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How to Buff a Car: The Complete Guide

Give Your Car Some Added Shine With A Little Elbow Grease And Our Step-By-Step Guide To Buffing Your Car

how to buff a car

There comes a time in your car’s life when your paint may start looking dull or you begin to notice chips and scratches. This likely means the time has come to buff your car. Over time, sunlight and other on-road irritants will take a toll on your car’s paint. In order to get your car looking like new again, you’ll need to properly buff the exterior. Rather than hiring a professional detailing service, why not tackle it yourself? Buffing your car is an easy task that you can do in your own driveway. This article will provide you with a step-by-step guide along with some key tips for buffing your car like the pros.

Properly Buffing Your Car

While buffing your car isn’t difficult, it does need to be done right for the best results. With proper execution and a little patience, you can get your car looking as good as new. We’ve broken it down to five easy steps, so you can buff your car and restore the paint to that like-new shine.

The Best Way to Buff Your Car:

1. Gather Proper Supplies

In order to properly buff your car, you will need a few key items. First, you’ll need to buy a power buffer. There are a lot of power buffers on the market, but we recommend the Black+Decker 6-inch Random Orbit Waxer/Polisher or the DEWALT 7-inch-9-inch variable speed buffer. Another option is to buy an entire package, like Chemical Guys Random Orbital Polisher Kit which comes with a buffer, extra pads, and two 4 oz. compounds and two 4 oz. polishes.

Next, you’ll need a polishing compound and extra buffing/cutting pads. Generally, you will want to use the gentlest combination of buffer, pad, and polish to get your desired results. If your car’s paint is in good shape with just a few swirls or scratches, stick with a gentle pad and polishing compound. If you have some more noticeable blemishes in the clear coat, you may need to use a more aggressive cutting pad with a more abrasive polishing compound.

You’ll also want some car wash supplies on hand like a stack of clean microfiber towels and car wash soap. And a roll of painters or masking tape.

The last thing you’ll need is wax, which will go on at the end of the process. After you gather those supplies, you are ready to begin!

2. Wash The Car

Start by washing your car thoroughly with soap and water. After that, dry it off to using a clean microfiber towel. You want to make sure you are starting with a clean and dry surface. This step is very important to ensure there is no dirt or debris on the surface of the vehicle. If you start with dirty paint, buffing can actually cause more damage to your clear coat. Once you’re finished washing and drying the car, you can move on to the next step.

3. Apply Masking Tape 

Use masking or painter’s tape to protect plastic trim pieces and other areas like your headlights, taillights, or badges that you don’t want to accidentally scuff with the buffer.

4. Buff The Car

Now, it’s time to starting buffing! To begin, start by polishing a small test spot to make sure that you are using the correct pad and polish combination. Start with your least aggressive pad and polish and see how this spot looks — the right combination should remove superficial scratches and restore the paint’s shine.

Once you’ve determined which pad and polishing compound you want to start with, its time to move on to buff the rest of your car. You’ll want to use a good amount of polishing compound on the buffing pad. As you are buffing, make sure you keep an eye on how much compound is on the pad. When it gets low, be sure to add more and continue buffing.

Place the polishing compound on the pad and start the power buffer. Be sure to have a good grip on it and hold it firmly against the car. Move the buffer in a circular motion. One tip is to never stop moving the buffer, as leaving the pad on one spot for too long could cause damage to the paint. For areas with small scratches and shallow chips, you may need to spend some extra time buffing those areas or use a more aggressive pad/polish combination to help smooth out the surface.

One thing to note is that no matter how much you buff your car, you won’t be able to remove 100% of the blemishes. Some scratches or chips are too deep to be removed by buffing.

5. Wax The Car

After you finish buffing the car, the final step is to wax your car. Buffing usually removes some of the protective clear coat on the paint, and waxing as a final step will help add back that layer of protection. Before you get started, make sure the paint is clean — you may need to wipe off dust or other fine debris with a clean microfiber towel before applying the wax.

To wax your car, put the wax on a clean buffing pad and then repeat the same process as you did with the polishing compound. Once the wax has been applied to an area, you can remove it with a clean microfiber towel. Make sure you read the waxing instructions so you know how long to leave the wax on the car. Remove the masking tape after you are done waxing, and enjoy your shiny car!

How to Buff your Car in Five Easy Steps

  • 1. Gather Proper Supplies
  • 2. Wash The Car
  • 3. Apply Masking Tape
  • 4. Buff The Car
  • 5. Wax The Car

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you buff a car?

The general rule of thumb is that you should buff your car about once per year. However, if you park your car in an area where it is exposed to more irritants, such as under a tree, or drive places where it is exposed regularly to salt or other on-road chemicals, then you may need to buff the car more often. For those situations, you should aim to buff your car about two to three times per year.

Can buffing damage the car's paint?

If not done correctly, buffing a car can damage its paint. When done properly, buffing can remove any minor scratches in the paint. But, if you keep the buffing pad on an area for too long or excessively use and aggressive pad and polishing compound, it can cause damage to the paint.

How do I know what pad and polishing compound to use when buffing my car?

There is no perfect answer to this question, and figuring out the best pad and polishing combination will greatly depend on the condition of your car’s paint. Start with your least-aggressive pad and polish combination on a test spot. There will likely be some trial and error as you figure out what combination works best, and you may find that some areas of the car may need a stronger polishing compound based on the condition of the paint.

About Jake Starr

Jake Starr is a rising junior at Penn State and is from just outside of Philadelphia. At Penn State, Jake is the News Director at the school's radio station. In addition, he serves as a writer for Penn State Athletics, covering multiple sports. Jake specializes in sports play-by-play, hosting, reporting, and feature writing amongst other things. He has an extensive writing background that he will bring to Autowise to provide the best content possible.