How To Polish Your Car Using a Machine Polisher: COMPLETE GUIDE

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how to polish car with machine polisher

If your car has some paint defects such as scratches, swirl marks, oxidation, bird etchings, or any other paint defects, you can fix them by polishing your car. Today, I’m writing you a complete guide on how to polish a car with a machine polisher.

Car polishing (or compounding) is a paint correction process in which auto detailers fix the imperfections in the paint, such as scratches, oxidation, bird etchings, etc.

Machine polishing is the best, easiest, and most efficient way of paint correction. Some people polish their cars by hand, which is also okay, but you can’t expect nearly as good results as using a machine polisher. 

Before You Start

Before we dive into the exact steps for polishing your car, I want to make sure that you know some essential things about polishing. I want to speak about polish machines, types of polishes, and pads. 

When you understand everything about these, it will be much easier for you to polish your car. 

Car Polishers

car polisher, rupes,

There are two main types of polishing machines that you can get for your car. You can choose between a rotary polisher or a dual-action polisher. 

Long story short, if you’re a complete beginner, I suggest you buy a dual-action polisher.

Related: Best Car Detailing Polishers: For Both Beginners and Professionals

By using a dual-action polisher, there’s less chance that you’ll burn the paint and cause additional damage to it. Nowadays, many professionals are also using dual-action polishers since they’re much safer than rotary ones. 

On the other hand, if you already have some experience polishing vehicles, if you want, you can go with a rotary polisher. Rotary polishers tend to do the job quicker, but they also increase the chances of burning the paint.

Polishes and Pads

different car buffing pads

There are two main types of polishes: compounds and polishesAlso, together with polishes and compounds, you should use dedicated pads.

As a weekend detailer, you should use 6.5-inch buffing pads for most polishing jobs, covering larger areas. However, for some specific jobs, you might want to change to smaller size pads. Here I wrote a guide on choosing buffing pads, so make sure to check that out.

Now that you understand everything, we can start with the guide.

How To Polish a Car With a Machine Polisher: 5-Step Guide

man polishing a car using machine polisher

Okay, now that you understand the basics about machine polishers, polishing compounds, and pads, let’s start with the guide. 

Disclaimer: When polishing your car, there’s a chance of burning the paint. So, if you’re a complete beginner, I suggest you practicing on some older car or some spare parts until you get the skill and the feeling. 

STEP 1: Prepare Your Car For Polishing

Before anything, you should thoroughly prepare your car for polishing. Usually, that’ll include a thorough wash of your vehicle and also paint decontamination.

I have written a thorough guide on How To Prepare Your Car For Polishing. Check it out for a step-by-step tutorial. 

It’ll help you prepare the paint. Remember, the car has to be as clear as possible before polishing. You don’t want any contaminants to sit on the paint and be between the polishing pad and the clear coat. 

STEP 2: Check The Condition Of The Paint

To do the polishing job properly, you should check the condition of the paint first. That includes checking of type of scratches on the color and checking the thickness of a clear coat. 

The most common scratches on cars are light clear coat scratches that’ll quickly go away by polishing your vehicle. 

When you know what type of scratches are there, you’ll know how to remove them, how abrasive products you should use, etc. Check my article 3 Types of Car Scratches. Over there, I explained everything.

The clear-coat thickness is another thing you should check. You can check it by using paint thickness gauges

The clear coat is the thickest layer of the paint. That’s why it offers so much protection from UV rays, oxidation, etc. 

Standard paint thickness is from 100-180 microns (μm). As long as the readings are above 80 microns, you’re safe to polish the vehicle. However, there’s no definitive answer since every car is different. With that said, if you’re suspicious about the paint, check the manufacturer’s data about the paint thickness. 

For instance, Japanese cars tend to have thinner paint than European and US cars, so keep that in mind. 

On average, the paint correction process removes 1-3 microns (μm) of the clear coat. Of course, it depends on the products you’re using (their abrasiveness).

STEP 3: Prepare Your Machine, Polish, and Pads

Now that you checked everything, you can prepare your polisher and the pads. Decide what size and type of pad you need, and assembly it to the machine polisher. 

Also, by now, you should know what type of polish you’ll use. Most people start with a compound for the 1st step and then finish with the finishing polish for the shine and gloss.

GENERAL RULE: whenever you want to polish your car, you should start with the least abrasive product. Use it in a small area and check the result. If that doesn’t work, use a more abrasive product.

Compound will remove paint defects, but very thin scratches and the haze will be left behind. So, you should always follow the compound with the finishing polish that’ll give the paint gloss and remove that haze caused by the compound. 

I like to use Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound, and then for the 2nd step, use Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish. That way, I remove scratches and achieve the perfect gloss and shine of the paint. 

STEP 4: Start Polishing Your Car

Now it’s time to start polishing your car.

Here are the steps you should follow:
  1. Work in small 2×2 ft areas: that way, you can do the job correctly. 
  2. Pour a little bit of the polish (or compound) on the pad, and spread it away with your finger (Don’t forget to use gloves). Usually, 3-5 drops of polish are enough for each 2×2 section. Some products are slightly different, so always read the instructions on the bottle.
  3. Tap a few times with the polisher on the paint to spread the compound evenly.
  4. Start your polisher on slow speed until you spread the whole compound on that section. Do not use a lot of pressure. Usually, the weight of the polisher will give it almost enough pressure. 
  5. Increase the speed of the polisher and work the polish into the paint doing criss-cross paths. Go up and down, and left to right over the section. When you go over the whole section, that counts as one pass. 
  6. Make 4-5 passes on each section. 
  7. When you finish one section, use a microfiber towel to wipe the excess. That way, you’ll remove any residue from that area. 
  8. Repeat the process until you finish that car panel. Whenever you transfer to a new section, make sure to make overlapping passes. That way, you’ll make sure that you have polished every part of the panel. 
  9. Be careful around hard edges. Don’t press the polisher on hard edges. Just gently polish them. Hard edges are easy to burn. 

Sometimes, you’ll also have to replace buffing pads because you won’t be able to polish everything with larger pads. Those are usually areas on the door, around door handles, around car emblems, etc.

STEP 5: Clean The Pad Periodically

The pad should be as clean as possible all the time. When you’re polishing, the pad gets soaked with the polish, and some clear-coat particles trap inside.

I like to clean buffing puds after each car panel. So, for instance, I clean them after polishing the hood, then again after polishing the roof, et cetera. 

Protect The Paint After Polishing

Whenever you’re doing a paint correction (polishing or compounding), you should protect the paint when you finish. Protecting the paint will give it additional protection from UV rays, heat, oxidation, water, rain, dust particles, and even some scratches. 

Three main paint protectants are:

I suggest you apply either waxes or sealants since ceramic coatings are harder to apply, and they require additional knowledge and experience. 

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When it comes to machine polishing a car, there are several common mistakes that people often make. By being aware of these, you can ensure a smoother and more effective polishing process. I already mentioned all of this above, but let me repeat it once more, so you understand the importance of those.

Not Preparing the Surface Properly

One of the most common mistakes is not preparing the car’s surface properly before starting the polishing process.

  • Mistake: Skipping the washing and drying process.
  • Solution: Always wash and dry your car thoroughly before you start polishing. This removes any dirt or debris that could potentially scratch the surface during the polishing process.

Using the Wrong Type of Polish

Another common mistake is using the wrong type of polish for your car’s paintwork.

  • Mistake: Using a polish that is too abrasive or not abrasive enough.
  • Solution: Make sure to choose a polish that is suitable for your car’s paintwork. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to test the polish on a small, inconspicuous area first.

Applying Too Much Pressure

Applying too much pressure can also lead to problems.

  • Mistake: Pressing too hard with the machine polisher.
  • Solution: Let the machine do the work. Apply just enough pressure to keep the machine in contact with the surface, but don’t press down too hard.

Not Cleaning the Polishing Pad Often Enough

The polishing pad plays a crucial role in the polishing process, and not cleaning it often enough can lead to subpar results.

  • Mistake: Using the polishing pad for too long.
  • Solution: Clean your polishing pad regularly. Once a pad becomes clogged with polish, it becomes less effective and can even cause damage to the paintwork. If you have multiple buffing pads, you can also change them so you can clean them afterward.

Pros and Cons of Machine Polishing

I made a quick table where you can see all the benefits but also the disadvantages of polishing a car by using a machine polisher.

Table 1: Pros of Machine Polishing

Pros of Machine PolishingDetails
Enhanced Shine and GlossMachine polishers distribute polish evenly, resulting in a high-gloss finish that enhances the car’s appearance.
Time and Effort SavingMachine polishing is less labor-intensive and faster than manual polishing. It allows you to cover larger areas in less time, saving you effort and energy.
Effective Paint CorrectionMachine polishers can effectively remove minor scratches, swirl marks, and oxidation, restoring the car’s paintwork to its original condition.
Long-lasting ResultsThe results of machine polishing are generally more durable and long-lasting compared to manual polishing. This means your car stays looking great for longer.

Table 2: Cons of Machine Polishing

Cons of Machine PolishingDetails
Requires Skill and ExperienceImproper use of a machine polisher can lead to paint damage. It’s important to learn how to use it properly or hire a professional.
Potential for Over-PolishingOver-polishing can thin out the paintwork and clear coat, especially on edges and high points. This can lead to premature wear and tear on the car’s exterior.
CostMachine polishers and high-quality polishes can be expensive. However, considering the long-term benefits, it can be a worthwhile investment.
Equipment MaintenanceMachine polishers require regular maintenance and cleaning to keep them in good working condition. Neglecting this can lead to decreased performance and potential damage to your car’s paintwork.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m a beginner. Can I use a rotary polisher?

Yes, you can, but there’s a chance of burning the paint. Rotary polishers produce much more heat than dual-action ones, and you should be careful when working with them. However, rotary polishers tend to do the job more quickly, and you’ll usually get better polishing results.

Should I compound or polish my car?

It depends on the condition of the paint. If there are very light scratches, using a polish only should be enough. However, if there are more scratches and oxidation, you’ll have to use a compound and then follow it with a polish. Here’s my article on this topic, so check it out.

What are all-in-one polishes?

All-in-one polishes are both compound and polish in one. They are used to both remove the scratches and leave a glossy finish. So, by using them, you only need a 1-step paint correction.

Are all-in-one polishes any good?

In my opinion, there are some great all-in-one polishes. I like to use 3D Cutting Compound and Finishing Polish. It’s just incredible.

How many times can I polish my car?

Well, you can polish your car as many times as you want, as long as there is still enough of the clear coat on the paint. I suggest you polish your vehicle once a year.

Why should I do criss-cross movements when polishing?

When doing criss-cross movements, you’ll polish the paint from each angle and side, which improves the polishing result.

What if I burn the paint while polishing?

If you burn the paint while polishing, you’ll have to re-paint that car part. That’s why I’m always telling you that you shouldn’t put too much pressure on the polisher and use a DA polisher.

What if I don’t protect the paint after polishing?

If you don’t apply any paint protection after polishing, nothing terrible will happen at first. However, your car will be more vulnerable to all the external factors. That means that the paint may again get in lousy condition very soon.

Why do some cars have a softer clear coat?

The answer is simple – the cost of production. More expensive cars will usually have a harder clear coat, which provides much better protection, can be polished more times, and is longer-lasting.

How can I know that there is no clear coat on the car?

When you start polishing, if you see the paint on the buffing pad, that means that either there has never been a clear coat applied or that there’s no more clear coat on that car panel.

Final Verdict

man polishing car using a small buffing pad

I hope that now you know how to polish a car using a machine polisher. I tried to be as thorough as possible in this guide.

Of course, as you polish more and more cars, you’ll gain plenty of experience and additional skills. The most important thing is not to rush in the beginning. You should go slowly and learn all the important things.

Here’s also one great video you can watch to get a better understanding of all the steps that I’ve mentioned:

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