In the same way that there are several different tools one can use to cut wood, there are several different tools that can be used to buff and polish your car.
For those of you who take your car polishing seriously, there are, of course, dedicated tools for the job. However, others can be adapted to the role if and when you want to – that makes them ideal for those of us who perhaps want to save money on a versatile tool.
Here, we'll canter through different polishing tools and explain each one. By the end, you should have a sound understanding of them and, therefore, be able to make an informed decision about which one suits you best.
Why use a car buffer?
Like angle grinders or planers, car buffers can seem a bit daunting to those of us who are unfamiliar with them. But with careful use, you learn to be comfortable with these surprisingly easy-to-use tools. As a consequence, they are a faster, easier alternative to polishing your entire car by hand.
That’s all there is to it.
What are the different types of car polishing tools?
In terms of dedicated car buffers, there are two types: rotary and dual-action polishers. A rotary polisher is a type typically used by professionals to restore bodywork and paintwork after panel beating. Like an angle grinder, a rotary polisher spins at a constant set speed. They’re very effective, but in the hands of a greenhorn, they can and do often cause damage to bodywork in the form of surface burns and buffer marks.
Dual-action polishers are a much easier type of car buffer for DIYers to use. Like a random orbital sander, they oscillate instead, kind of like a very fast hand polishing movement. This movement creates less heat and, as such, they don’t run the risk of burning the bodywork as a rotary does. They are smaller and lighter, too, which makes them easier for newcomers to handle.
Other car buffing tools that can be used for polishing are the aforementioned angle grinders and random orbital sanders with polishing pads fitted. Since the angle grinders work like a rotary polisher, we don’t recommend you use one for polishing unless you are familiar with doing so. However, random orbital sanders are wonderful and versatile tools that you can use beyond polishing. The oscillating movement makes them gentle and effective car paintwork, and their lightness makes for easy use.
What can you use a polishing machine for?
Polishing machines are primarily used for buffing your paintwork and removing smaller imperfections. Small scratches, marks and swirls can all be dealt with using a polishing machine by applying a cutting compound or polish, which should then be coated in a protective layer, such as wax or paint sealant. Deeper scratches will need treating with the help of a professional.
These are our favourite polishing tools for cars:
Ryobi R18B-0 18V ONE+ Cordless Buffer
Ryobi R18B-0 18V ONE+ Cordless Buffer
Best cordless polisher
Ryobi is synonymous with offering quality DIY tools. Its 18V cordless buffer is no exception. It oscillates in a way that gives a great, user-friendly polish, and the 254mm buffing size makes quick work of covering car bodywork but will require hand polishing in the more awkward areas. The price shown is for the tool only, you will need to buy the ONE+ batteries and charger if you don't have them already. The two-handed design gives you great control and at 2.4kg, it's easy to hold.
You can buy the Ryobi buffing pads, but for a better value option, why not try the set below from British company Kent Car Care? You get four times as much for the same price.
Draper Storm Force® 150mm Dual Action Polisher
Draper Storm Forceu00ae 150mm Dual Action Polisher
Best value dual action polisher
This is a powerful 900-watt oscillating polisher that is brilliant for home use. With a generous 150mm pad size, you can cover bodywork quickly, and the 2.4kg weight makes for easy handling. The D-handle is adjustable and you get basic variable speed control. A big plus point with this model is the five-metre cable. It also comes with a backing pad and storage bag.
Sealey CPK04 240V 600W 150mm Pro Polishing Compounding Kit
Sealey Polishing Compound Kit
Best polishing kit
For an attractive DIY price, this kit includes all you need to get you going. The Sealey dual-action polisher weighs in at 2.3kg for easy handling and has a punchy 600-watt motor and 150mm pad size. The speed is adjustable between 1500 and 6800 RPM. As for the bits and pieces, you get 500ml of a fine-cutting compound for dealing with minor scratches and marks; 500ml of high-gloss polish; dense, medium, and ultra-soft polishing pads; the backing pad to which they attach; and a microfibre mitt for finishing. Just make sure you protect your hard work with a wax coating or sealant.
Bosch PEX 300 AE Universal Random Orbit Sander
Bosch PEX 300 AE Random Orbit Sander
Most versatile tool
If you're into DIY projects beyond polishing the car, you've got to consider a random orbital sander. It's the most versatile of all the sanders and can turn its hand to buffing and polishing in a heartbeat with a polishing pad. Bosch Green tools are some of the best DIY and home-use tools you can get, and its PEX 300 AE sander sits at the top of the pile. At 1.5ks, it's much lighter than the dedicated polishers, yet its 125mm disc size and highly variable speed make it an ideal polishing machine. It's a great price too - particularly for renowned Bosch quality.
Flex XFE7-1280 230v VR Roto Random Orbit Polisher
Flex XFE 7-1280 Random Orbit Polisher
Best for small areas and serious enthusiasts
The Flex is a super high-quality machine with a small 80mm pad size for polishing small areas and trickier areas of bodywork to the highest standard. It's a bit lighter than the other dedicated polishers and features little but noticeable touches including the ergonomic SoftGrip handle, a flat gear head allowing safe use in any position and a rubberised resting bar.
Halfords 110W Polisher
Halfords 110W Polisher
Best budget polisher
Not the most powerful machine here at 110-watt, this single-speed polishing machine is a good, reliable entry option into the world of buffing. It's time-consuming to use and some reviewers report that too much pressure will burn out the motor. However, if you're only planning to polish your car once or twice a year and don't need any fancy extras, it's a great budget option and will certainly improve your car's appearance.
Tips for using pain buffing tools
• Clean and dry the car’s paint thoroughly beforehand.
• Practice your technique on an inconspicuous test area first.
• Switch the machine on to its slow setting at first, then hold the pad gently against the paint and spread the polish around a bit.
• You can then increase the speed.
• Don’t rush! To get an even gloss and shine on the paintwork, the pressure and speed need to be consistent.
• Progressing in small areas at a time helps you remember what you’ve covered.
• Buff each section until a haze forms. Sometimes this requires more than one go.
• Turn off the machine before pulling the polisher away from the paintwork otherwise polish may get flung everywhere.
• Remove the haze with a microfibre cloth.
Do I need a car buffer?
If you want to make your car sparkle and shine as much as the paintwork wants it to then buffing and polishing your vehicle is by far the best option. If it's something you want to do regularly and are shorter on time, it certainly can be quicker than elbow grease!
You should consider how often you're going to be polishing and buffing your vehicle and, of course, the size of your car. If you've only a small vehicle you may want to stick to some good quality buffing pads but if you've got a larger car with big body panels, a buffing tool is a good option.