Most car owners have a love-hate relationship with the polishing process. While it does wonders for your vehicle’s appearance and overall performance, it’s still a demanding job for car owners who may not have enough time in their already busy schedules. Either way, you may want to know how long it takes to polish your car, and whether there are any ways to speed up the process.
It takes about 1-8 hours to polish a car, depending on the size and complexity of your project. While smaller, partial jobs can take less than an hour of your time, bigger vehicles might require more than 8 hours to perform a complete and professional polish.
In this article, I’ll dive more into how long it takes to polish a car and the variables that affect this timeframe. I’ll also give you tips on how to speed up this process, as well as my take on whether polishing your car for too long can damage its paint.
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How Long Does It Take To Polish a Car?
As much as you’d rather avoid it, polishing your car is essential to maintaining its appearance and performance. The process gets rid of oxidation, scratches, and other imperfections. That’s why you’ll want to dedicate a few hours of your day polishing your car. (Don’t worry: You’ll only need to do it about once or twice a year.)
It takes four hours on average to polish a car. However, depending on your experience, skill level, and the type and size of your vehicle, the process can last anywhere from 35 minutes to 13 hours (according to experts).
Here’s a breakdown of each factor that affects the length of time it takes to polish your car.
Technical knowledge and skill level. While an experienced car owner might have the motions down and finish polishing their vehicle in under a few hours, newbies might need to dedicate a full working day to the process. Also, newbie mistakes like polishing without inspecting for debris on the surface of the car can bump up the time required to do a thorough polish (more on that later).
Additional work needed. For example, you may need to decontaminate your vehicle and wait for it to dry out. This additional work can prolong the time it takes to polish your car. If your car has any obvious signs of damage, you may need to work on those first before you start your polishing process.
Amount of breaks you take. Given that this project is likely to turn into a whole-day affair, you might want to factor in time for breaks throughout the job. After all, even professionals need to eat and answer the call of nature every so often. You should account for an extra hour or two when calculating the time this project might take you.
Desired thoroughness of the job. If you want to polish your car to only get rid of superficial things like scratches, you’ll take less time than someone who’s willing to invest an extra hour or two to ensure the coating is flawless and that there aren’t any swirls remaining on the surface. If any swirls happen to stick to your car, you’ll have to put in additional time to remove them.
Type and size of your vehicle. Naturally, larger vehicles will require more work than smaller ones. If your car has additional components, you may have to include those in your polishing job as well. If those extra components don’t need polishing, you’ll invest extra time into temporarily dismantling them to make the polishing process easier.
Here’s a table summarizing what reputable experts have to say about polishing cars — along with my personal comments regarding the usefulness of their information.
The person explaining this video is a trained professional. However, he doesn’t polish the vehicle in real-time, so it’s difficult to tell what his tips look like in practice. The timeframes mentioned are professional estimates.
This source gives a thorough rundown of the process. You can get a more accurate estimate of the time required to do each step in the car polishing process. Also, it gives separate estimates for interior and exterior detailing, as you can choose to do one or both.
According to this source, your run-of-the-mill polish should typically take around 4 hours for an average-sized car, while an enhancement polish might take you up to 20 hours depending on your vehicle.
How To Polish a Car
Now that you’re more familiar with the timeframe for polishing your car, it’s time to get into a more thorough discussion of what it actually entails. Remember that each polishing job will be different, meaning that depending on the type of your vehicle, your skillset, and your goals, the best steps to polish your car will differ slightly.
That said if you choose to go the DIY route and can spare a few hours to polish your car, here are the general steps to perform the best polish for your car possible.
Prepare your working space. Before polishing, park your car in a shaded area first. Since you’ll need to wash your car, you don’t want to risk soap drying onto your vehicle’s paint and dulling its finish. This is especially important if you’re going to do the work on a hot summer day. Also, you’ll want to move or cover anything on the car you don’t want to risk getting messy. You can use a tarp for this purpose.
Wash your car. If you want to do the whole thing yourself, clean your vehicle to remove any residue, debris, or dirt. You can also go to a car wash for this step and only take on the polishing process yourself. As Stauffer Garage explains in the video I previously linked, you’re essentially cleaning your car’s surface, which is why ensuring that it’s spotless and residue-free is essential.
Inspect for any remaining debris. Continuing off the last point, polishing your car when there’s even the smallest piece of debris on its surface can result in scratches and swirls that require an extra hour or two of work to remove. You’d be surprised at how small debris can be, so thoroughly inspect your car before proceeding. Use a brush designed to gently clear debris for anything you spot.
Prepare the polishing wheel. The actual polishing process starts here. First, place a clean, damp pad on the polishing wheel. You want the buffer to be moist but not soaking wet. Also, make sure to moisten the pad every once in a while. This is crucial to prevent damage to your vehicle’s paint, since a dry pad can scratch your car.
Apply the rubbing compound. Put the manufacturer-recommended amount of rubbing compound on the pad, turn on the wheel, and apply it onto your car’s paint. You can also apply the compound directly onto the surface of your vehicle, then work it into the paint using your polisher. Repeat this process one body panel at a time for a thorough job.
Master your technique. Even though it seems like a straightforward process, mastering your polisher is a skill that requires effort and practice. Always position the equipment parallel to the surface of your car (as demonstrated by Forensic Detailing Channel in the video below), as it’s the only way to avoid the dreaded swirl marks. Moisten your pad and the panel you’re working on, and apply even pressure for the best results.
Move on to another panel. Once the compound settles into your car’s paint, the scratches, oxidization, and swirls will slowly disappear. As soon as the coating gets bright and shiny, your work is done, and you can move on to another body panel. Don’t continue to polish an already shiny surface. Otherwise, you’ll dull the finish.
Rinse the pad if necessary. As mentioned, maintaining a specific moisture level for your polishing wheel pad is crucial if you’re looking to achieve the best possible results. Therefore, if your pad is getting dry or gunky, run it under clean water first. Ideally, you should do it between moving from one panel to another so you won’t forget.
Polish trim pieces last. This is especially important for those who are polishing their cars for the first time. Polishing trim pieces is an extremely delicate process, since you risk chipping into your paint’s clear coat. Be extra patient and careful when you buff around these sections.
Rinse your car again. At this point, you can give your vehicle one last thorough wash. Let it fully dry before moving on to the next step.
Apply the finishing touches. Now that the bulk of your work is done, you can apply a layer of wax coating to preserve the surface of your vehicle. The process is relatively straightforward, and you can find a thorough guide about it here. You can clean any parts left untouched throughout this process, and touch up any remaining scratches with a bit of paint.
After that last step, your work is done! You can see why the process can take up at least a few hours, but the results more than justify all that trouble and effort.
If you’re more of a visual learner, I highly recommend checking out this video from Pan the Organizer, as it’s one of the most thorough and informative tutorials you’ll find on the topic.
How To Polish Your Car Faster
Even for professionals, four hours of polishing a single car can be too much. After all, if they’re doing the same for at least a dozen other cars, that’s a recipe for inefficiency and lost profits. Luckily, thanks to the Dallas Paint Correction & Auto Detailing video I showed you earlier, I can give you a few extra tips on how to shorten the time it takes to polish your car.
Use an all-in-one polish. This rids your car’s surface of scratches, swirls, and damage while giving it an instant high-shine finish.
Be as organized and clean as you can throughout the process. The one-panel-at-a-time approach allows you to quickly and efficiently polish your car without having to worry about missed spots you’d have to go over again.
Invest in a soft-bristled brush you can gently run across your car’s surface. This cuts down on inspection time when preparing your vehicle, and ensures there’s no dirt or debris that could complicate the polishing process. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend an additional 25 minutes to an hour inspecting every nook and cranny.
If all else fails, ask for professional help. Suppose that, after polishing one panel, you realize the job takes a lot more energy than you can give. In that case, you may want to get someone else to help you — preferably someone who’s been polishing cars professionally for a long time.
Can Polishing Your Car For Too Long Damage Its Paint?
Polishing your car for too long can damage its paint. Polish compounds and wheels are abrasive, which is why if you continue the process for too long, it’ll likely be counterproductive, as it can dull and scratch your vehicle’s surface further.
That said, flakier one-component enamels are constantly being replaced with sturdier, two-layer topcoats according to an article from the Metal Finishing journal. It’s safe to assume car paints are going to get increasingly durable. That means, in the future, you might be able to polish your vehicle more often without inflicting substantial damage to it.
On average, it takes anywhere from 1-8 hours to polish a car.
However, the actual time it takes depends on factors like the size and shape of your vehicle, your technical skills, and the thoroughness you’re looking for.
With enough practice (and a few quick tips), you can significantly cut down on the time it takes to give your car a much-needed polish.
If you’re nervous about performing a professional car polish on your own, you can always enlist the help of a professional.