If you’ve tried your hand at polishing your car at home, the short odds are that you have literally tried it by hand. Taking a polishing machine to your car’s delicate paintwork is not really advised if you’re a novice detailer.
Besides, polishing machines cost a bit. They’re not the sort of thing you invest in until you are confident you can get good results and plan to use them regularly.
But there comes a time in every DIY detailer’s life when they start to think beyond the manual method. Yes, hand polishing is much more forgiving than using a machine. You are much less likely to go wrong and do serious damage to your paintwork. You work at a pace that lets you become familiar with how abrasive polishing compounds work, and what grades to use on what type of marks and scratches.
But that pace is pretty slow. Hand polishing can be a painstaking task. It also requires a considerable amount of elbow grease to do it properly. After a while, you inevitably start to think there must be an easier way.
And so there is. Polishing machines are much faster, more efficient and less physically demanding compared to hand polishing. Used in the right way, you can achieve fabulous results above and beyond what is realistic doing things manually.
But you have to be mindful of the fact that, with a polishing machine, you are taking a rapidly rotating disc to your bodywork to grind an abrasive substance over it. In unskilled hands, the chances of something going drastically wrong are high.
If you feel you’re ready to move onto a polishing machine, you should also choose the right type. Some are easier to use and carry less risk of damaging your paintwork than others. Here’s a quick guide to the main types to help you make the right choice for your next car polishing project.
Dual Action or DA polishers are recommended as the best option for home detailing enthusiasts. All machine polishers work by spinning rapidly in a circular motion around a central plane. In combination with polishing compound, this provides the abrasion to buff out marks and smooth over the upper layers of paint to leave a smooth finish.
As well as this circular motion, DA polishers also ‘wobble’ around a different plane. The effect is that the whole of the spinning pad is never in contact with the surface of the car at once. This reduces the amount of friction between it and the car’s paintwork, and gives the person using it much more control over how much it ‘cuts’ into the paintwork.
While the idea of a wobbling polishing pad might sound a little strange, it’s actually a clever way to increase the margin for error and reduce the risk of leaving the machine in one place for too long so it damages the paintwork.
Rotary polishers are the machines the professionals use. They spin in one plane only, without the ‘wobble’ of a DA polisher. This means, when applied to the surface of a car’s bodywork, the whole of the rotating pad is in contact. It is solely down to the skill and control of the user to determine how much pressure to apply, how long to apply it for, how to move the pad around and so on.
Rotary polishers have the benefit of achieving very good results in very little time – just what pro detailers want when they might have several vehicles lined up to work on in a single day. But in inexperienced hands it is very easy to misjudge the effect on the paintwork and do more harm than good.
Finally, like Dual Action Polishers, Forced Rotation machines move in two planes, so have a similar ‘wobble’ around the main axis. The difference is that DA polishing machines are only powered in one direction – the secondary motion occurs as a result of momentum from the first.
Forced Rotation polishers, on the other hand, power the motion in two directions. This makes them more forceful than ordinary DA polishers. In that sense, they serve as a halfway house between DA and Rotary polishing machines. They’re just about suitable for the skilled and experienced DIY detailer, providing better speed and power than a DA polisher, with a bit more leeway compared to a rotary machine.