How to Buff Clear Coat:
Safest and Simplest Tips for Beginners

Any trip onto the Internet to learn how to buff clear coat will deliver mind-bending results! Your eyes will bleed and your brain will freeze as you find yourself drowning in a sea of opinions.

how to buff clear coat

Unfortunately this industry of detailing and cosmetic car care is an industry filled with massive amounts of static from so-called experts.

As a beginner you will be limited in your ability to ask the right questions when it comes to polishing clear coat on your car.

I will help you ask the questions you aren't asking:

  • What is the difference between car paint and clear coat?
  • What is the best car buffer to buff clear coat?
  • What is the best polish to buff clear coat?
  • What is the safest way to buff clear coat?

How to Buff Clear Coat:
Clear Coat vs. Car Paint

What is interesting is that you likely went looking how to buff clear coat instead of how to buff car paint. Often people ask this very basic question only after they have spent a bunch of time focused on polishing clear coat as opposed to polishing car paint.

  • Is there actually a difference between clear coat and car paint?
  • Is buffing clear coat different than buffing car paint?

Any original factory produced car will have what is called a 2-stage paint job that has been finished with clear coat. The color coat (which most people think of as the paint) will sit below the clear coat.

If you really want to take a deep dive into all things clear coat, I suggest you read my page at what is clear coat.

difference between clear coat car paintHere is a shot taken of a 1999 Mercedes C280 showing clear coat failure to highlight the difference in layers between clear coat as the top coat, and car paint beneath

This page is written based on the understanding that your car will have clear coat as the top layer as part of the original factory paint system.

Car paint and clear coat are the same thing....mostly.

There is a definite distinction between them as to the specific roles they serve as part of the overall paint system, but the key point is to know that regardless of your situation, any lesson on how to buff clear coat would be exactly the same lesson on how to buff car paint.

The major difference between car paint and clear are as follows:

  • Car paint creates the color
  • Clear coat adds overall protection along, and UV protection 

What is the Best Buffer to Buff Clear Coat

The best buffer for any beginner would be a dual-action, random orbital car buffer. This holds true regardless of the paint type, clear coat type, soft clear or hard clear.

The key point when learning how to buff clear coat is that you are a beginner, and you want to keep things ultra safe and ultra simple.

A random-orbital DA (dual action) is the safest and simplest way to produce professional results when polishing clear coat.

best buffer to buff clear coat for beginner

These random-orbital, dual-action buffers spin as well as vibrate. The reason these type of buffers are the preferred choice with most people are the following:

  • Super easy learning curve:

The truth is that these buffers really have no learning curve. These machine polishers are so easy you simply turn on and start buffing. The hardest part in buffing clear coat is more about figuring out what polish to use, what pads to use, how long you need to polish each section, etc.

  • Dual-action design

The full description of these preferred buffers of choice by both beginners and professionals are dual-action, random-orbital car buffers. These machine polishers have two movements of the polishing head compared to the single spinning movement of a rotary polisher.

Dual-action (DA) refers to the fact that the polishing head has two movements: spinning and rotating. The concept is to mimic that of your arm and hand as you would normally apply wax or polish (think "Karate Kid" and wax on, and wax off)

The random-orbital refers to the free-spinning action of the center axis assembly. Since this spinning movement is not gear driven, but works off of the inertia of the main spindle, the spinning movement will cease when too much pressure is applied. 

  • Main spindle assembly:

The main spindle assembly is gear-driven and rotates in a small circular pattern. The free-spinning axis assembly sits in the center of the main assembly but is free-spinning.

That is a long description in describing why exactly these types of random orbital buffers are so safe when compared to the gear driven rotary polisher that countless buffer horror stories are attached to.

rupes random orbital dual action diagram

Free-spinning Axis Assembly: This is the free-spinning point of attachment. The center of this spindle is threaded and is the point of attachment for the backing plate. This free-spinning assembly is what gives the polishing head the spinning rotation movement of the polishing pad. Since it is not gear driven, it only spins  as a natural byproduct of the movement of the off-set, counter-weighted shaft assembly during operation.

Counter-weight Shaft Assembly: This is the "gear driven" part of the assembly. The entire spindle assembly rotates in a circular shape. Imagine a small circle pattern that the entire spindle assembly moves in.  This counter-weighted shaft assembly moves in a small circular rotation based on the buffer type: 15 mm vs. 21 mm (this is also referred to as short throw vs. long throw respectively) Since the overall spindle assembly is off-set, a counter-weight is attached to the opposing side to allow smooth operation.

If you are familiar with how crank shafts of combustion engines are designed, you can use that as a comparison. off-set and then counter-weighted for smoother operation

free-spinning random orbital polisher diagram

Bearing Assembly: The green bearing assembly from the picture above is what allows the center axis to spin freely within the larger spindle assembly that is an off-set spindle assembly.

Gear-Driven Shaft Assembly: This is the entire gear-driven shaft assembly that is off-set so that the polishing head moves in a small circular pattern. This main gear-driven shaft assembly always remains in movement when polisher is turned on, as opposed to the free-spinning center axis assembly. Since the center axis is free-spinning, when too much pressure is applied to polishing head, the spinning of the pad stops, but the overall spindle shaft continues to rotate in a small circular pattern.

Between this description and the included pictures you are hopefully beginning to understand just how a dual-action, random orbital car polisher works. It is an explanation far easier to understand when seeing the mechanisms in action rather that attempting to explain through written word and pictures. 

Unlike a rotary polisher that is gear-driven and spins on a single axis point, the combination of the two movements of the dual-action polishers make these machines easier to learn and safer to use if you are a beginner.

Rotary polishers however, will out perform any dual-action polisher when it comes to their efficiency in performing heavy duty polishing requirements.

The unique design of this free-floating, counter weight design makes the random-orbital the best buffer of choice when learning how to buff clear coat.

How to Buff Clear Coat:
Safer and simpler

Now that you know what buffer is best for both a beginner and buffing clear coat, the next point to understand is choice in polishes.

And just like everything else in life, polishes are not all created equal!

Ceram-X Car Polish

ceram-X car polish
  • The exact polish I use professionally
  • The original Single Product Polish (SPP)
  • Uses controlled abrasive technology (super refined abrasive particles maintain control during polishing unlike diminishing abrasives)
  • One polish for every situation regardless of paint type, clear coat type, or defect type

Darren's Note: I love the Ceram-X car polish as it is the safest and simplest way to buff clear coat on any car. No more guessing at which compound or polish to use. Use Ceram-X with any polishing pad of your choice, any buffer of your choice.

Can also be used by hand if you are committed to buffing clear coat by hand.

Why Ceram-X is the Safest Polish for Clear Coat

CSI Ceram-X Car Polish 62-203-8 (8 oz) Single Product Polish (SPP) Superior Single Polish Replaces The Countless compounds/Polishes You Think You Need

One thing very few people talk about when learning how to buff clear coat is clear coat thickness.

Clear coat thickness is a big part of the UV protection offered with clear coat on your car. This means that as you polish your car to restore shine and remove paint defects, you will also be thinning-out your clear coat.

The thinner your clear coat is, the less UV protection offered from the clear coat itself.

If this really is true (it is!), then as a car owner you would want to do your best to create better shine and less defects, while retaining as much of the original clear coat thickness as possible.

This can be done by choosing the "right" car polish.

Due to the controlled abrasives of Ceram-X polish, you now have more control during the polishing process than you have if you were to polish your clear coat using traditional products that rely on the outdated technology of diminishing abrasives.

The abrasive particles within Ceram-X maintain size during the polishing as opposed to diminishing abrasives that break down at an inconsistent rate during polishing.

polishing clear coat before and afterThis picture shows the dramatic results possible when using a dual-action machine polisher and Ceram-X car polish to buff the clear coat on this original, 1999 Mercedes.

As the saying goes:

"A picture is worth a thousand words"

And I could use a thousand words to illustrate with this picture just how effective Ceram-X car polish and a random orbital is at turning neglected clear coat into a work of art!

The picture dramatically displays what can be accomplished with the right tools and right products.

Clear Coat Buffing Instructions:

  • Wash car
  • Decontaminate clear coat/paint surface with detailing clay 
  • Assemble your buffer, buffing pad, and car polish
  • Decide how you will section car off with regards to polishing section to section of entire car (will you start with hood and break that down into smaller sections, or start with sides of car?)
  • It is best to polish out of direct sunlight (despite the ability of Ceram-X car polish to be used in direct sunlight)
  • Set your buffer to level 5 (most car polishers will have a speed setting of 1-6)
  • Apply 10 pea size drops of car polish onto face of polishing pad
  • Set buffer pad directly onto paint surface and turn on while maintaining control of buffer
  • Slowly move buffer in a grid pattern within a section of 2x2 feet of paint surface area (you can move buffer slowly from left to right, then back and forth within entire 2x2 foot area)
  • Remove buffer from paint surface
  • Use micro-fiber cloth to remove polish residue and check results
  • Inspect area you have polished for results: if you are not satisfied with results, then apply about half as much polish as the first time, and repeat polishing
  • Remove residue with micro-fiber cloth and check results again

Darren's Tips: You will never be able to learn "experience". This is me telling you that regardless of how well I can describe every conceivable step in learning how to buff clear coat, it will never replace the hands-on experience you will have to get yourself by doing.

Don't overthink things at the beginning. I have laid out all the exact steps I teach guys firsthand on the safest way in learning how to buff clear coat within this page.

How to Buff Clear Coat Summary

If you have made it this far in your quest to learn how to buff clear coat then you are now part of a very small group of car owners dedicated to the health and beauty of your car's clear coat.

The learning process can be agonizing at times, but the rewards are great if you stick with it and filter through the endless opinions on the subject.

Just remember that you cannot learn everything at once! Be patient with yourself and accept that every bit you learn, goes into your tool box of knowledge that you can continue to develop at your own pace.

My goal is to always simplify the process and help you make informed choices.


Darren Priest

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