Car Washing Tips: Buffing

Car washing is a must, but it doesn’t address scratches and oxidation that come from everyday use and exposure.  For that, buffing is the answer.  Here are some basic tips to consider.

Get the right goods.  Invest in a rotary polisher if you haven’t already done so.  You could buff by hand, but you won’t have the same reach and leverage, plus your arms will tire along the way.  The result could mean extra time spent, only to have inconsistent results.  Remember lint-free pads for applying products and buffing them.  As for the products, consider a liquid compound and polish.  Bear in mind a newer car’s finish will have a clearcoat layer protecting the paint.  That calls for products made for this kind of application.  Too harsh a product or one designed for an earlier-type paint job can have damaging consequences.  Simple cotton swabs or a gentle detailing brush  can help remove accumulated compound from tight spots like emblems and trim.

Start with a properly washed car.  Sounds obvious, but it’s key.  Pay close attention around wheel openings and lower sections of the bodywork.  Any dirt on the surface will be abrasive under the polisher, so this is the time to get rid of it.

Work away from direct sunlight.  Just as the best car wash results come from the shade, a cool working surface is needed for buffing to prevent undue harm to the finish and allow the products to go to work without prematurely drying.  You will also be able to keep better track of areas you buff.

Work in small areas.  Buffing one area at a time, no more than about half a panel or several square feet, produces the best results  Tackling too large an area at once can result in missed spots, unevenness or having product dry on the surface.

Less (product) is more.  While you buff in moderation, resist the temptation to use too heavy a heavy coating of product.  Apply a nominal amount on your applicator pad, and before powering up, gently run the pad over the area you’re going to work.  This helps distribute the product evenly and prevents spraying on start up of the polisher.

Let the polisher do the work.  Keep the polisher at a relatively low speed in the 1,400-rpm range, and keep the polisher moving across the surface whenever it is in contact with the car.  Avoid temptation to add pressure to the polisher.  It can create deep swirl marks that will be painfully visible.  Adding pressure also introduces the tendency for the polisher to tip at an angle, when it should remain flat across the contact area.

Mind the edges.  Take caution around body edges and creases in the bodywork.  Buffing too hard in these areas could introduce the heartbreak of "paint burn."  It’s not a literal term, but it is visibly excessive wear of the clearcoat and/or paint.
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