Polish, Compound, Wax, Buff,… These terms get thrown around a lot during discussions about car detailing. Often, they are used interchangeably without regard to their real meaning. However, they all have very distinct meanings and knowing how they differ can make a world of difference. Whether you have a show car or just want to have your daily car looking it’s best, learning about the detailing process will insure that you are getting the most out of your time and money.
Before we look at the difference between these terms it is best to get an understanding of what paint correction is.
Picture the painted surface of your car as a smooth, mirror like plane. Over time, dust, dirt, and other contaminants build up on that smooth surface. Unfortunately, the process of washing this dirt and dust away causes the fine particles to act like sandpaper, scratching and digging grooves into the once smooth clearcoat surface. As these fine scratches build up, the surface becomes dull and hazed. Paint correction is the use of specialized machines and polishing agents to slowly remove microscopic layers of clearcoat to once again make the surface smooth and mirror like.
A buffing or polishing machine (here the words are safely used interchangeably), is a handheld machine with a motorized spinning head. Foam or fiber pads are placed on the head and used to spread wax or polishing agents onto the painted surface.
Think of wax as makeup for your car. Though it is often applied with a buffing or polishing machine, it is simply a coating which fills in the scratches – making them harder to see. Over time the wax is worn and washed away, once again, revealing the underlying scratches. In terms of paint correction, wax is purely cosmetic. It will make your car look good for a short time, but does nothing to remove the underlying scratches.
Removing the scratches requires the slow removal of microscopic layers of clear coat to, once again, level out the surface. Compounding agents or leveling agents are specifically formulated liquids that, when added to the rotating pad of a buffing or polishing machine, act as extremely fine grit sandpaper to slowly shave down the clear coat surface.
Once the compounding agents have done the heavy lifting, a polish is then used to remove any final haze and add to the depth and clarity of the finished surface. Think of polish as an even finer grit sandpaper that is used to fine tune the newly leveled surface, revealing a beautiful, highly polished surface.
Once the painted surface is perfected, it is now ready for a protective layer. Protection comes in the form of waxes and paint sealants. Waxes and sealants are applied in the same way, but offer differing types of protection. Both will protect the painted surface from acid rain, fallout, bird droppings and tree sap. A paint sealant is a synthetic polymer that will provide a high gloss finish yet will last much longer than a wax – up to a year in some cases. It was once the case that though waxes wouldn’t last as long, they would provide a higher gloss and deeper shine. However, paint sealants have come a long way in the last few years – almost making waxes obsolete. Today’s paint sealants have a higher melting point than wax, allowing them to last longer in extreme elements while still providing the depth and shine provided by a wax. Waxes can also be applied over a paint sealant – further protecting the hard work that went into your car.
Taking the sealant process one step further, we enter into the world of polymer coatings. Polymer coatings chemically bond to factory clear coat to provide a permanent protective layer. Here at AQS we specialize in a specific protective coating, Opti-Coat PRO by OPTIMUM Products. Opti-Coat PRO is a ceramic coating that is approximately 100 times thicker than typical wax and sealant products. Opti-Coat PRO is a permanent coating that will protect the factory clear coat from harsh chemicals and environmental fallout, provide increased scratch resistance, easy maintenance and permanent gloss. OPTIMUM Products is so sure about the durability of this coating that it comes with a 5 year warranty.
We can now see that the act of buffing is not synonymous with polishing, compounding, or waxing. Buffing is a generalized term for making a surface smooth and shiny. Compounding and Polishing are similar in that they fall under the paint correction umbrella, yet vary in the amount of surface that they remove. Waxing, sealing, and coating are similar in that they all offer protection for the recently corrected surface.
Each of these processes requires special tools and many years of experience to perfect. Paint correction should always be preceded by a thorough washing and claybar surface preparation to remove any surface contaminants. Any contaminants left on the surface can be picked up by the buffing agents and act like sandpaper – easily ruining a good deal of hard work.
Today’s automotive finishes are complex and designed to look good for many years with minimal effort. However, a professional detailing can bring out the true beauty of your car’s finish – sometimes making it look even better than it did when it was new! Even if you don’t plan on attempting paint correction yourself, knowing what the procedure entails will insure that you get the most out of your detailing dollar.