In-Depth with the Detail King Porter Cable Polisher (2020)
A budget-friendly dual-action polisher that offers mixed results.
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It can be difficult to get into DIY car care given the expense the tools and cleaning products can incur. Power applicators like random orbital buffers/random orbital polishers, in particular, can quickly drain the wallet if you are shooting for the best performers. Other options, however, are designed to offer a good entry-level way to buff and polish a vehicle without breaking the bank.
Detail King’s Porter Cable Car Buffer fits into the budget-friendly category of dual-action polishers. While not the cheapest power tool on the market, its price tag is definitely an attractive feature. The question, though, is whether it can still deliver decent detailing results or if you should expect to make a major tradeoff. The answer, in this case, actually depends on how you intend to use the variable-speed polisher.
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This polisher comes in at a good price and offers several different speed options, although performance in lackluster at high motor speeds. The large body is also comfortable, making it perfect as a primary polisher or a beginner-friendly option.
- A decently-powered motor that has a good variable-speed range with a number of high-speed settings.
- Comfortable, heavy-duty body/handle design to avoid fatiguing.
- Good range of compatibility with foam pads.
- Lacks a backing plate.
- Doesn’t perform well at higher motor speeds to create a swirl-free look. The resulting finish can leave some noticeable swirl marks in the pain
The polisher is rather unique in that it offers a lot of high-end performance promises at just a fraction of the cost of other more expensive models. The power behind the orbital buffer comes from a 4.5-amp motor with built-in overload protection. The motor is capable of operating at around 2,500-6,800 orbits per minute (OPM) and can randomize the orbits as well.
On the other end of the motor is a spindle that can handle 5/16-24 spindle thread accessories. The sanding/polishing pad comes in at 6 inches, large enough for an average car wash/wax.
The body sports an ergonomic design that distributes the load between both hands. Much like angle grinders, the buffer has a side handle to hold for finer control over the surface. The handle is also positionable, so you can have it on either the left or right side depending on your hand dominance.
There is a lot to like about using the polisher, especially if you are looking for a decent orbital buffer that manages to balance high performance and cost. Unfortunately, you can’t start to experience these benefits right out of the box. The buffer doesn’t come with a backing plate, meaning you’ll need to order one separately or stop by your local hardware store to get it going.
Once everything is set up, however, you can start using it immediately. Getting the backing plate and pad onto the buffer is very straightforward and relatively quick. To get it working, all you need to do is plug it in and hit the switch.
It feels comfortable in the hand. Despite it being counterweighted to distribute the body weight, the buffer doesn’t feel too heavy in the hands. Both hands can fit comfortably around the body of the buffer, especially up around the neck of the body if you don’t want to use the handle all the time. Speaking of the handle, while it lacks cushioning, the size is just right for most hands to enjoy without fatiguing.
One major thing to note: The included buffing sponge is probably not worth your time and money. The quality of the sponge is questionable at best, and it’s prone to falling apart on harder areas like plastic parts if the glue starts to go. Since you have to buy a backing plate, it may be worth the extra investment to get a plate and polishing pad from the same manufacturer.
It’s hard to judge cleaning tools like an orbital buffer since the results largely depend on the quality of the cleaning products, the pad, and the job itself (i.e. the technique or process). If all of these things are ideal, however, the polisher can deliver a great finish on most vehicle surfaces.
The buffer has the power to tackle most tasks, but it does have some important limitations. The motor works best at the lower OPMs commonly used for the initial work where you aren’t trying to remove encrusted grime and debris. The motor is certainly capable of reaching higher OPMs, but the head starts to vibrate through the handle around speed 5, so the control over the buffer suffers.
At the lower speeds, the buffer can leave a decent finish. This means you can get at light surface debris and scratches without needing to get into higher speeds as much. Unfortunately, deeper marks and bad swirls present a bit of a challenge for this buffer if higher speeds are required. In short, keep the speed around the first or second mark and you’ll be fine.
This orbital buffer has a lot to offer if your needs are basic when it comes to car care. The quick-and-simple polish, for example, is where the polisher excels. It fits comfortably in the hands and isn’t difficult to set up or use. It also handles a good variety of polishing and buffing pads, so you can use your favorite cleaning supplies and tools to get the job done. Unfortunately, the vibration at higher speeds and a general lack of motor power compared to more expensive options limit the polisher’s usefulness for tougher jobs.
Final Verdict: Consider the Detail King Porter Cable Polisher if you are looking for a good entry- to mid-level orbital buffer for light or routine car care.