How To Buff A Car and Why You Should Care

If your car is looking a little dingy, gotta give it a good buffing!

Ready to rock and buff.

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You may love being a total stickler for your car’s appearance, but many vehicle owners don’t spend that much time thinking about paint smoothing and polishing. The good news is that even if you’re a complete novice, you can make your vehicle look showroom-new in just a few steps.

Buffing a car requires some time and effort, but the results are wonderful. You can get rid of small scratches and scrapes, brighten the paint, and thoroughly clean your vehicle in the process. You can do the whole job by hand, but an electric rotary buffer will make life much easier.

Let The Drive’s team of crack experts show you the correct way to buff your car, and take a dive into the equipment and safety precautions needed to do the job the right way.

Pay attention to what you're doing, or you'll end up with a bald spot.

Pay attention to what you're doing, or you'll end up with a bald spot.

Buff A Car Basics 

Estimated Time Needed: 1-2 hours, depending on the size of your vehicle

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

Buffing a Car Safety

Buffers spin at dangerously high RPM. You’ll not only want to keep your wits about you, but also gear up, and strip down, to keep you, your fingers, your eyes, and your torso intact. Here’s what you’ll need and want to do to stay safe—hopefully.

  • Keep rings, bracelets, and other jewelry away from the buffer to avoid getting caught up in the spinning wheel. Heck, you aren’t there to impress anyone, take them off.
  • Work in a well-ventilated space to avoid breathing polishing fumes.
  • If you get solution on your skin or in your eyes, wash immediately and call a poison control center.
  • Wear gloves and safety glasses.
You don't need a boatload of equipment to do the job right.You don't need a boatload of equipment to do the job right.

You don't need a boatload of equipment to do the job right.

Everything You’ll Need To Buff A Car 

You may already have what you need lying around in your garage, but be sure you have everything before getting started.

Tool List 

Parts List 

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that is also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting you or your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How To Buff A Car

The process below looks like it’ll be a real pain, but there’s nothing to worry about. Work deliberately and cover small parts of the vehicle at a time to make sure you’re working in the solution before it dries.

With that out of the way, let’s do this! 

Buffing Your Car

  1. Start by rinsing the vehicle to remove any built up dirt and debris. After the rinse, give it a thorough washing with gentle automotive soap.
  2. Tape off the areas that you don’t want polished. The rotary buffer spins quite fast and generates a ton of heat, so you’ll want to protect parts of the vehicle like headlights and trim pieces that can’t withstand the heat.
  3. Start with the wool pad and the gentle buffing compound. Begin by buffing in alternating up-down and left-right motions. Work in a small area, such as one door or fender at a time.
  4. When the compound starts to take on a hazy look, it’s time to use a microfiber towel to wipe it clean. This process removes any surface scratches.
  5. Remove the wool pad and install the yellow foam pad to the buffer. Repeat the steps above, working in a small area. It’s best to start with a decent amount of pressure and reduce it as you near the end of this step.
  6. Once the compound has been spread thin, once again use the microfiber towel to clean up the area.
  7. After you’ve buffed the entire vehicle, it’s time to apply a coat of wax. Use a liquid carnauba wax. These products usually come with an applicator of their own. Use it to apply the wax in a circular motion over a small area.
  8. Take time to clean any stray splashes of buffing compound off of windows, mirrors, trim pieces, and wheels. 
Attention to detail here is key.

Attention to detail here is key.

Get Help To Buff A Car From a Mechanic On JustAnswer  

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Pro Tips To Buff A Car

The Drive’s editors have spent the time behind a buffer to help you understand the ins and outs of doing it like a pro. Here are our pro tips.

  1. Don’t mix up your pads. Each one has a specific reason for being, and using them for more than one step can cause an uneven buff or may damage the car.
  2. Keep extra pads and make sure you’ve got enough buffing solution. You never know when you’ll spill or damage something you need along the way.
  3. Store your pads and tools in a clean place. You won’t want to try buffing your car with a dirty pad.
  4. If you’re uncertain about your buffing skills, and it’s ok if you are, it might be a good idea to pick up an old door or body panel from a junkyard to practice on.
  5. Start with a clean car. Your buff job won’t look all that great if you’re rubbing in dead bugs and dirt.
  6. Don’t buff in one spot for too long. The heat can damage the paint.
  7. You can buff by hand in a pinch, but it’s going to require some elbow grease.
  8. Try to work in the shade to give yourself as much time to buff before the solution dries. Sunlight and direct heat will speed this process up considerably.