Ben Pitonyak

6 Easy Steps for Buffing and Waxing your Car

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Whether you’re trying to sell your car, recently purchased a used one, or just like to show off, spending six hours or so with a buffer and some wax can make a jalopy like mine look like it just rolled off the showroom floor. Here’s a simple guide to buffing and waxing your car.

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Buffing and Waxing your Car

Materials for buffing and waxing your car

Materials for buffing and waxing your car

  • DeWalt rotary buffer
  • Cutting & polishing compounds
  • Car wash soap
  • Carnauba wax
  • Meguiar’s 40 Vinyl & Rubber Compound
  • Wool Pad & Foam Pad
  • Clean car wash mitt & clean microfiber towels
  • Synthetic chamois
  • Masking tape

1. Wash

Buffing and Waxing Your Car

Start by washing your vehicle

Rinse the entire vehicle. Starting from the top and working your way down, wash one section at a time, rinsing the whole vehicle between each section. When your ride is squeaky clean, give it one final rinse and dry it off with the chamois working from top to bottom again.

2. Mask

Masking - Buffing and Waxing your Car

Continue by masking your car

The rotary buffer spins at 1000 RPM, which can generate a lot of heat on the surface that’s being polished. Use the masking tape to protect anything you don’t want to burn or scuff: headlights, taillights, badges, moldings, etc. If it’s plastic, mask it. Many cars have vinyl or painted pinstripes, so mask those too to prevent the buffing pad from damaging them.

3. Buff

Buffing and Waxing your Car

Use a wool pad to buff the car

Buffing removes oxidation and light scratches that years of being exposed to the elements can do to a vehicle’s paint, leaving a brighter, glossy finish. Start with the wool pad and buffing compound. These are more abrasive, which is what takes out those minor scratches in the clear coat. Apply the compound directly to the car and spread it around a small section with the pad. Begin buffing by keeping the pad flat on the paint surface and alternating between up/down and left/right motions in a 2’x2′ section. Refrain from tilting the pad, as this focuses too much heat on one spot and can ruin your clear coat.

Once the compound has spread evenly and has a hazy look, wipe it clean with a microfiber towel.

4. Polish

Polishing - Buffing and Waxing your Car

A foam pad should be used for polishing

Now that we’ve got the scratches out, it’s time to give it a mirror smooth finish. Switch to the yellow foam pad and repeat the buffing process using the polishing compound. For best results, start with medium pressure on the surface and gradually reduce it until the compound is spread in a thin layer, then wipe it clean with a clean microfiber towel.

Buffing and Waxing your Car

After buff and polish

Buffing and Waxing your Car

After buff and polish

5. Wax

Buffing and Waxing Your Car

Wax fills in tiny scratches not taken care of by buffing.

Wax will fill in any tiny scratches that buffing didn’t eliminate. It’ll also give your paint that mirror-smooth, wet look. Most liquid carnauba waxes available at auto parts stores come with their own foam applicator pad. Apply the wax to the pad and spread it evenly in a circular motion. Wait a few minutes until it dries a little and gets cloudy, then wipe it off with another clean microfiber towel.

Buffing and Waxing your Car

After wax application

6. Finishing Touches

Buffing and Waxing your Car

The finished product

If you’re like me, you probably got compound all over the windows and vinyl surfaces from the spinning buffing pads. That’s okay, because you should be cleaning them anyways. I like to use Meguiar’s 40 Vinyl & Rubber Compound sprayed on a microfiber towel to touch up all the black plastic trim, door jambs, and weather stripping. It’s also perfect for vinyl dashboards, too. I use this product because it doesn’t have any silicates in it; products with silicates will dry out plastic and damage paint over time. Clean the windows with some glass cleaner sprayed on a microfiber cloth.

Finally, pull up a chair, crack open a beer, and admire your work. If you want to keep it looking this good as long as possible, stay away from mechanical car washes. Only use touchless car washes or spray it down yourself. Mechanical car washes will strip the wax right off your paint in only 2 or 3 visits.

Buffing and waxing your car isn’t all you can do with your own two hands. Check out some of our other car maintenance and cleaning how-tos here at The News Wheel.