You can’t avoid bodywork scratches if you drive offroad, especially in forests.

THE ONLY TRUE way to keep your car pristine is never to drive a 4X4 track. Even if you think it’s going to be clear you never know…could be more overgrown than last time, you need to squeeze by another car or something else.

Squeezing by logs and the like is common on forest tracks, and that usually means a bit of bodywork touching on vegetation. Even if last week the track was totally clear.

Minor damage is to be expected, and it’s known as “pay to play”. But that said, don’t expect your car to come out of the forest looking like it has been taken for a joyride. What we’re talking about here is minor damage, and most often it is pin stripes – tiny scratches along the side of the car caused by touching vegetation.

This is a bit extreme, but many tracks are overgrown.
A well-used Patrol, but at a cost to the panels.

Not all offroading will give you pinstrips. Many outback roads are vegetation-free, as are beaches. But sooner or later, it’ll happen. And pinstripes really can’t be avoided if you’re going to tackle some real 4X4 tracks in forested areas, but they can be managed. Here are a few tips:

Preventing pinstripes:

  • Keep the vehicle clean and shiny with a good layer of wax. That way branches, sticks, thorny leaves and the like slide and don’t scrape so much. It’s not perfect, but it does help. A dirty, dusty car will scratch more than a clean one.
  • Use a vinyl wrap – either a replacement colour like my car, or a clear wrap. This won’t help against dents or deep scratches, but it will definitely help with reducing the impact of minor ones.
  • Choose a light colour – white doesn’t show pinstripes as badly as darker colours, and white is literally cooler.
  • Use flares, brushbars and sidesteps – these can help shift vegetation away from the car.
Aftermarket colour-coded fender flares, brush guard and sidesteps help reduce pinstripes on the bodywork. The brushbars are much easier to repaint than the body panels.
  • Slow down  the faster you drive, the worse it is.
  • Use magnetic sheets – there are promotional companies that make magnetic sheets which stick onto your large, flat panels like doors. These are easy to apply and remove, and you can colour-code them. They don’t look that great, but better than scratches!
  • Use stickers. Lots of stickers! This photo also shows use of flares on both vehicles, which are relatively easily replaced.

  • Use a temporary wrap – like the title photo above of the LC200. Ugly, but effective and needs replacement frequently. Buy a car with a light colour like silver or white. These show scratches less than dark colours.
Everest with clear vinyl wrap.

Repairing pinstripe damage:

  • Polish it out yourself – go to Autobarn or similar and get some polish that says it can remove minor scratches. Follow the directions carefully. Done right, these will get rid of minor stripes and help a little on larger ones.
  • Polish it out professionally – a professional can do an amazing job with repair. When I sold my Discovery I was frankly amazed at how good the paint looked, and that car drove many, many very overgrown tracks.
  • Respray – if you’re going to do this, get a professional to do the job unless you really, really want to take the time to do it yourself. It’s not easy, and many jobs turn into hacks that look worse than the orginal damage. There are many options from panels-off to closed-door. If you get only part of the car done then be concerned about paint matching.
  • Swap the panels – find a wrecker and change panels. However, that’s hard to do, and you’ll find the paint won’t exactly match.
  • Use stickers – add some strategically placed stickers or racing lines to hide it.
  • Colour wrap – change the colour of the vehicle completely.

What doesn’t work in reality:

  • Oh, I won’t drive down those tracks – yes you will. And even if you don’t, you may make a mistake. If you drive offroad in forested areas, your bodywork will touch vegetation.
  • I’ll get out and move the branches – I’ve seen many people say they’ll do this and the longest anyone lasted was half a hour.
  • Magic products that promise to remove all traces of scratches – this can be done, but it takes skill and good products. There is no magic, easy, wipe-on-off fix.

What most people do:

The care factor for pinstripes is proportional to experience offroad. In the end, most people do their best to avoid pinstripes but simply accept some damage as pay-to-play, an inevitable consequence of the tracks driven, and come resale time sort the car out properly once and for all.


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