Question: I have seen power-tool polishers for waxing cars sold in hardware stores, and I am wondering if they are worth the price. I wax my car several times a year and would be happy if I could spend less time doing it. Do these really make the job go faster?--S.P.
Answer: In general, power polishers will make the job of waxing a car, particularly a full-size car, go quicker. But they have a few disadvantages that you should be aware of before you spend the $30 to $70 that they typically sell for.
I recently purchased a polisher to evaluate, a national brand made in the United States. Like most on the market, this particular polisher features a polishing pad with an orbital motion that it is supposed to simulate the motion your hand makes when you manually polish your car.
Since the pad does not rotate at high speed, it will not damage your car's paint, according Mike Thompson, a manager at Black & Decker, a manufacturer of polishers. A professional rotary polisher can damage a car if used incorrectly because the high-speed pad can heat the paint or wear through it in seconds.
To some auto-body professionals, however, any power polishing tool in the hands of the average consumer is a big mistake because of the potential for damaging the often-delicate paint on new cars.
The polisher I evaluated has two foam bonnets that are used to apply and remove wax, either paste or liquid. A simulated sheep skin bonnet is used to polish the finish.
I found that the polisher made the job of applying the wax go much faster than normal. The polisher gave my compact car a reasonably good rub-out in about 15 minutes.
One problem I discovered involved the limited ability of the polisher to operate around trim work and corners. I had to do those areas manually. On a large car, the polisher would be very beneficial in waxing the large door, hood and trunk panels. On a smaller car, these areas don't take nearly as much time to do by hand.
The real problem was in removing the wax. I found the polisher was not capable of removing the dry wax completely, possibly because I had applied more wax than the machine was capable of cutting through. Only a very small amount of wax should be applied to the car, Thompson said.
One other noteworthy point about these polishers is that they are designed to be virtually "idiot proof," according to the manufacturer. This means that the tools are not going to be sufficiently powerful to tackle a major rub-out on a car. If your car's paint is severely weathered or oxidized, an orbital polisher may not be the right tool to use. It is likely to be quicker than rubbing out the car by hand, but it could still take hours to do the job.
Auto-body shops would not use an orbital polisher to rub out paint. For this job, they would use a powerful rotary polisher that will quickly cut paint, a task that is beyond the skill of most non-professionals.
Several polishers are widely available at hardware and auto-parts stores. The two most popular brands are Black & Decker and Wen. The similarities are that they both have about the same size motor and the same orbital speed. The differences involve how the tool is held and the type of polishing bonnets.
Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.