View Full Version : Rotary Buffers versus Random Orbital Polishers

Mike Phillips
May 15th, 2006, 02:15 PM
Rotary Buffers versus Random Orbital Polishers (http://meguiarsonline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=12996)

There are two types of machines commonly used in the detailing industry and in this article we'll do our best to explain the differences between these two different types of machines as well as which machine works best for which procedure and more important, which tool will works best for your car care needs. We also know there is a lot of fear surrounding the use of a machine to polish the paint on a car because of the perceived risk of either burning the paint, or instilling swirls into the paint. We think after reading this article you will have the confidence to try machine polishing with one of these two machines while understanding when to turn to a professional when circumstances require the other machine.

There are two primary types of tools or machines that are commonly used in the detailing industry to either correct imperfections in the paint, or apply different types of polishes and waxes. These would include,

Direct Drive Rotary Buffers
Random Orbital Polishers
The primary difference between these two types of tools is the manner in which the pads move when these tools are powered-up. Let's take a close look at both types of tools and the way the drive mechanism operates.

Rotary buffers
Rotary buffers are drastically different in the way they work compared to Random Orbital Polishers. The drive unit used in a rotary buffer is referred to as a direct drive motor. What this means is the auger, (the threaded part to which the backing plate attaches), is driven directly off the electric motor and drive mechanism. This results in a powerful rotating motion that spins a buffing pad in a clockwise direction as you look at the rotary buffer from behind, as though you were holding it while buffing on a panel.


Because the rotary buffer is a direct drive machine, it can do a lot of work very quickly. By the word work, we mean, the rotary buffer has the ability and the power to remove a lot of paint from off the surface very quickly. Meguiar's understands the average person doesn't want to remove precious paint, or film-build from their car's finish; however, sometimes removing paint is necessary in order to create a high gloss, defect-free finish. Example: If you have a scratch in your car's finish, say someone keyed your car, or a cat jumped up on the hood and left behind claw scratches, or even the light scratches caused by improper car washing using tatty wash mitts. From a horizontal point of view of your car's paint, these scratches would look like this,


In order to remove these scratches, you will need to remove enough paint surrounding the scratches in order to make the surface level. Example: In the below pictures, the clear coat paint shaded in pink will be removed.


As you can see in this example, removing the scratches will require removing quite a bit of paint material, and in the case of the deep key scratch (where the arrow is pointing), you will not be able to completely remove it without exposing the base, or color coat of paint. This is a situation where you are better off improving the scratch, not completely removing the scratch.


Second Example: Many cars, after being painted, are wet-sanded after the paint has initially dried in order to remove any orange peel or to bring the surface to a show car quality finish. While wet-sanding removes flattens out and remove defects from out of the paint it tends to leave it's own sanding marks in the paint, which must then be removed typically by buffing over the sanding marks using a cutting compound, with some type of cutting pad on a rotary buffer. The cutting compound abrades the paint, removing, or leveling the finish until it’s completely flat.

Sanding marks left in the paint after wet-sanding

Removing enough paint to remove the sanding marks

If done successfully the result will be flat or level surface that will polish to a high gloss.

After the surface is buffed flat, it will then be polished with a cleaner/polish like Meguiar’s M-83 Dual Action Cleaner/Polish with the rotary buffer to restore a swirl-free, high gloss finish. Rotary buffers are necessary to do both of these procedures because both of these procedures require that some portion of the paint is removed and in the hands of a trained professional, the rotary buffer is the fastest and most effective machine for removing below surface defects, or in other words, the rotary buffer is the fastest and most effective machine available for removing small particles of paint in a controlled manner with the end-result being a more perfect looking finish.

Rotary buffers most commonly look similar to these machines in the pictures below.


Random Orbital Polishers
The motors and drive units used to build random, orbital polishers offer two different mechanical actions to spin the buffing pad when cleaning, polishing or adding a coating of wax to an automotive finish. Unlike a rotary buffer however, instead of using a direct drive mechanism to rotate the buffing pad in one direction, orbital polishers use a mechanism that causes the pad to both rotate in a circle and at the same time the pad oscillates in an eccentric pattern inside this larger, main rotating pattern or action of the machine...

The combined rotating action and eccentric action of a Random Orbital Polisher.

Here are some examples of some common traditional orbital polishers..

http://archive.meguiarsonline.com/gallery/data/500/2OrbitalPolisher3.jpg http://archive.meguiarsonline.com/gallery/data/500/2OrbitalPolisher2.jpg http://archive.meguiarsonline.com/gallery/data/500/487MikesOrbitalPolisher.jpg

Unlike a rotary buffer however, Random, Orbital Polishers are much safer and dramatically less likely to instill swirls or burn-through the paint for a number of different reasons including the slower speed of the rotating action, the buffering-effect the oscillating action provides, and in the case of some random orbital polishers, the drive mechanism includes a clutch which will allow the pad to stop rotating when too much pressure is applied the machine when the pad is in contact with the paint.

Meguiar's G100 Dual Action Polisher
It is this latter random orbital polisher that Meguiar's offers call the G100 Dual Action Polisher, that has gained in popularity in the last half a dozen years and has introduced a plethora of enthusiasts to the world of machine polishing because it's both very effective at removing below surface defects such as swirls and scratches, while remaining incredibly safe for use by just about anyone, even children because it's small, lightweight and easy to operate.

Here is an example of Meguiar's Dual Action Polisher

A young girl using Meguiar's G100 Dual Action Polisher to work on her parents Mercedes-Benz.

The G100 Dual Action Polisher is so safe that in fact it's virtually impossible to apply too much concentrated pressure in one place at one time and instill swirls or burn the paint because anytime too much pressure is applied, the rotating and oscillating action will stop, thereby protecting your car's finish.

Because these types of machines oscillate instead of rotate, they will not instill the dreaded buffer swirls or holograms into your finish as long as you use the appropriate chemicals, buffing pads and bonnets. This safety feature makes these machines highly popular with enthusiasts who would like to use a machine but at the same time, are afraid of burning or inflicting swirls into their car's finish.

Both the G-100 and Traditional Orbital Polishers offer a number of benefits:

Uncomplicated – Remove from box, attach buffing pad or bonnet, plug in, turn on, start buffing.
Versatile – Can be used for cleaning, polishing, and applying waxes.
Takes most of the labor out of the process, the machine does the work, all you do is hold it.
Faster, more thorough - you can cover more area and do a better job with a machine.
Creates a more uniform, higher gloss finish than your hands could ever do.
Pushes polishing oils and protective waxes into the pores and microscopic surface imperfections far better than your hands could ever accomplish.
In recent years, Meguiar's G-100 has become the machine of choice over the older style Random Orbital Polishers for a number of different reasons:

Smaller size and lighter weight makes them easier for anyone to use.
Very easy to control, requires no previous experience or skill to use correctly.
Smaller size enables you to work on small panels and tight areas easier with better control.
More options for buffing pads and bonnets.
Velcro® interface makes changing between pads fast and easy.
Variable Speed options provide more power to remove swirls and scratches.
Although the Meguiar's G100 Dual-action Polisher can remove swirls and scratches, they do not offer the same level of power and force to be used to remove sanding marks over an entire car, this is a job for the rotary buffer and a trained professional.

Remember, using a rotary buffer successfully requires both skill and experience. If you use a rotary buffer and are not skilled in its use, you can easily apply too much pressure to the paint and burn right through it, requiring a new paint job.

For more information on using machines to polish your car's finish, check out Meguiar's very popular and busy online discussion forum at,


matt colvin
May 15th, 2006, 02:23 PM
Good Post :xyxthumbs

This post should help save you alot of time in the future.

Mike Phillips
May 15th, 2006, 02:27 PM
Originally posted by matt colvin
Good Post :xyxthumbs

This post should help save you alot of time in the future.

It's not done yet, it's a work in progress, but thank you. :)

May 15th, 2006, 03:54 PM
Mike, Very good post as always. I enjoy reading your works in progress.

35th Anniversary SS
May 16th, 2006, 09:00 PM
Another bookmark saved...

Thanks Mike!

Although Im pretty sure these bookmarks will become a little less needed once I watch this video sittin' on my desk of some cool dude workin' on a pretty Vette. :xyxthumbs

Jun 25th, 2019, 10:20 PM
hello, sorry but I need a confirmation. I should not use a rotary buffer with Meguiar water spot remover ? I should do it with pads ? Thanks a lot.