How Often To Polish Car?

This is one question car owner asks many times, so, I thought I would answer it here once and for all!.

The truthful answer to this question is that you have to take many variables into consideration. Therefore there are many variable answers!

Some of the main areas to consider are

  • The age of the car, is old or a new car?
  • Its daily usage
  • What product will be used?
  • The surface condition of the car
Car being polishhed with a microfiber cloth to show how often to polish a car

Know what you are polishing!

Before starting the Polishing process it is important to understand what exactly you are polishing. Let me explain.

Your car paint consists of five layers, starting from the top, they are

  1. Wax
  2. Clearcoat
  3. Basecoat (The actual paint)
  4. Primer
  5. Metal panel

The polishing process involves the “Clearcoat”. You are removing a layer of the “Clearcoat” to remove the light deflecting scratches and swirls.

This will allow the true “Basecoat” color to shine through and give your car that deep, lustre wet look.

To protect that look you then apply a coat of WAX that provides another layer above the base coat to protect against road debris and UV rays.

The trouble we have here is that there are only so many times we can cut away a layer of the clear coat until we reach the base coat. 

This is why polishing your car too often or with too abrasive a polish can be harmful. This can also be exemplified if you are using a machine polisher rather than completing by hand.

The diagram below shows the various layers that make up your car paintwork.

Diagram to show what you are polishing

How Thick Is Clearcoat?

As a guide most factory clear coats are around 1.5-2.0 millimetres thick, so we do not have too much to play with as I'm sure you can imagine!

This is why we have to be particularly careful with what product we use to polish the clear coat. If the car has been previously polished with a harsh form of abrasives, such as a compound type polish.

Then it is best not to use that level again for fear of removing too much clear coat or indeed the car's paint. A finer polish is the right polish for this situation.

If you really wanted to know the exact thickness of your clear coat and paint coat, you could use a Paint Thickness Gauge tool. This measure the thickness of the paint where it is applied to the car.

To give you an idea of polish grades, here is a list starting, with the finest and gradually working down to the harshest.

  1. Finishing polish
  2. Fine polish
  3. Medium polish
  4. Heavy polish or paint correction
  5. Compound or Cutting polish

With those in mind, I hope you can now appreciate how important it is to use the correct type of polish?

Imagine your car had been polished with a heavy polish abrasive product using a rotary buffer by the garage that sold it to you.

Then 12 months later you decide to give it a polish and use some Cutting Polish you found in the garage! How much clear coat do you think would be left after those two applications?

A good rule to go by is to use the lightest grade polish you can get the desired result with. 

You can judge this by taking a good look at your overall paintwork to assess what damage has been done by looking for scratches and swirls on each panel. Another common surface defect to look for is tree sap. 

This can be removed during regular washing but may require more hard work with a wash mitt or microfiber towels if dried on.

Below is a typical high quality scratch and swirl remover. If you are noticing scratches and swirls this type of polish can give you your best results.

Bottle Of VSS scratch and swirl remover to show what to use as a medium swirl remover

How to decide what polish to use?

I start this examination with the front passenger side panel for any surface scratches, as this is usually where the greatest amount of damage is likely to be. And gives you a good idea of what the whole car will be like.

This is due to it being the part of the car that arrives at any obstruction first and is nearest to all the roadside furniture such as twigs, branches, and the worst of the road conditions.

By starting here you will likely see the worst of the general damage and it always serves as the best guide in choosing the grade of abrasive polish.

Also, note any bird droppings and swirl marks on the paint surface.

If you find some deep branch scratches and many swirls from washing with a dirty microfiber cloth then you will be looking at a heavy polish or even a cutting compound. But as mentioned earlier try and use the lightest polish possible.

Below is a typical heavy duty compound polish to remove major paint defects and deep scratches. This is the type of polish that you will get a super result if your paintwork is heavily damaged but you would not want to use too often.

Typical Cutting Compound Polish

If you have an older car that is in regular everyday use. It is parked outside in all weathers then you will likely be dealing with some UV damage and the best place to check for this will be on the roof as here is where those penetrating rays do their most damage.

Here you could easily be getting away with a Finishing Polish to just remove a slight layer of UV-damaged clear coat.

Here is a typical UV protector that can be useful if your car is parked in bright sunlight all day.

UV Protecting Car Polish

There is no problem with using a coarser polish on the areas needed and a lighter finishing polish on the UV damaged areas. Although this could prove more expensive if you have to purchase the two items.

Car Polished in Sunlight

How Often To Polish Car?

I hope I have made you aware of the options available when choosing polish now and you are more informed to make a correct choice or polish to suit the condition of your car.

Now let us take a look at the question that brought you here, “How Often To Polish Car?”

As a general rule, I would say to polish your car twice a year.

Once in the SPRING and again in the FALL. Maybe the last weekend of Winter is a great time to prepare for Spring polish.

This is because firstly polishing in the Spring this prepares the car for the harsh Summer heat.

And your cars paint will look the best for the Summer months with a perfect shine and a polished surface!

Then as those Summer hot days give way to the cooler Fall evenings it is then that you should freshen up your paintwork and give it a protective layer of a good coat of wax in preparation for the Fall and Winter extreme road conditions and road grime.

This is can be one of the pure carnauba waxes or the newer synthetic waxes. Either one will give a waxed surface protection and prevent light scratches when car is in regular use. You can also use a liquid form of wax but for the

How Often to Polish Car to look this good

Tips for Polishing Twice A Year

Here is my simple golden rule guide for getting the best results from your bi-annual polishes and getting your entire car in good shape.

  • Prepare your car well before polishing by washing it properly using a power washer, foam cannon, and two bucket wash methods. If you don't have a foam cannon you use our guide on How To Make A Foam Cannon
  • Allow Foam to dwell on the surface to relieve surface tension that holds the grime.
  • Minimize hand contact as much as possible throughout the washing process
  • Clay bar the surface of your car if you notice it rough to the feel when running a hand over it.
  • Rinse the car well with a clean water hose and allow it to dry before commencing polishing.
  • Use a dual-action polisher rather than a rotary polisher if you are a beginner.
  • Take care around fine edges and the heat can build up and damage the clear coat
  • Seal it all in with a good car wax product.