How to machine polish a car

Machine polishing a car can add thousands to its value. ​Easily removing scratches and swirl marks from old or mistreated paintwork. They can also be used to restore a cars dulled and faded paint.

How to machine polish a car:

  • Making sure the car has been thoroughly washed and dried.
  • Attach a foam pad centrally to the machine polisher.
  • Dot a small amount of compound to the foam pad, then touch the pad to the car surface distributing the compound on the area you intend to polish.
  • ​With the Polisher set to the middle speed and the pad placed against the bodywork. Turn the machine on and work it across a small area at a consistent pressure and speed, using a sweeping action.
  • Once the compound has been worked in and begins to set to a haze remove any excess compound with a clean microfibre cloth.
  •  You may need to repeat this over a section more than once.
  • Move slowly around the car repeating the process.

What is a machine polisher

A machine polishers is power tool that utilises a replaceable foam pad or mop to polish a cars paintwork back to its original shine and lustre. They can be used for restoring a cars colour or improving or removing defects, such as light scratching, swirl marks, holograms and etchings.

Types of machine polisher

There are two popular types of machine polisher available – Rotary and Dual Action.

Dual Action
Dual action or random orbital polishers machines are now the most popular with both amateur and professional valeters. With their operating mechanism making them both easier to control and safer to use.

The head of a dual action polisher spins in a concentric circular action in a wide circulating motion. This oscillation prevents excess heat building up on the surface of the paint, minimising the risk of burning and damaging the paintwork. Dual action polishers are available in different sizes. The bigger the machine and pad size the greater the duel action movement.

Largely used by professional detailers and bodyshops. The rotary polisher pad or mop move in one direction, spinning in a circular motion. This generates more heat and in untrained hands burning through the paint is easily done. This is especially easy to do on the edges of panels.

I successfully used a rotary machine for years and with practise you can achieve great results. But a duel action machine gives equally good results with less effort and risk. A good machine isn’t cheap but it will pay for itself on the first car you polish.

Modern duel action machines almost eliminate the risk for damaging the cars paint and are super easy and efficient to use. The RUPES Bigfoot and the DAS-6 PRO are the best. I own both and they achieve amazing results. ​

When to use a machine polisher

If hand polishing your car isn’t bringing back its shine, or the car has light swirl marks or scratches. It’s probably time to breakout the machine polishers. You can also improve light to medium scratches, etchings and holograms. On older single coat paint finishes that have faded a machine polishers can be used to restore the paints colour. You can also use a polisher to add polish to a car quickly and with a great result.

Which compound is best

There is a huge range of compounds available with many different levels of cut, designed to correct your paint and bring back that new car finish. I haven’t tried them all but I favour Menzerna or 3M’s Perfect-it range. Both offer amazing results and are easy to apply and remove.

Both offer a starter pack so you can experiment with each product. 3M’s Perfect-it is a professional level product used in most bodyshops. The polishes and compounds are colour coded with the polishing pads to ease product selection.

The products are suited to all paint types, including the latest hard and scratch resistant clear-coats and achieve outstanding results.

Which polishing or compounding pad should I use

Most polish and compound manufacturers also offer a pad designed to work best with their product. But there are two main types of polishing pads:

Foam compounding pads
Used for applying compound and improving paint. These pads help with the cutting properties of the compound itself.

Foam polishing pads
These pads have a much softer cutting action, are less aggressive and typically used for applying polish, sealants and waxes.  

Polishing a car with a machine

You can also use a machine polisher to add car polish to a car. You do this in the same way as described at the top of the page. This can give great results and is typically faster than hand polishing, especially on larger vehicles. Just be carful around door handles etc, where its still best to apply polish by hand.

Hard and soft paint types

There can be a  great difference in the hardness of paints. Cars manufactured in Europe typically have much harder paint than Asian or American made cars. So you need to bear that in mind when selecting a compound.

Can I use a polishing machine on a classic cars paint

Yes you can and the results can be amazing. Older cars are typically painted with a single stage system. Extra care should be taken with older paints, but dull and chalky paint on older cars can be buffed up to an almost new finish. 


A good machine polisher can make you a small fortune. It can transform the value of a car like no other piece of equipment, so if you are serious about valeting a quality polisher is essential.