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Don't just polish--rejuvenate!

You can rejuvenate your car's finish yourself and get it pretty darn close to the factory shine. But it takes more than a simple wax job. The process starts with a good wash, followed by scratch repair, polishing and a protective wax finish. A pro would charge upward of $200 for this. But after a one-time $200 investment for a polisher and supplies, you'll be able to make your whole fleet look like new. Our expert, Joey Kasper, can do the job in four hours. Your first attempt will take a whole day.

All about polishers, pads and compounds

You can't polish a car with a $25 wax applicator/buffer, so don't waste your money on one. And avoid professional high-speed rotary polishers. In unskilled hands, those babies can bum the paint off your car in three seconds flat. Instead, buy a dual action (DA) polisher with changeable foam polishing pads. (Two choices are the Porter-Cable No. 7424XP, $130, and Meguiar's No. G110v2, $180, from Or, if you want to try your hand at polishing smaller areas but don't want to spend big bucks, try a drill-mounted DA unit (such as Meguiar's G3500, $49 at

When it comes to foam pads, each manufacturer has its own color code to denote foam density and pore size. So check the seller's application chart to get the right pad for each type of job. To remove oxidized lacquer or enamel paint from older vehicles, use a "cutting pad" made from stiffer foam with larger pores. To remove fine scratches and polish the clear coat on newer cars, use a medium-density foam pad with smaller pores. Then use a soft foam pad with fine pores to apply wax and paint sealant.

Rubbing and polishing compounds are two very different products, and DIYers often confuse the two. Rubbing compound removes heavy oxidation and deep scratches. Think of it as coarse sandpaper. Because this compound is designed to remove more material, never apply it with a polisher. Apply it only by hand with just enough pressure to remove the scratch.

If you have an old container of rubbing compound lying around your garage, toss it. Those older compounds aren't compatible with the clear coats used on late-model vehicles. If you need to remove a scratch from the clear coat, find a rubbing compound that's clear-coat-safe and contains a "diminishing abrasive." It'll have smaller particles to remove scratches without adding more.

Polishing compound, on the other hand, is like fine-grit sandpaper you'd use to get the smoothest finish on wood. Use it with your DA polisher to remove light scratches and swirls and to bring the finish to a uniform gloss.

Start with a thorough wash

Mix up a bucket of sudsy water (Photo 1).

Our expert prefers Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo & Conditioner. He uses a wash mitt with two buckets--one for soapy water and one with clear rinse water. Both buckets have dirt traps to prevent dirt and grit from getting back onto the mitt. (Grit Guard, $9 at auto parts stores, is one choice.)

Start with a clear water rinse (Photo 2). Scrub the bugs and tar off the grille, hood, bumper and side mirrors (Photo 3). Wash the roof and windows (Photo 4). Then H rinse the entire car again so you're not wiping gritty roof and window suds over the hood, doors and trunk. Finish washing the rest of the car and then do a final rinse. Dry the car with a silicone water blade (Photo 5). Wipe off any remaining wet spots with a microfiber towel. To get the finish even smoother, consider clay-barring the entire car (to learn how to use a clay bar, search "car cleaning tips and tricks" at

Assess and treat any scratches

To determine whether you can remove a deep scratch, rub your fingernail across it. If it doesn't catch your fingernail, you can usually remove it with polishing compound and your polisher. If it catches your nail but doesn't go all the way through to the metal, you can try feathering it with rubbing compound (Photo 6). However, if the scratch goes all the way down to the metal, forget about rubbing compound--you'll have to fill it with touch-up paint. After you fix the scratches, spray the wheel wells and tires with tire dressing (Photo 7).

Polish the finish

Apply the polish to a small section of the car using a soft sponge and a circular motion (Photo 8). Then attach a polishing pad to your DA polisher and work in the polish (Photo 9). Polish until the haze disappears (Photo 10). Move on to the next section and repeat the procedure until the entire car is polished.

Protect with wax or paint sealant

Remove the polishing pad and attach a waxing pad. Apply the wax or paint sealant to the car with a sponge or the manufacturer's applicator. Then buff the wax using the DA polisher and the same procedure you used with the polish. Finish the job by cleaning the windows with a spray cleaner.


Drop a dirt trap into each 5-gallon bucket and fill with water. Then pour the car wash soap into the wash bucket and stir with your wash mitt.


Spray the wheels with an aluminum-safe alloy wheel cleaner and scrub with a wheel-cleaning brush. Rinse the wheels and clean any areas you missed. Then do a final wheel rinse.


Put soap on the dried bugs and let it soak. Then scrub lightly with a nylon bug sponge. Rinse with water.


Apply suds to the roof and wipe small sections. Rinse the mitt frequently and grab fresh suds for each new section.


Swipe the water off with a water blade squeegee. It will dry the surface faster than a chamois.


Apply rubbing compound on a sponge and wipe it into the scratch. Use a circular motion to feather the edges. Wipe with a microfiber cloth to check your progress.


Spray the tires and the wheel wells with tire dressing to give them a dark, factory-fresh look. If you skip the wheel wells, their gray look will detract from the dark tires and shiny paint.


Swirl the polish onto a small section of the car using a sponge. Don't coat the polishing pad with polish and then hit the trigger. The polish will just fling off and make a mess.


Run the DA polisher front to back then from top to bottom, overlapping each row. Then reverse, going back to front and bottom to top, again overlapping each row.


Run the polisher until the haze disappears and the paint glistens. Then wipe off the excess polish with a clean, dry microfiber towel.



Joey Kasper has been an auto detailer for more than 20 years. He specializes in luxury and collector cars as well as cars used for corporate events and advertising. His van is fully equipped with water tanks, a power washer and a generator so he can perform a complete detail job on-site.
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Title Annotation:CAR + garage
Author:Muscoplat, Rick
Publication:The Family Handyman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2014
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