As with any project that involves painting, there’s a certain procedure you need to follow when painting your car. The dry times, different coats, primer, paint, and buffing – all of it can seem like a daunting task.
The general consensus in the car community is that you should wait a minimum of 30-90 days after a new paint job to wax your car. Buffing and polishing can be done after 24-48 hours.
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The Car Paint Process, Simplified
In order to understand why you should give your paint some time to cure before buffing it, let’s examine a simplified version of the process involved in painting your car.
In most cases, the body of a car is stripped of any rust or imperfections and then sanded smooth. Then a primer is applied in order to seal the bodywork and create a clean, smooth surface for the paint job.
Afterwards, paint is applied, and then a sealant coat to finish it off. In between applying all of the layers, each one needs a certain amount of time to dry before you can move on to the next step. The length of time to dry for each paint, primer, and lacquer coat is highly dependent on the brand.
The Troubles of Not Waiting
If you’ve ever put a second coat of paint on a wall without letting the first coat dry completely, you’ve probably run into the issue of the paint peeling or becoming uneven.
This same concept applied to all the layers involved in painting or repainting a car. Not allowing the primer to dry before adding your paint will leave an uneven finish and will most likely lead to having to start the whole process over.
If you apply lacquer to paint that hasn’t dried enough (or if any sanding hasn’t been done prior), the lacquer won’t bond properly, could run, and could ruin the entire paint job.
Buff vs. Wax vs. Polish
Although these words sound similar, and the process is similar, buffing, waxing, and polishing each have different uses.
In most cases, polishing is done before buffing and waxing in order to even out the paint and as the first step for preparing the finishing touches. Polishing uses high grit abrasives, usually on a polishing wheel.
Buffing usually uses a low grit abrasive in combination with a buffing compound to remove surface imperfections. Most times, buffing is done after polishing.
As the last step in the process, waxing is a type of buffing that applies a smooth, protective wax coat over the paint. After all of the imperfections have been polished and buffed out, wax seals it all to protect your car’s paint from the elements.
How Long to Wait
So why can you buff and polish after a couple of days, but you can’t wax? Well, the answer has to do with the dry and the cure times of most clear coats and lacquers.
Polish and Buff after 1-2 Days
After about 24 hours, any clear coat on a paint job will be “cured” enough to be sanded and buffed but also still soft enough to be manipulated by the grit on the buffing and polishing wheel.
The variation in time will depend on the temperature, with colder temperatures taking longer to dry and warmer temperatures drying quicker.
The clear coat being slightly soft is also why it’s not recommended to wash your freshly painted car for at least a couple of weeks. Because even though it can be polished, it can be scratched by any kind of dirt or debris if it’s not washed properly.
Wax After 3 Months
Even though the clear coat is dry to the touch after a few days and you can safely buff it, you don’t want to apply wax until it’s fully cured and no longer soft. This can take anywhere from 30-90 days, depending on the manufacturer of the clear coat.
Even though the terms polish, buff, and wax can be somewhat confusing, it’s important to understand the differences so that you don’t end up ruining your new paint job. Buffing and polishing can be done fairly soon after applying paint, but hold off on the wax for at least one month.