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!
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.
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.
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:
High Speed 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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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!
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.
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.