How to Wax a Car with an Orbital Buffer

Using an auto paint buffer to power through a wax job

Article updated October 2011

Buffers are both logical and desirable motorized car-care tools. If old-fashioned elbow grease is good when it comes to waxing your car then it stands to reason that plug-in elbow grease, in the form of an electric motorized buffer, will be even better. And there's absolutely nothing that makes an automotive finish shine like a coat of top quality wax. While the end results are worth the effort, the task of waxing a vehicle top to bottom can require an almost superhuman effort. With prices on random orbital buffers dipping into the boy-that's-a-good-deal zone, it's tempting to grab onto the handles of a power buffer and jump right in. Yet, as with any application of power, one must be careful.

As with any application of power, one must be careful.

Pros and Cons

On the dark side of power waxing are swirl marks, paint burns, and caked in wax lodged into impossible to remove places-all exponentially easier to accomplish with a power buffer than by hand application. On the bright side is a beautiful finish without the manual effort required by the hand application and removal of wax. Keep in mind that waxing is not polishing. Professional buffers and polishing rigs spin at high speeds and should be left to the hands of a professional. Less powerful and more affordable random-orbital buffers spin slower, and feature an eccentric setup that causes the circular pad to rotate in a random motion on its axis. This motion helps prevent damage to painted surfaces, as the pad never sits in one place very long. Waxing a vehicle finish with random orbital buffer can make things easy, but certain precautions must be taken.

Give Yourself a Hand

The first and foremost consideration is the vehicle itself. A large vehicle with broad flat areas for body panels is well suited for buffer use, while a small vehicle with plenty of peaks, cracks and crevices inherent to the design may be better off waxed by hand. If the potential for more power is proving intoxicating, then cleanliness is crucial. Before using the buffer make certain the surface is absolutely clean. Any contaminants or surface debris will become lodged in the rotating pad and can cause a great deal of damage very quickly. Take a good look at the vehicle and plan the path of the buffer before you even plug it in. The idea is to follow the bodylines of the car, always moving in length-wise rows the width of the buffer pad.

Let the buffer do the work and glide its way across the paint.

Do not move the buffer in a circular motion as it may cause the dreaded swirl marks. Another tip is to use some no-residue masking tape on body seams and rubber trim. Getting wax into hard to remove spots is exceedingly simple with a buffer. Getting it back out is another story. Masking tape on high spots such as creased body lines can also prevent friction from building up in that spot and causing a heat burn in the finish.

Above all, let the buffer do the work and glide its way across the paint. This applies especially to wax removal. Throwing too much force into the handles can cause the buffer to dig in and create a hot spot. The whole point, after all, is to let the machine do the work for you. Just hold on, and enjoy the ride.

So, the bottom line is: buff away. By following these few precautions for proper use of a quality orbital buffer, your next car wax will go much quicker and the paint finish should shine brighter than ever.

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