While we all love washing our cars, how often do you really clean your paint? Even if your car doesn't look dirty microscopic levels of all sorts of schmutz end up sitting on the surface of your car's paintwork, which needs more work than a soapy sponge can dislodge.
The first step to cleaning your car's paint is washing the car, drying it off and then parking it somewhere you can carefully inspect all the defects under controlled light. Don't ever try to polish a car outdoors in bright sun (or the freezing cold) as it will let the polishes go off too quickly and you won't get all the cleaning power from them.
Run your hand over the paint and it should feel glassy and smooth, but if it feels rough try starting with a clay bar system. These are sold by many different companies through stores like Supercheap Auto for around $50 per-kit, and one kit should do one car multiple times.
The idea behind a clay bar is to rub the special clay over the paint wiht a lubricating spray to clean microscopic contaminants off the surface of the paint. You work in sections, kneading and turning the clay as you go. Once finished the paint should be glass-smooth to touch, and it is then ready to be covered with a coat of protective wax.
If you can still see imperfections like swirl marks, cloudiness or scratches in the paint then this is where buffing the paintwork comes in, as Marty and MOOG discovered in their latest episode HERE.
The term "buffing" refers to polishing off cleaners and this can be by hand or using a machine, but the results from a machine give better results as they can spin faster more consistently over an entire car.
Buffing tools come as rotary or orbital type, which relates to how they spin their pads. There are also all sorts of buffing pads you can get, and they do different jobs, from waffle pads for cleaning to soft wool pads (like the one shown here) for polishing.
You'll need to pick up a special type of polish to buff your car's paint, which is called cutting compound. Watch the latest episode HERE where the boys give you a rundown of different levels of cutting compound, from super-cheap to the type used by professional detailers.
These are also sold in different stages of aggressiveness, from a mild cut to heavy for really damaged paint that needs to be harshly cut back to reveal fresh paint underneath. If this sounds pretty hardcore, that's because it is and you can easily damage your paint beyond repair if you just go for the hottest sauce you can get. Don't be afraid to start with a mild cutting compound!
Once you've sauced up the panel with the polish, spread it around wth your buffing pad before turning the machine on. You don't need to press heavily onto the surface, just let the machine glide across the top of the paint as the spinning motion will create heat in the metal and this can burn the paint off if you go too heavy-handed.
You should use a range of motions, including circular patterns and back-and-forth motions, as you spread the polish across the panel. Try to only work one quarter of a panel at a time on a large car, so the compound doesn't go off.
You also need to watch out for edges of panels or sides of things like bonnet scoops or character lines in panels as the buffer can literally burn the paint right off down to bare metal in seconds if you're not careful. You'renot trying to actually buff the panel to a shine at this point, you're essentially just spreading the cleaner around to remove the contaminants.
Practice on a nice flat surface like Marty is here, with a scrap piece of Mira.
Once you have spread the compound, it is time to get the spinning sheep onto the case with a buffing pad. If you're used to polishing a car by hand the process of machine-buffing will blow your wormhole - it makes an all-day job take several minutes.
MOOG used a new Ryobi buffer once he had blown the buffing pad off with some compressed air just to ensure it is clean. Again, don't press this down hard onto the panel's surface, just let it glide and the spinning motion will bring out that fine shine.
Wipe that part of the panel down and assess how happy you are with the job the compound has done. You'll need a bag of clean microfibre rags on hand as you'll be wiping the panels down regularly and you don't want to use an old rag that is full of other contaminants.
Once you're happy with the paint's cleanliness (it should be glass-smooth) then cover it in a generous coat of wax to protect it. Carnuba waxes are a natural way to give your car's paint a deep lustrous shine, but they don't last as long as synthetic waxes so think of how often you clean your car and how it's kept and used before racing out and spending a heap on a fancy wax that might need to be reapplied every three months.
If you're not confident, or don't have someone to help you learn how to buff, then it is probably worth paying a professional detailer to do the job while you practice on an old panel from a wrecked car. You can pick these up from wrecking yards cheaply, just try to get one with good quality paint.