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How to Avoid Swirl Marks on Your Dark Vehicle

Words: Chase Clute
Do swirl marks and micro-fine scratches on your dark colored vehicle have you scratching your head? Do you remember the time your car looked new and illustrious even if you bought it used? Not to worry, you’re not the only person who wants the shine in their clear coat back. Believe it or not, an orbital buffer in the hands of the right person can perform wonders on dull, oxidized paint work. In reality, anyone can make their car look as close to new as possible with a little elbow grease and knowledge. Today, we’ll start with the knowledge part to get you headed in the right direction.
You’ll need an orbital buffer
If you already own a rotary buffer, then you can happily say you’re a step ahead. There are plenty of buffers out there, and which one will work for you and your budget is up to you. What I can tell you is that if you’re planning to buy a buffer, plan on spending at least $100. I was never a fan of air driven buffers, for the record, so I’m sorry to those of you who own one. For starters, unless you have a workhorse of an air compressor in your shop, an air driven buffer isn’t going to do you much good. Most air driven buffers are loud and expensive, and they don’t hold a candle to electric. I’m a huge fan of DeWalt buffers and wouldn’t give mine up. That doesn’t mean there aren’t cheaper options, so do your homework and read reviews. Another tip: Don’t buy a double-handled rotary buffer. They’re expensive, and I never used one that worked well at higher rpms.
Not all compounds are created equal
How faded and scratched your existing finish is will largely determine what type of buffing pad and compound you’ll need to purchase. If you have a preference as to which products you like to use, stick with those. For this article, I’ll refer to 3M products because I know they work. Assuming your paint finish is like the car pictured here, I’d start with #1 and the white pad. It’s important to make sure that your car has been washed before starting. Also, keep your pads clean while you’re working. Rubbing compound does have a tendency to clog up buffing pads, so have a designated pad for each rubbing compound. Do not over-apply, and keep your buffer around 1000 rpm. The faster your buffer spins, the hotter the panel gets. You don’t want to burn through the few mils of clear coat you have, so be careful. The 3M products you see pictured here make buffing simple with a #1, #2, #3 step process that, in the end, provides excellent results.