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Machine Polishing. What results can I expect?

Updated: Nov 23, 2022




The paint on our cars is not as robust as we might think and can be marked in a number of ways and by a various different causes (not just that careless person in the supermarket carpark)!


Modern paint is made up of several layers, simply put the base colour then topped with a clear lacquer. This is true whether the paint on your car is a solid colour, metallic or pearlescent. Classic cars that still have their original paint do not have this coat of lacquer but the paint is generally thicker.


What is Polishing?


Polishing is the process of removing a thin layer of paint/lacquer to improve your vehicles appearance whether that is simply making it shine or remove imperfections within it. We can improve the appearance of our cars paint by hand polishing, but to get the best results and remove imperfections we need to machine polish.


What is involved in Machine Polishing?


We simply can't start polishing a car whether by hand or by machine without thoroughly cleaning, decontaminating and clay baring it first. This lengthy process ensures that the paint surface is completely clean and free from any old wax or other products. Delicate areas such as plastic trim, edges and rubber seals need to be taped up so they do not get damaged or filled with stray polishing compound. We also need to take paint depth readings to ensure that the paint is thick enough to be worked on and that nothing lurks beneath such as filler. High quality paint depth gauges will also tell you if the panel has its original paint or has been resprayed. Once these stages have been carried out we can then start to polish


If you have ever stumbled across the polishing section of a detailing supplies website such as Ultimate Finish you will have noticed the various different polishing machines, polishing pads and polishing compounds on offer! Each of these have a specific function, below is a quick explanation of each.


Machine Polishers


There are 3 different types of machine polishers. They are Rotary, Forced Rotation Dual Action and Dual Action. The names refer to the movement of the pad. This affects how they work, the ease of use and cost due to manufacturing complexity.


Polishing Pads


Depending on manufacturer these come in various colours, shapes and pad face construction. They are also made of different materials such as foam, wool and microfibre these materials affect how much of the surface they remove and the finish or clarity they leave after polishing.


Polishing Compounds


Ultimately these vary depending on how much of the surface you want to remove and the finish you want to end up with. So heavy cut compounds (which remove more of the surface quicker) will not leave a perfect finish so you would need to polish a second or third time to leave the perfect finish you are striving for. If your paintwork is in good condition you can polish using a finishing compound which will leave a deep glossy finish. You can also get polishing compounds that will remove imperfections, leave a glossy finish and also contain silicon that will leave a protective coating, these are referred to as All In One (AIO) products.


What types of imperfections are we looking to remove?


Imperfections can be man made such as scratches or caused by acts of nature like bird poo. Below are some of the imperfections/damage that you can find on your car.





Bird mess etching is caused when bird poo is left on the surface. The acids within it will eat into the paint leaving an outline once washed away. This is very unsightly and noticeable. The easiest way to avoid this is to wash it off but first loosen it with running water and chemicals.








Wash marring or love marks are caused by careless hand washing or by taking your car through a garage forecourt machine brush wash. To avoid this check out my previous blog "Safe Wash Techniques".










Water marks are caused by metals and other impurities within rain or tap water that you use to wash your car. These can be avoided by using water filters for rinse water, not washing your car on a hot day in direct sunlight and drying it off after rinsing.









Oxidisation is the discolouring or fading of your cars paintwork. This mostly affects red cars making them look a dull pink colour. This is caused by UV rays in the sun.







Unless your car has been deeply scratched by a key or hitting/brushing up against another object these imperfections can be polished out returning your cars paintwork to its original condition if not better.


Levels of Correction


You may have read or heard the phrases 3 stage, 2 stage or single stage correction. These refer to the number of times and different pad & polish combinations are used to correct the surface of a vehicle. If your vehicle is heavily scratched then a aggressive pad and compound will be used to remove these, however the combination of pad and compound will not leave the desired finish so a 2nd or 3rd combination will be required to get that desired finish. However if your vehicle is lightly marred, then a single stage correction will remove the imperfections and leave the desired finish. But ultimately all the imperfections and scratches (apart from ones that require repainting/touching up) can be removed if you have the budget and desire for that perfect finish.


All photos courtesy of Bert Youell of Pro Detailer Magazine prodetailermagazine.com


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