How to Polish a Car: The Best DIY Method

How to Polish a Car: The Best DIY Method

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Maintaining your vehicle's exterior finish keeps it looking great and protected from the elements.

When you give your car a fresh wash and wax, it brings out the depth of the paint and makes it look as though it just left the factory. 

Washing and waxing not only make your vehicle shine, but they also protect the finish from weather and other contaminants present on the road.

But sometimes, even with regular washing and waxing, your car's finish might become dull, scratched, or no longer as lustrous. Swirl marks — or fine scratches in the pattern of a circle — can mar your vehicle's clear coat and make the paint appear faded or flat.

If your automotive exterior looks like it needs a refresh, giving it a polish may be a good idea. 

Car polish uses fine abrasives to buff away scratches and make your paint shine like new. 

What is car polishing? What do you need to polish a car?

Let's look at the best DIY method of how to polish a car.

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The importance of car-care products

You wouldn't wash your favorite shirt in dish liquid or do the dishes with a bar of soap. Products like laundry detergent and dish soap have specific formulas for treating pants and plates.

And the same goes for when it's time to wash, polish, and wax your vehicle.

Specialty manufacturers formulate various products uniquely designed to clean, polish, and protect your car's paint job. 

Car wash soap is pH-balanced, which means it's designed for your vehicle and has the strength to rinse away grime and the gentleness not to remove any previous wax. If you use dish soap or something similarly not intended for cars, it may cause paint damage or strip away wax because it's for washing away grease and oil. 

Car wax gives the paintwork a like-new brightness while also protecting against contaminants like tree sap, road grime, and brake dust. You have many choices: spray-on wax, paste wax, and liquid polymer wax. A trusted choice is a formula containing carnauba wax, known for its excellent shine and protection. 

As time goes by and your vehicle's paint oxidizes and picks up scratches here and there, giving it a polish can restore its brightness. Specialty car polish contains tiny abrasive particles that buff out scratch marks and dullness, leaving a factory-fresh finish.

Buying a used car can save you thousands versus purchasing a new vehicle. But finding a pre-owned vehicle in excellent condition, from the paint to the engine, can be a hassle. Shift's certified mechanics perform extensive 150-point inspections on every car and have complete vehicle history reports, so you know your used car feels as good as new. Shift's website has a large selection of fully inspected vehicles located across the country that are ready to go. The website is user-friendly, and you'll be able to find various makes and models to suit your needs and budget. Whether you need an all-wheel-drive wagon for winter roads or a roomy SUV for long road trips, Shift has what you need.

DIY car polishing

If you decide to perform a DIY machine polish on your vehicle, try following these specific steps.

Before you polish the paint, you'll need to give your car a thorough wash. Washing your vehicle in a cool, shady spot reduces the chance of soap drying before you rinse it away and generally leads to better results.

With the finish nice and clean, it's time to take it a step further and remove stubborn buildups like tree sap or road grime. Using an auto-specific spray cleaner with a coarse sponge or shop towel, wipe away these contaminants before beginning a final rinse and dry with a microfiber cloth.

When you're ready to begin car polishing, you'll have to gather the required tools, including a polishing compound, a dual-action polisher, and a polishing pad. 

A dual-action polisher works in an elliptical pattern to work the polish into the paint, reducing the risk of swirl marks in the process. And a foam applicator pad works with the polishing compound to buff away light scratches and reveal your paint's depth and clarity.

Before beginning to polish, one good rule of thumb is dividing small areas of the bodywork with painter's tape, ensuring each receives an adequate buffing. 

With your car thoroughly washed and dried, apply a reasonable amount of compound to a damp foam pad (approximately 2 inches around). Then grasping the polisher, place the pad against the bodywork, so the compound doesn't spray off when it's turned on. 

Using a low or medium speed setting and ensuring the buffing pad is flush with the car's surface, gently work the polish into the paint finish. Work the pad along the current section with a consistent amount of pressure. When you observe the paint surface clear up and scratches begin to disappear, stop and move to the next area. 

Some tips can help guard your finish during the polishing process and prevent a mess. 

As the random orbital polisher works the compound into the paint, the outside edge of the pad may heat up and dry out, burning the finish. You can prevent this by taking extra care with the outer edge in tight areas like the mirrors or trim. 

Keeping the current section wet also reduces friction and the risk of the pad heating up and burning the paint. 

After polishing the entire vehicle, it's time to wash your car's renewed finish and remove excess polish. Once dry, spread a coat of wax on top to lock in the shine and keep your paint protected for the miles ahead.

Car polishing in summary

While washing and waxing your vehicle's exterior gives it shine and protection, car polishing removes light scratches and reveals both depth and clarity.

Abrasives in a polishing compound, combined with a polishing pad and random orbital buffer, work to remove oxidation and swirl marks that accumulate over time.

Though DIY car polishing may seem like a task reserved for professionals, it's a straightforward process that yields excellent results with the right tools and products. With a bit of work, you can easily fall in love with your car all over again.

When it's time for a new-to-you vehicle, you'll probably want to sell your old one. But that can be a hassle, and how can you know you're receiving a fair offer? But when selling your car to Shift, there's no need to worry about any of that. All you'll have to do is enter the make, model, year, and mileage on Shift's easy-to-use website, and you'll instantly receive a purchase offer that's valid for seven days. You can get a fair offer, better than at the dealership, driven by powerful machine learning algorithms and tons of data. With Shift, there is no need to spend the extra time waxing and washing the car. A little dirt will not affect the quote, and we fully detail the cars ourselves before listing them for sale.

2018 Nissan Armada (from $34,500)

2018 Nissan Armada (from $34,500)
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Author
Shift Editorial Team