How To Polish A Car

How To Polish A Car

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  1. If you are one of the poor souls who thought that all you had to do was run your car through the car wash and everything would be okay, I have some bad news.  Even those water spots can damage your paint.  But instead of running to a detailer and dropping a handful of hard earned cash at his feet, why not do it yourself?  It is not that hard to polish a car.

    Tools You Will Need

    Depending on whether you are going to kill your shoulder or not, you will need to decide between hand polishing and machine polishing.  Machine polishing always produces better results, when completed properly.

    If you are still stubborn enough to try it without a polisher, you may use several types of hand buffing pads on the market.  Be advised that should you have to use a harsher cutting compound to remove scratches, spider-webbing, and swirls – hand polishing may only add to the problem.

    However, should you decide on the best thing ever designed for your back, and cut hours of time off of this project, you can pick up a cheap variable speed, random orbit buffer/polisher from nearly any home supply, hardware store, or tool supplier.  Then you will need buffing pads.

    It is wise when picking out buffing pads that the main thing to focus on is the Velcro fastening for ease of use, and a thick pad to keep the actual buffer from touching the finish of the car.  A large buffer is not necessary as most five or six inch buffers will follow the car’s body lines better than that of an eight inch buffer.

    A good selection of micro fiber cloths and a small gathering of cleaning supplies such as a soap, water hose, clay bar, polishes, wax, a rubber and vinyl cleaner, and a silicone protectant.

    Polishing out scratches and haze

    Start by washing the car, not a car wash drive through, I mean a real honest to goodness hand towel and bucket with lots of suds and a water hose.  But washing it is not enough.  No, now unpack that clay bar.  

    Feel the surface of your paint with the back of your hand.  Does it feel more like sandpaper or like clean, wet glass?  I am going to answer that 99% of most cars on the road are more like sandpaper.  You are not alone, so don’t be embarrassed.  As the road is actually part of the problem, and rain.  And bugs.  And birds.

    Follow the directions on the package for the clay bar, as some products vary in application.  

    After this much of an actual cleaning, you may want to stop there because the change will definitely make you smile.  But we are not finished yet.

    I am going to assume that you have followed my advise and purchased the buffer because it will make this job so much easier.  Affix your buffer pad to the machine then apply a small swirl of polish to the pad.  Not too much or you will be wearing the product, but not too little as you want the polish to stay in a wet state.  Now dab the pad around on the surface, working in smaller section of about two foot by two foot areas.  Careful of trim and badges, not only are they hard to clean the polish from, but they could damage the buffing pad or even cause you injury from the buffer twisting in your hands.

    Switch on and move in a back and forth motion, overlapping slightly.  Never move in a circular motion as this can lead to variances in pressure which will cause undesirable results.  Only put a slight pressure on the buffer because too much pressure will actually burn or worse, scratch the surface, leaving behind swirls marks as well.
    Another note:  Do not lay the pad side down while stopping.  Any dirt collected on the pad will be an instant sandpaper to your paint, even dirt you can’t see.  Also, do not lift the buffer from the surface until you switch it off.  It is a safety issue as well as just a good habit.

    Now wipe the haze from the surface and you should see an amazing transformation.  But you are not finished yet.  This is only your paint.  It is not protected yet.  

    Repeat the same process with a wax pad and a good wax.  I’m not mentioning any brand names here because I’m not trying to sell you anything.  I want you to have a car that will last you thirty or forty years with that same paint.  And it can if you take care of it.

    Trim and Tires

    A simple wipe down with a good cleaner, then a protectant.  Much trim these days is rubber or
    vinyl.  There is a good cross section of silicone protectants for these.  

    For chrome or aluminum, clean with a good metal polish first.  This also goes for your wheels.  You would be surprised how horrible your paint could look and if your chrome or aluminum wheels were clean, it would look like a new vehicle.

    One thing though, don’t forget the back side of your wheels and tires.  I know, it’s hard to get to the back without taking them off.  And that is my point.  I do take them off.  What is the point of polishing and detailing a car if you are going to leave some of it dirty?


    Believe it or not, you can clay bar and wax your windows.  Now, I don’t recommend a cutting polish or rubbing compound because that will eat away at your windows.  Some severe window scratches from bad wipers might be taken out by a gentle polish, but I would leave that up to a professional.  It would not take much to scar your windows beyond a simple polish.  

    But a good, machine wax job will shine up your windows and actually keep you from needing RainX.  Properly maintained, you actually could get away with not using your wipers in even heavy rain.  I have accomplished this several times.

    Just use the same simple process.  A back a forth stroke, overlapping slightly.  Watch again for the trim and wipers.  Then wipe off the residue.  


    This section can be complicated or it can be just a matter of cleaning some surfaces and spraying them down with the silicone.  Just be careful not to pull anything loose that you would not know how to put back together.  Things to clean and spray that can really set off an engine compartment would belts and hoses.  Now would be a good time to check them for wear and tear too.

    After accomplishing this task, you might think that you are home free for a few years.  Well, it is definitely better than it would have been.  But, you should wash it at least once per week to keep the build-up of road grime and the other contaminates that will start eroding your finish again.  If you keep up with your washes, you may be able to go a good two months between waxes.  With proper up keep you should not have to re-polish for a year.

    Some will argue that you need to polish before every wax to remove old wax residue, to keep from building up.  I have not found this to be a big issue.   Usually I try to time my polishing right around spring time.  This allows me to go the extra mile to remove any harmful salt deposits that may have been left over from wintertime.

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