4 Best Car Buffers of 2023, Tested by Experts
Aug 13, 2023
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Wax on, wax off.
Keeping a car in tip-top shape required a ton of maintenance, especially if you're an avid car enthusiast with a special or vintage ride. If you're rocking a showy car, chances are the aesthetic is just as important as how it runs. Enter the car buffer. Buffing helps remove the scratched, scuffed or otherwise imperfect top layer of clear coat to reveal a shinier finish. Of course, you can always restore the finish by polishing or waxing by hand, but who has the time for that?
Here at the Good Housekeeping Institute, we regularly review and test all kinds of car products to keep your car looking great. For this article, we teamed up with our automotively inclined friends at Car and Driver for their expert opinions on all things car buffers. We talked with Associate Commerce Editor Colin Morgan and consulted data gathered by Assistant Testing Editor Katherine Keeler and Associate Testing Editor Gannon Burgett, to bring you the top car buffers according to Car and Driver.
After you've looked over our top picks, head to the end of this guide to learn more about what to look for when shopping for car buffers and how we chose these products. Looking for more ways to make your car sparkle? Check out our articles on best car cleaning kits, best upholstery cleaners and best car cleaning products.
Car and Driver's experts chose the Adam's Polishes 9mm Dual Action Car Polisher as their top pick for best car buffers, saying, "Adam's Swirl Killer is robust but also comfortable and ergonomic. When running the 9mm Swirl Killer on our car hood — it also comes in 12-, 15-, and 21-inch versions — the concave rubber handhold did an excellent job of reducing vibrations. Besides the vibration reduction, the rubber sleeves and handholds protected the Swirl Killer during our drop test."
It also comes with a 5.5-inch backing plate and the polishing pads feature a strong adhesive to ensure it won't slip while you're buffing. You can purchase just the tool or upgrade to a polishing kit that includes three different polishing pads plus compound and polish.
With three polishing pads (one each for heavy, medium and light cutting), a pad disc, a detachable D handle, a side handle, a towel and a buffing mitt, this kit from Avid Power offers a real bang for your buck. According to Car and Driver, it's an excellent option for beginners who aren't looking to drop a ton on a quality buffer, noting that it was powerful despite its price. It also has six different speeds, so you can determine exactly how fast you want to go.
Even though the testers at Car and Driver found the buffer a little loud, it survived their drop test unscathed. The C&D team found it a bit uncomfortable to hold in their hood-polishing test.
Car and Driver reports that this buffer is an "excellent mid-range option." They said the powerful buffer did an excellent job of cleaning up their junker's hood though they did note some serious arm fatigue, something to be expected with a motor this powerful. It accepts 3-, 5- and 6-inch backing plates, so you can swap in and out without modifications (or voiding a warranty). Just be aware that this is only the buffer. The brand does sell kits with included pads as well. Since it's an orbital buffer, it buffs in a random pattern to help prevent creating unsightly swirl lines that a rotary buffer can make.
This pick from Batoca comes with virtually everything you'll need to get the job done. There are plenty of pads and polishing bonnets, as well as a storage bag, apron and extra rechargeable batteries. The included rechargeable batteries are small but mighty. Car and Driver reports, "Even with the two battery units, we were delighted to discover the battery test ran over three and a half hours." The experts over at Car and Driver found that it easily polished up their test car's hood, despite its smaller size. Its compact size can be a pro and a con though: it's easier to store but it could be uncomfortable for someone with larger hands to hold for long periods of time.
Starting with a real junker of a '90s Chevy Caprice they found in Howell, Michigan, the experts at Car and Driver yanked off the hood and began by prepping it for a good buff. To find the best car buffers, they washed and clay-barred the surface to remove contaminants and then separated the hood into squares using painter's tape, leaving one control square. Then they grabbed Meguiar's Cleaner Wax, one of their favorites, and got to work buffing away.
They took notes on the grip and comfort of holding each buffer's handle, noting whether caused fatigue and assessing general ease of use. They also pulled out their decibel reader and recorded the average decibel output from two feet away. Once they finished, they visually inspected the results and snapped photos.
Tester Collin Morgan then dropped each running car buffer from chest height and recorded any damage incurred. Finally, they ran any battery-powered units from a full charge until they died, recording the time it took for each machine to run out of battery. They thought it would be a short test but instead reported, "testers Collin Morgan and Gannon Burgett drove home and had dinner, all with dancing buffers in tow, eventually taking note of their time of death."
✔️ Dual action v. rotary: The experts at Car and Driver recommend going with a dual-action buffer unless you've got some serious professional chops. Dual-action buffers spin and oscillate in random patterns, lowering the risk of paint damage. A dreaded swirl scuff can occur with the misuse of a rotary polisher, which spins at a constant speed
✔️ Pads and other accessories: A buffer is nothing without its pads, so make sure to take a glance at what comes with the machine or what pads you can purchase to go along with it. If you have specific goals in mind for your car, make sure you get pads with those goals in mind. Not sure what you're looking for? You can check out Car and Driver's guide to car buffer pads. Pads with an aggressive "cut" can handle deeper scratches faster, while a less aggressive one requires more time but leaves a smoother finish. Make sure to check your manufacturer's instructions too; different manufacturers recommend different types of buffing pads for clear coats, dark paints and more.
✔️ Safety features: If you're a beginner, look for buffers that have a fail-safe stop if you push down too hard. This can reduce your risk of damaging the paint. Though none of our picks have this feature, it is something to keep in mind as you shop.
You want to be careful and follow the correct process when buffing a car, since you're basically stripping off the top layer and exposing the paint. Car and Driver recommends starting by thoroughly washing and rinsing your vehicle, then using a clay bar to remove any environmental contaminants (brake dust, sap, water spots, etc.) Don't forget to have a lubricant for your clay bar, like a quick-detailing product to spray on.
One small section at a time, spray and rub the clay bar over the area, regularity folding the clay bar over to trap the contaminants. Do not skip this step! Car and Driver warns that if you don't clean these off your car, you risk buffing these contaminants into the paint.
Now you can start actually buffing the car. With a small amount of polish on a moistened pad, start by polishing in an overlapping zigzag pattern, making sure to keep the buffer pad even on the surface. Work slowly with moderate pressure. Add more product as needed and wipe away excess product with a microfiber cloth. Repeat the process to add a layer of car wax afterward, using less pressure than you used for the initial buffing.
Abigail Bailey was awarded her Master of Science in Publishing Digital and Print Media from NYU and writes about products for the Good Housekeeping Institute. For this article, she consulted with the experts from Car and Driver, including Associate Commerce Editor Colin Morgan, Assistant Testing Editor Katherine Keeler and Associate Testing Editor Gannon Burgett, who tested and evaluated the best car buffers in their own independent tests and provided related insight, data and expertise for this article. She also consulted with Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist and Executive Technical Director for the Good Housekeeping Institute, who regularly covers auto content for the brand.
Abigail (she/her) covers everything from kitchen gear to mattresses and smart blinds for the Institute, as well as assisting the General Manager in any number of projects. She graduated from Louisiana State University with a B.A. in creative writing, as well as earning her M.S. in publishing digital and print media from New York University. Before GH, she worked at LSU Press and The Southern Review literary magazine. In her free time you can find her quilting, cross-stitching or trying to figure out how to squeeze one more bookshelf in her tiny apartment.
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7 Best Skin Scrubbers and Spatulas of 2023we teamed up with our automotively inclined friends at Car and Driver for their expert opinions on all things car buffers. ✔️ Dual action v. rotary: ✔️✔️ Pads and other accessories: ✔️ Safety features: ✔️