Different Types of Car Buffers and Their Uses USA 2023

Types of Car Buffers

Car buffers and polishers are among the most misunderstood aspects of auto detailing. You have probably been confused by the different types of machines and which would be best for the job.

In this article, we will learn about some different types of car buffers that are used in car detailing.

Also Read: How to Polish a Car With an Orbital Buffer? [Full Guide]

Main Parts of a car buffer

There are 4 main parts to a modern car buffer or polisher. There is the motor, the spindle, the backing plate, and the pad.

Car Buffer Parts
Car Buffer Main Parts
  • Polisher Motor: An electric or pneumatic motor drives the spindle at a variable speed.
  • Polisher Spindle: A spindle is attached to the motor that spins the backing plate. The drive can be free spinning or fixed.
  • Polisher Backing Plate: They are made of rubber or plastic plate that attaches to the spindle and holds the pad.
  • Polisher Pad: These pads hold the polishing compound. They can be made from foam, microfiber, wool, or a combination of these materials.

Types of Machine Polishers

In general, there are two primary types of buffers and polishers: Rotary and Orbital. The terms mostly refer to the way the pad rotates around the motor. 

In a rotary buffer, both the spindle and pad rotate together in one direction. It doesn’t vibrate, oscillate, or orbit. 

In an orbital polisher, the spindle and pad move on different axes, causing the pad to vibrate, oscillate, or orbit (like the Earth around the Sun).

There are three types of orbital polishers: Fixed Orbital, Dual Action Random Orbital, and Dual Action Forced Rotation. Below we explain how these types differ.

Types of Orbital Polisher

1. Fixed Orbital Polishers

Often called “Wax Spreaders,” these orbitals have motors mounted on top. They are usually shaped like bells. They are typically low-amperage, low-speed tools that are sometimes called “Random Orbital Polishers.” 

Rather than spinning like most orbitals and rotaries, they oscillate around a fixed axis to mimic hand waxing. Instead of removing the pads, these tools use bonnets that cover the pads. 

Although these tools are great for applying and removing waxes and sealants, they aren’t great for compounding and polishing. They cannot remove anything other than superficial defects due to their low power, speed, and lack of rotation. 

Vibrations caused by the oscillating pad are also quite uncomfortable for prolonged use. Dual-action random orbital polishers are recommended if you are trying to perfect the surface and appearance of your paint.

2. Dual Action Random Orbital Polisher

Affectionately known as DA Polishers, DA Buffers, or Random Orbital Polishers, these are the most common machine polishers used for compounding and polishing clear coat paints. 

Beginners, hobbyists, and professionals use them. An orbital polisher with dual action is similar to a DA sander. 

In most cases, the spindle is mounted perpendicular to the motor and is much larger than the motor because the counterweight is necessary to balance the polisher’s action.

3. Forced Rotation Polisher

Similar to a Dual Action Random Orbital, these polishers have a pad that spins on an axis offset from the spindle’s axis. 

These tools differ in that the pad does not spin on its own due to the orbiting motion of the spindle. Instead, it is driven directly by a gear set. As a result, pressure will not stop the pad.

Also Read: How to Wax a Car With a Buffer [6 Easy Steps]

Difference between Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher

Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Appearance

Rotary Buffer AppearanceOrbital Polisher Appearance
Their shape is similar to that of an angle grinder machine since that is where they originatedSimilar appearance to dual-action sanders
Some include a removable or fixed handleSome have been handled over the top, out the side, or are simply covered in grippy rubber.
Most USA-made rotary buffers will have a 5/8″ diameter 11 threads per inch sized male arbor on the spindle that the backing plate screws ontoIn most USA-made DA-style orbital polishers, the backing plate screws into a 5/16″ diameter 24 thread per inch female threaded hole.
Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Appearance

Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Function

Rotary Buffer FunctionOrbital Polisher Function
Circular rotation with an axis at the center of the spindleThe pad and backing plate spin on a different axis from the spindle
Rotates in a single directionPad and backing plate rotation can be forced or free spinning (or both!)
The motor drives the device directlyVariable speed
Variable Speed
Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Function

Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Uses

Uses of Rotary BufferUses of Orbital Polisher
removing moderate to heavy swirls, defects, and sanding marks quicklyIt is commonly used to remove light to moderate defects. Advanced pads and compounds have made it possible to remove heavy defects and sanding marks as well.
It can be used to spread wax, but it isn’t commonWax application and removal
Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Uses

Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Pads

Rotary Buffer PadsOrbital Polisher Pads
The most used pads are wool and foam, but microfiber and wool are also usedThe most common type of pad is foam or microfiber
Larger pads are more aggressive due to increasing outer diameter speedTo remove polishes and waxes, place bonnets over pads
Pad size doesn’t affect machine performanceVibratory motion generates heat between the pad and the backing plate
No color standard between pads and typesLarger pads reduce machine performance, resulting in a less aggressive machine
No color standard between pad brands and types
Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Pads

Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Risks

Risks of Rotary BufferRisks of Orbital Buffer
Pad friction with paint generates heatPad motion greatly reduces risk over rotaries
The heat generated between the pad and paint is great at the pad edgePutting pressure on an orbital pad slows it down, so excess pressure and speed are much less risky
Cutting performance is greater at the edge of the padWhile aggressive pads can leave behind micro marring, it’s very hard to damage clear coats or do any real damage
Using too much pressure or staying in one spot for too long will cause burns, swirls, and hologramsOn flat surfaces, burning through paint is highly unlikely
It is easier to waste clear coat and paint when the material is removed faster
Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Risks

Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Difficulty

Rotary Buffer DifficultyOrbital Polisher Difficulty
Learning to use tools properly takes timeIn only a few minutes, you can learn how to safely use the tool
Chance of damaging paint while learning is highThe chance of damaging paint while learning is low
Perfecting the use of tools takes practiceThe tool requires much less practice than a rotary tool to perfect its use
Rotary Buffer vs Orbital Polisher: Difficulty

What is the Best Buffer for Beginners?

I recommend starting with a 6′′ Dual Action Random Orbital Polisher. It gives you plenty of power and ability with almost no risk of damaging your paint. With the 6″ polishers, you can run a wide range of backing plates and pads.

Those on a budget can opt for the Harbor Freight Chicago Electric 6′′ DA Polisher.

You could also consider the Porter Cable 7424XP or Griots Garage G9 DA Polisher if your budget allows it. Although the Griots Garage G9 costs the most, it is also the smoothest and quietest to run.

Also Read: 9 Best Car Polishers and Buffers (Reviewed)
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