Car Buffers
Why you likely don't know enough to even ask the right questions

best auto detailing tips tag line

Car buffers and car polishing is an area of auto detailing filled with much bad information. Not only do we have an ignorant mass of people repeating bad information as self-proclaimed experts throughout the car detailing forums, but to compound the problem even further, car-care companies continually misuse and co-mingle terms in order to sell more and more product!



There are as many opinions on the subject as there are people you are willing to ask. As an auto detailing expert from the actual world of professional detailing, I am going to take my years of experience and make an informed consumer out of you!

Random Orbital Buffer

flex polisher

Also called dual action polishers (DA for short), these fail-safe buffers are not only a starting point for beginners, but the finishing tool for advanced car polishers. This might seem as a contradiction to the casual onlooker, but these dual action buffers are a necessary tool for both ends of the polishing spectrum.

The Science Behind the Random Orbital Polisher

The orbital polisher was designed to duplicate the action of your hand applying wax or polish to a car; think wax-on, and wax-off from the movie "Karate Kid". The dual action is just that; it has two, independent moving or rotating points. It is also helpful to make a comparison to the earth's rotation along with the sun; the earth spins on an axis point, while at the same time it rotates around the sun. This holds true for the dual-action, or orbital buffer. Orbital buffers are low RPM tools relative to the more common high speed buffer, and lack the RPM's to create much in the way of friction and heat. It is for this reason that they serve both the beginner lacking experience, and the true professional needing this type of buffer to obtain true perfection in paint correction.


Griots Garage Boss DA car polisher

Forced and Random Orbital Buffers

When it comes to dual action (DA) buffers, there are essentially two versions you can choose from:

1) Random orbital: these still have two spinning axis points, but what makes them so safe (as compared to a rotary polisher) and why they are called random is due to what is called a free floating spindle assembly. This is a spindle assembled on a bearing that will spin when the machine is turned on, but once enough downward pressure is applied it will stop spinning since it is not controlled by a direct drive gear as in the case of a forced rotation DA buffer. It is this "limitation" that actually makes these random orbital car buffers so much safer than the infamous rotary or high speed polishers that have so much bad press associated with them.

It is this engineering that has allowed the masses the ability to safely polish their car without fear of burning edges, producing swirl marks, or leaving holograms in the paint that once again, high speed rotary buffers are notorious for. The random orbital buffer has continued to gain massive popularity due to the industry responding to better and better engineered random orbital buffers. Long gone are the days of bulky, bone jarring orbital buffers that you may have seen dad using when you were barely strong enough to even hold one of these relics of the past.

2) Forced Rotation: Forced rotation DA car buffers are far less popular and there are far less choices. (for this reason, I do not offer any reviews on forced rotation DA car buffers) While many top-tier professionals swear by them, they are in fact more difficult to control than their random orbital counter parts. Forced rotation orbital buffers mean that both the spinning and the rotation spindles are gear driven and will not stop spinning and rotating under pressure. Still far safer than a rotary, they still are not the first choice for most people. And since the industry has developed so many quality random orbital car buffers, the masses have followed.

Darren's Note:

While they are quickly becoming extinct, there are still guys who insist that polishing a car should always and forever remain being done by hand. Except there is not an industry left today that does not employ the use of power tools to not only produce better results, but  with far greater efficiency that any person could possibly perform by hand. I can only come to a few conclusions as to why there are few people continue to resist and disparage the use of power buffers when it comes to polishing your car:

  • They simply have never even tried or used a car polisher.
  • They refuse to embrace new technology.
  • They are trying to cater to the very small crowd of people who embrace the same outdated opinion.
  • Or maybe they are simply stubborn, outdated individuals who refuse to accept any alternate reasoning regardless of compelling facts.

High Speed Buffer

dewalt car buffers
  • The "infamous" high speed buffer.
  • The buffer that has given the subject a bad name.
  • The type of buffer that creates swirl marks or buffer tracks.
  • The buffer that is notorious for burning edges.
  • Just to be clear: people are the problem, not the buffer.

The high speed buffer as it is often referred, is officially a rotary buffer. It is very straightforward as compared to the orbital buffer in that it simply spins on a single axis point. It is also capable of high RPM's which is also one of the biggest differences.

The newest advances in DA or random orbital car buffer allow you to get by without ever having to touch a rotary polisher, never mind actually become proficient in using one.

The Simplified Answer:

A rotary polisher simply allows you to "cut to the chase" by doing the heavy lifting that random orbital buffers simply cannot do. And just like every other area of life, there are always trade-off's. My simple answer to any beginner looking to learn how to polish cars (boats or RV's) is to pick one of the high-quality, DA car buffers from below.

It is because of the high RPM's and direct drive that allow rotary car polishers to do the heavy lifting of any paint correction job. Whether this be in removing severe paint damage and defects, removing wet-sanding marks, or removing oxidation from gel coats on boats and RV's. Many professionals like myself have numerous car polishers that we simply match up for the job we are performing. We can do the heavy lifting with a rotary, then switch to a random orbital for the fine "tuning" of finish polishing. (also referred to by many as "jeweling". Apparently "jeweling" sounds much more glamorous than finish polishing)


The Pros and Cons of Rotary Polishers:

Pros:

  • Allows you to cut to the chase and perform the heavy lifting of any polishing job.
  • If time really is money (or you just value your time in general), then a rotary is going to save you lots of time.
  • Some guys consider it bragging rights to say they can use a high-speed polisher.

Cons:

  • You have to buy a separate polisher from the more commonly used DA car buffers.
  • You have to learn how to use one. (much longer learning curve compared to the almost non-existent learning curve of a DA buffer.)
  • In the wrong hands, has the potential do things to car paint that you won't like.

Darren's Side Note:

The newest generation of rotary car polishers now have incredibly low start/operating speeds. They will all be what is called variable speed polishers; which mean you can not only adjust the speed at the dial, but you can adjust the speed at the trigger. As a rule, all the newest rotary's will start and operate at a very low 600 RPM speed. Traditional polishing with these machines will happen at the 1200-2200 RPM range even though they will typically go to 3200 RPM's. And because of this very low 600 RPM speed, these rotary polishers become incredibly safe.


buffing car paint dewalt buffer

Safe to the point where you would have to purposely try and damage the car paint. And now that I have introduced this "side bar" of info, many of you will begin to wonder if you should perhaps entertain the idea of jumping into a rotary from the beginning. Which is a valid observation. I professionally can take one of these new high-speed polishers, do all the heavy lifting with the right speed, pad, and compound. Change the speed, pad, and polish, and finish the paint to perfection. All doing so in a fraction of the time of a DA buffer only. See this boat polisher link if you are considering this: Boat Polisher


Darren's Professional Picks for Best Car Buffers:

Like every other area of life, technology has improved the options available when it comes to finding the best car buffer out there. WHen you have spent as much time behind a buffer as I have, the nuances or "personality" of a buffer becomes more and more of the issue. In reality, any number of quailty car buffers are going to be able to produce excellent results, so the final decision will come down to the user experience of any car polisher/buffer.

car polishing with rupes bigfoot
  • What is the cost.
  • How easily can one be purchased.
  • The weight of the buffer.
  • How loud the polisher is during operation.
  • How does the polisher "feel" in your hands. (ergonomics)
  • What is the reputation of the company regarding warranty. (A warranty is only as good as the company giving the warranty)

Entry Level Car Buffers:




Griot's Garage 10813LNGCRD 6" Random Orbital Polisher with 25' Cord

  • One of the exact DA buffers I use professionally.
  • The perfect auto buffer 95% of you will ever need.
  • From applying wax to high levels of paint correction.
  • As easy to use as easy can get.
  • From a complete beginner to advanced professional.
  • Louder and less ergonomically friendly as other higher priced DA polishers.
  • For all those of you on a tight budget.

Darren's Note: It sucks when you are restricted by a budget! I get it; we all have one as a rule. So with that said, this polisher from Griot's Garage will still perform to professional level results; it just does so on a budget. The trade-off for saving money is a nosier polisher that doesn't feel as nicely in your hands or deliver the experience that you will get with the more expensive car polishers.



Meguiar's MT300 Pro Power DA Polisher

  • A trusted name in cosmetic car care.
  • Another perfect choice as an entry level DA polisher that is still capable of delivering professional results.
  • In many ways it represents a direct comparison with the Griot''s DA polisher for those on a tight budget or less committed to dropping the extra money for professional grade equipment.
  • You will need to choose a separate backing plate for this polisher. (I recommend a 6" backing plate for use with 6-6.5" polishing pads)

Darren's Note: Same thing as above. With entry level polishers you will be sacrificing a true professional grade buffer that will cost more. In the end, these entry level polishers will definitely perform, but you will not enjoy the experience of polishing any where near what you will with the higher priced polishers below.


Professional Grade Car Buffers: Going from good, to exceptional!


Darren's Top Pick for a Random Orbital Polisher:

There are so many car buffers on the market and I have not professionally tried every single one of them, but I have tried too many to count. And despite my opinion that as a beginner, you really don't have to overthink this difficult choice (but I know you will and likely are) and here is the reasons why:

  • If you actually stick with polishing your car(s) (as in more than once), or you decide to move on to enter the world of part-time or full-time detailing, you WILL end up getting another car polisher. It will happen so accept it.
  • And because you will eventually want and get another polisher/buffer, this actually allows you to not overthink when choosing your first buffer. (trust me when I say; as guys, you will not be able to help yourself. Most of us guys just love tools! It's like women and shoes, or purses, or clothes. Even if you don't NEED another car buffer, you are going to get one anyways. "Cause in the end; buffers are just cool!")




Rupes LHR 21 Mark II Big Foot Random Orbital Polisher

Darren's Note: So you ask; "Why the Rupes, and why the 21 Big Foot versus the 15 Big Foot?"

Glad you ask.

First: Why the Rupes?

While my next pick below (Griot's Garage) is every bit as "good" or has the same excellent build quality that the Rupes has, I do prefer the Rupes polishers due to the lighter weight. If you have not spent much time behind a buffer (or any time for that matter), you quickly realize how a few ounces to more than a pound in weight can really have an effect on your user experience. When you add up the amount of time required to polish an entire car, you really appreciate the weight difference. The only issue I have had with the Rupes in the past is the slight delay (I am talking a millisecond) when I press the trigger to start the polishing. Since I am so used to using rotary polishers that have zero delay when depressing the trigger, this throws me off a little. But after a short period of time you quickly learn to anticipate it, and soon it isn't even noticeable.

Second: Why the 21 versus the 15?

Having taught countless numbers of guys (and a few girls) the art of polishing, I am fully aware of the fear behind a person who is about to take a polisher to their car paint (or even worse; to a customers car paint). As a result of this natural fear, it seems to be an almost automatic conclusion that the smaller (Rupes LHR15 Big Foot) polisher will be "easier" to control. They also envision a smaller buffer having the ability to polish in tighter areas.  Dismiss both these thoughts as both polishers are virtually identical except for the size of the rotation of the head/backing plate. As rational as they may appear, the only real difference you will be able to determine is the fact that the head of the polisher covers a smaller area. Or more precisely, the head spins in a smaller diameter.

I am of the opinion that if you are really concerned with polishing tighter areas (which at the beginning should not be your main concern), then you should really be shopping for one of the "mini" polishers that have a small, 3" head. So go with the LHR21 since it will cover a larger area when polishing. And to add some logic and experience to the moment, most panels on any car are going to be wide open panels. And having a larger spinning head will make your time behind the buffer less, not more. (and trust me when I say that you will appreciate this factor)




Griot's Garage BG21 21 mm THE BOSS Long-Throw Orbital

Darren's Note: So you ask; "Why not the Griot's BOSS as my first choice?"

Once again; glad you ask!

I own both the Griot's and the Rupes car buffers. (I also own many other car buffers. I too love tools and can't help myself) And just like yourself, after awhile you begin to notice a theme. For me it was that I found myself reaching for the Rupes more often than the Griot's. But to be fair; I really do love the Griot's BOSS. It is a quality tool that feels really good in your hands. And when compared to the Rupes, it is ergonomically more appealing to just hold the machine. But this is where experience comes in; you develop a more critical eye or feel for things as you are able to pick up the subtleties that remain hidden from the inexperienced.

SO with all that said, it is a tough choice to have to rank one of these car buffers above the other. If you lined up 1,000 guys and asked which one they liked better, probably 459 would say the Rupes, and the other 541 would say the Griot's... or vice versa!

Now pick one and begin down this journey of car polishing that for most guys, brings great satisfaction as you see your car paint become this glistening sight of beauty! Until you experience it firsthand, it is hard to describe!


Polishing Tips for Beginners

car buffers

I will start this off by telling you truthfully that car buffers and polishing is an area of auto detailing that is grossly misunderstood by many! Bad opinions repeated by misinformed so-called "experts" only adds to this confusion. Any trip online to any of the hundred of car/truck/detailing forums will confirm this. It seems everyone has an opinion they are more than willing to repeat regardless of it being verified or valid! My tips simply come from 30+ years of first-hand professional experience. So with that said, let me lay out the process of polishing as a starting point with our discussion on car buffers in general.

  • The process of polishing is the same regardless of what we are talking about; car paint, diamonds, granite, wood, etc.
  • True polishing requires some form of abrasives; this could be sand paper, liquid polish compounds, emery cloth, a handful of beach sand if you like; doesn't really matter, but it requires abrasives.
  • Scratches and blemishes are removed or polished away using abrasives to scratch away by scratching with progressively smaller and smaller abrasives that make smaller and smaller scratches. This means that you are literally scratching your way to a completely smooth and scratch free surface. The reality is that you have "scratched" your way to perfection as far as the un-aided eye can see. (If viewed under a microscope, you would in fact be able to see that scratches still remain)
  • When most beginners polish their car, they are merely covering the scratches that exist, not removing them. At best, they are perhaps eliminating the "edge" of these scratches to make them less noticeable.
  • Most people, detailers included, do not know how to actually remove scratches and create what appears to be a flawless finish to the naked eye. This requires the use of more aggressive polish pads, more aggressive polishes (usually called compounds), and higher polishing speeds. But the complete removal of scratches to create what looks like a truly flawless finish is not appropriate for most cars. It is one thing to have the skills to get your car to that point, entirely different to think or know how to maintain it to that level of perfection.
  • For most people, creating a truly flawless (as per naked eye) finished product is not only not necessary, but inappropriate for any car that is not a show car. It is one thing to be able to achieve a flawless finish, and another thing to be able to maintain a flawless finish.
  • With all that said, many guys find great satisfaction by using car buffers to raise the level of the appearance of their car despite their inability to actually remove car scratches completely. Trust me when I say that the experience is both emotionally rewarding and visually rewarding if on your very first time.

Pay "Car Buffers" Forward

darren polishing boat

Thank you for visiting my car buffers review. I hope I have helped whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned veteran. Now that you understand how to shop for the best detailing buffers, you will also want to review my page on selecting the best car wax for the job. I also bet you know of at least one other person who would benefit from the information I have taken so much time to produce. Whether this be friend, family, car forum, or car club, please help me spread the word by posting this to your FB, Twitter, or forum account! Or just send them the link and pay it forward in that manner. I have made it super easy to spread the word with my “Socialize It” button box at the very bottom of this page.





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