint protection film. They have patterns for virtually every vehicle on the road. You apply them the same way that you apply Tracwrap, but these pre-cut kits are not designed to be removed easily like Tracwrap. XPEL completely eliminates rock and bug chips on the front of your hood and fender scratches, depending on what kit you buy. Some kits also include XPEL coverings for the headlights which not only eliminate rock chips but stops the yellow oxidation that is plaguing many vehicles today.


Windshields: You can apply Tracwrap to the lower part of windshields in some states to prevent rock chips but you should check for local regulations. We have seen this used on race cars where they put it on in layers on the drivers’ goggles and on the windshield. When they pull into the pits they simply reach up and peel off the dirty layer.

Sharp mesquite trees on Baja back roads will leave some nice racing stripes.

Sharp mesquite trees on Baja back roads will leave some nice racing stripes.

A Tip from Argentina

Another little tip we can tell you about rock chips. In Argentina, where many of the roads were gravel for hundreds of miles, we learned to drive as close to the oncoming vehicle as possible, (It feels like you’re playing chicken.), but they do the same. The reason is that when gravel or rocks fly up from an oncoming vehicle, they come at an angle. If you are close to that vehicle as you pass at a combined speed of perhaps 90-mph, the gravel and rocks hit your wheels or maybe the side of your car or truck. If you’re far away, by the time the gravel reaches you it’s at your windshield level. The fact is, gravel being thrown up by oncoming vehicles doesn’t necessarily break your windshield, but driving into that gravel at 60 miles an hour will do it every time.

Now if you’re driving a road that is frequented by big trucks like the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, or the Dempster Highway, also referred to as Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8 to Inuvik in Canada, when you see a big truck or another vehicle speeding toward you, slow down or even stop. The rocks and gravel may be in the air, but you don’t need to drive into them at speed.

Why are they waving in Argentina?

Another funny thing we discovered in Argentina driving down the long gravel roads. At first we thought everyone was so friendly because they were waving to us. Actually, what they were doing as we passed was to reach up and touch the windshield from the inside with a finger. Somehow, they told us, this stops the vibration of a rock hitting the glass and creates only a chip instead of a shattered windshield. Just for good measure, we used to do this too until we had a custom rock shield for the windshield built.

No, this was not an automated car wash! Ouch.

Repair Suggestions

Back home you assess the damage. Scratches and small chips can be repaired with some of the cool products on the market today. We have had good luck with the Automotivetouchup kit that comes with a prep cloth, primer, paint stick coded with the exact color of your vehicle based on your vehicle VIN number, and finally, a clear coat. All of these come in small application pens that are easy to use. They are especially helpful to get rid of little rock chips.

For larger chips like when I accidentally bumped into a fence in Tajikistan, we carry small containers available from your body shop with the correct paint code and a small brush. We also carry a little container of paint thinner for cleanup or if the test bottles need to be thinned a bit. For minor scratches, Mothers and Turtle Wax both offer scratch removal products that will help disappear rock chips and small scratches.

Mud Flaps

As a final protection on gravel roads, a good set of mud flaps do wonders from stopping rocks and gravel from flying up and chipping the side of your vehicle. Once in Patagonia we had a half-inch rock fly up and the wind was so hard it broke the side of the window on the camper. Mud can be another big problem on some roads like the Dalton Highway (Haul Road) in Canada. The road surface is coated with calcium chloride that when wet, turns into something like peanut butter or brown Crisco. A good set of mud flaps helps.

Building a camper any wider than The Turtle V would risk trail damage from cacti and mesquite.

Building a camper any wider than The Turtle V would risk trail damage from cacti and mesquite.

Wow, how do you keep The Turtle V so clean?

You may not be as picky about the looks of your overland vehicle on the road, but we have used all of these products at various times. At big shows like SEMA and Overland Expo, when people see where our expedition truck has been, a common question is “Wow, how do you keep it so clean?” The secret of course is, we take a rag and wipe off the dirt, especially before we cross borders. A clean truck gets more respect than a dirty one. No, we have not found Elbow grease in a bottle yet, but for short adventures, products like Mothers California Gold Showtime, Meguiar’s Interior Detailer Cleaner, Turtle Wax External Waterless Wash & Wax and Meguiar’s Quick Detailer are great for a quick clean-up in camp while the steaks are grilling. Even easier, Wipes like ArmorAll Cleaning Wipes, Simple Green All-Purpose Wipes, Turtle Wax Spray & Wipe Interior Detailer, or good old Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner and a rag work. We keep a resealable pack of Glosser Microfiber Detailing Wax Wipes by CleanTools behind the seat. They are impregnated with a moist cleaner and wax and they are disposable.

So you see, there is no reason to drive around in a chipped-up, scratched dirt bag, unless you just want to look like you’re on an adventure. Clean vehicles run better.

They do have feelings you know!

One Response to “Scratches and Chips on the Road – October 2019”

  1. So many products I’ve never heard of but I’m not surprised that such experienced travelers as you two would know so much about the care of your vehicle. The ford agent here in Paris, Arkansas often asks about you, Ted

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