Polishing vs Wax vs Coating, Hand vs Machine – What is What?!

Sep 22, 12 Polishing vs Wax vs Coating, Hand vs Machine – What is What?!
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Typically when we talk about the wax, sealant, polish subject – this is one of the most misunderstood subject for car enthusiasts. First off, if you are not a car enthusiast then probably you won’t bother to read this article at all in the first place. We hear a lot of definition being thrown around – Wax, sealant, glaze, polish, compound using various means from hand; machine classified from orbital, rotary, dual action and so forth. It can’t be blamed, as due to the amount of products available at the market today – they seemed to each use their own definition (non-standard) that literally confused the typical consumer if you do not know what you are looking for.
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First off, we are going to start of the subject focusing on just using hand and why you need to do it. By doing it, what are the effects on the paintwork of your car and how you can prolong the “pristine” status of your car.
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First of let us clear the definition: what is the difference between them.
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Wax, Sealant – When u see this, it is typically indicating coating of the layer on top of your paint to provide protection as well as beautifying it. The word “wax” was used till today as previously it was really a pure “wax” being used for the protection. “Sealant” are similar to wax, typically used to classify those “synthetic wax”.
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Polish – When you see the word “polish”, basically it means that the product are typically abrasive in nature, what it does was to erode some layers of your paint to smoothen out or clean or even remove scratches. The abrasiveness may be in the form of “mechanical” or “chemical” – but anyhow, this does not matter for now as the end effect is the same.
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Cleaner wax / sealant – you may or may not hear this – but when you see the word “cleaner” – this product basically sits in between wax and polish – it basically have a small degree of abrasiveness in order to clean and protect at the same time. Think of it as a mix of Polish and wax together.
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Coating – this is a new category all together, I put this in as this is very popular nowadays as it seems everybody would want to do it when they have a new car. So what is it really?? To me, think of it as a more reliable wax – really … as it functions basically the same just that it is supposed to last longer and make your job easier during wash as it is supposed to provide a slippery surface to ease off cleaning.
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I put the following in series of simple question and answer as I don’t want to bore you with the story:
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Do you need wax? – yes if you want your protect your car and make it beautiful.
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When do I use it? – every time after you wash your car, dependent on how hardworking you are. Some last week, months or years dependent on the product you use. This applies to “coating” as well.  They don’t last forever though. Some point in time, you will need to recoat or re-wax. A good way is using your fingers to feel your paint and wax. They tells a lot of story.
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What if I don’t use it? – eventually your paint would wear off faster to a point where it won’t be shiny, hence looking dull and your car looks like a granma.
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Which is better? – there is no definitive answer, dependent on how serious you are, how much you want to spend and how much time you want to spend. Typical business folks will just send in their car for coating and pay out for people to maintain for them. If you want to know my opinion, send me a message and I’ll let you know what I think.
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You get what you pay right? – no .. to a certain extent. There is always an optimum level in terms of value for money. The “great look” or “shine” often comes from preparation of the paint surface, and not the wax applied to it. This is another topic for another time – “swirl free”, “orange peel”, “wet sanding” comes into play. My opinion is that the mid price product are the best – as they are easy to use and provide sufficient “gloss” when used correctly. Lower end products are ok, but they need more hard work. Not all of them are the same.
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Do you need a machine for waxing?  - you can buy a orbital machine to ease the job, but for me I find that using hand is sufficient. Use a mid price product, as they are very easy and fast to use with minimum buff.
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How to make the wax last longer? –what you have is one but the upmost importance is the cleaning process. Without proper cleaning, the wax you put on basically sticks to the dirt instead of the paint. This also bring us to claying whereby you remove contaminant from the surface. Unlike polish, it won’t correct the surface but with only minor abrasiveness. It is similar to the effect of “cleaner wax”
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Next on,
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Do you need to polish? – Yes, because when you drive, you induced scratches no matter how careful you are. When you wash, it is the same. We living in the tropics such as Malaysia are susceptible to “water marks” due to rain. Eventually you will need to polish your car for it to look good. For hard dirts like stains, bugs and so forth – get a good cleaner wax. A tar remover is also handy to do some heavy cleaning or light scratch removal.
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Do you need a machine? – For minor scratches or routine maintenance or cleaning of stains – no. Basically a machine is required to accelerate the overall process. You can do the same with hand, it just takes longer. However for serious correction like removing swirls or heavy scratches – a machine is a must. The machine must be either a “Rotary” or “Dual Action” – “orbital” machine does not have enough firepower to do heavy correction. “Dual Action” is between “Rotary and Orbital” in strength whereas “Rotary” is a must if you are serious for big tasks. The “Rotary” also must be speed variable – typical ones are the “Makita” or the lesser “Hitachi”.
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In summary what is the correct sequence:
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1.   Do a correct wash, clean properly – feel the paint. Is it smooth? Do refer to the last washing article published.
2.   If not, then probably you need to clay it. If you don’t have a clay, then you will have to use a cleaner wax after drying.
3.   After wash, dry the car properly (minimize water marks).
4.   If you want to polish, this is time for you to clean the contaminants, correct the scratches and so forth using hand or machine.
5.   After all the correction, it is time to wax, coat, seal  … take note though one of the most mistakes people do is overuse too much amount during waxing. After that, they will have a hard time to buff. Use moderately and you can save up you muscle. You don’t need a machine if performed properly.
6.   Buff off anything additional off the surface. Feel the paint, it should be buttery smooth. If not then, probably you should clay at step 2.
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 Writer: behcw loves fast cars & music, photography, cycling and sports. An avid detailer due to the love of cars. Favorite past times are Japanese Anime and Kamen Riders – was and still the Old Boy that never grew up.

 

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10 Comments

  1. pickup driver /

    thank for sharing such good tip to maintain our car..

    • The credit goes to our resident detailing guru, behcw. My knowledge in the area of detailing pales compared to his so I’m really glad he’s on board

  2. hi Kevin,
    I just booked one mpv. On your opinion, is it better if I straight away do the coating process at the coating shop for that new mpv when delivered?
    Is it Sierra Glow good?
    Which one better? wax? sealant? polish or coating?

    Much appreciate your opinion.

    Regards
    Riz

    • Hi Riz,

      Like in the recent article done by Autodetailer found here:-

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=540647429296529&set=a.223280394366569.73079.148771698484106&type=1&theater

      Any new car goes through a process of storage and transportation before arriving at the dealership. It would most likely have gone through a process of washing, polishing and waxing before you get the keys to your new ride. Most of these so-called quick detailing done in house are volume based and not focused on quality so don’t be surprised to find holograms or minor scratches on your car paint before you even drive it out. If you don’t see them, it could also be due to a layer of wax hiding the imperfections and after a couple of washes, they would suddenly appear out of nowhere. It is ALWAYS better to get your car to be professionally detailed as soon as possible so yes, I would, within the first 3 days of getting my new car to be sent to the detailing centre.
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      As to which protection material to use, it really depends on your preference (and commitment towards maintaining the car). Coatings are best for those who don’t really have much time to do much washing themselves. Wax and sealants are for those who loves the immaculate shine and gloss of their cars and can dedicate some of their time (and/or money) to apply them (correctly, of course). Regardless of which you choose, no material can protect it from spider webs caused by repeated washing so know the limitations.
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      IMHO, Sierraglow is a value-for-money product as the centre does not charge too much to do the coating for a car and provides a 5 year guarantee on its shine. I have done it on my white Peugeot before and for the price charged, I cannot complain too much. Coatings still require you to wash regularly though (only it’s easier to wash dirt off) and after some time, you may find water marks on the car body when water droplets evaporate from the car under the hot sun. Revisits are necessary to get those marks off.

      P.S: I’m not Kelvin :)

  3. hi Kelvin,

    I had my car painted in red, I found red paint quickly faded. how to ensure the paint last longer? do i need to coat my car? i found it too expensive.

    • Hi Amy,

      Reds look stunning when detailed properly and despite what others say, not all red paint fades quickly. I remember when I first started, my friend, who drives a candy red Honda Civic EG had one of the most salivating red I’ve ever seen. The use of low grade, low quality red paint would have a different lifespan compared to an expensive one.
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      Still, red pigments are the ones that usually suffer the most and paint protection is always a good thing. I don’t quite get what you mean by “too expensive”. Even the cheapest Soft 99 wax is better than no wax. It all depends on your effort (and budget)

  4. fuel cell phone /

    nice article bro, but perhaps you could add more info like recommended product, recommended place to do coating, etc.

    as for myself, i really don’t have much time to wash my car @ m.a.l.a.s hehehe so what i usually do, send my car to car wash which got offers cheaper price for members (need to apply membership) and do wash + wax (rm 2x) every 2 weeks or earlier. also, when enough points collected, do polish.

  5. Nice article bro. My car bonnet n roof paint faded n it’s a bit rough. What should I do to make it shine back.

    • I believe that would depend on the amount of clear coat left on it. If it is still intact, then compounding helps. But if you’re saying the color is fading, I suspect the base coat is compromised and a respray may be necessary. Bring it to a professional detailer and ask for their opinion

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