Buffing the paint on your car or truck can be a scary job if you think about it. In essence, you’re taking a tool that spins a pad very fast and pressing it on your car. Press too hard or use it at the wrong angle and you could cause more damage than help. But if you do it correctly, you can really make that new (or old) paint pop! Below we put together 10 car buffing tips on various techniques, what products to use and when to use them. Whether you’re buffing your car paint to get rid of light scratches, take off years off oxidation build-up or just prepare for a fresh waxing and polishing, follow these tips to ensure a great finish every time.
1. Don’t Mix Buffing Pads! – Buffing pads should never be mixed once you have used each one with a certain compound. No matter how much you clean the pad, you may never get the compound out, and using it with another compound could cause swirl marks. Spend the extra couple bucks and get separate pads for each type of compound you will be using.
2. Wool Pads – Only use wool pads for heavily oxidized paint, or after paint has cured for quite some time where a foam pad won’t effectively cut the paint. You can actually do damage if you use a wool pad on fresh paint that hasn’t 100 percent cured. Wool pads are really handy to have if you have a car with “patina” where you need to remove the years of oxidation your “barn find” may have earned. You’d be surprised how well that original paint may come up!
3. Foam Pads Have Many Uses – Foams pads and compound are the two things you should be stocked up on if you are planning on polishing paint on your car or truck. Foam pads are available in a few different “grits” if you will (PPI, or Pores Per Inch, is the official term). Most companies distinguish these by dying the pads different colors. Foam pads can be used for light cutting with the right compound, but they won’t remove deep scratches like a wool pad can. However, the nice thing about foam pads is that they do not leave swirl marks like a wool pad might. Some like to strictly use foam pads just for this reason.
4. RPMs are Everything – One key to a perfect finish when buffing is to make sure you are running your buffer at the correct approximate RPM when doing each step. The best RPM for buffing depends on how much you’re cutting and the type of pad you’re using. Generally, with wool pads, you would do your heavier cutting at around 2000-2500 RPM, while you’d want to finish at around 1100-1300 RPM for final foam polishing. A slightly lower RPM can be used with the wool pads if you are lightly cutting with them -around 1600-1800 RPM normally.
5. Keep Moving – Oftentimes, damage is done with a buffer when you stay in one spot too long, or you are moving too slowly. The longer you stay in one area, and the slower you move, the more you heat up that area of the panel. Heat = bad when buffing. Keep a rhythmic, uniform motion as you’re buffing a panel. Jumping around can cause you to miss spots or get an uneven final finish.
6. Masking Tape Is Your Safety Net – Use painters or a quality masking tape to protect edges and areas you may easily burn through or catch with your buffer. Once you develop the “touch”, you can work right up to these edges. But to avoid any accidents, I’d still advise to tape off the car, then come back and work just the edges with your full attention on not pressing too hard or sitting in one place too long. You’d be surprised how quickly an edge can be buffed clean off the paint!
7. Buy a Spur a nd Use It Often – Do not use sharp objects like a screwdriver to clean your buff pads. It can damage the pads, and I’d bet that you wouldn’t want to mix the grime on your screwdrivers with your buffing pads. Instead, buy a buff pad “spur” to clean your buffing pads. Make sure you use these often, especially after finishing with that pad. Dried- up old compound can cause damage to your paint if it isn’t removed fully from the pad.
8. The Compound Belongs on Your Car, Not You! – Apply the compound to the surface you are buffing first, then turn the buffer on and begin buffing the panel. Applying buffing compound to the pad itself will cause you to wear the compound as soon as you turn the buffer on as it splatters around and makes a mess of anything near by!
9. Do Not Let Your Buffing Pads Touch the Ground – Do not, u nder any circumstance, set your buffer down on the ground. All it takes is your dog, the wind, your significant other, etc. to trip on it or knock it on it s side and the buffing pad touches the ground. The pad will instantly pick up dirt, rocks, etc. that all become extreme abrasives when you go to buff next. If this happens, do not use the pad until it is fully cleaned. To be safe, it is even best to just replace it with a new one al together.
10. Wash and Care for Your Paint Often – This should be obvious, but in between buffing, waxing or polishing your paint, make sure you are regularly washing your car and caring for the finish. It will make life much easier when you go to buff or polish the paint. Just before you begin buffing the paint, it is a good idea to give the vehicle a nice wash to remove all dirt and grime. I’d suggest washing each panel down minutes before buffing even if you washed the entire car before. Again, even one piece of rogue dirt/grime can become an abrasive and become a scratch or swirl-maker when coupled with the buffer .
Follow some of these basic steps, and you could be on your way to a mirror finish! Our tech guys use the same auto paint buffing techniques on their own cars and are confident they will produce excellent results for your DIY project.