Long before people paid me to polish their rare and expensive cars, I was a beginner just like you. Buying and using your first dual action polisher can be a bit intimidating at first. In this post, I’m going to share a few tips with you as well as explain why I believe the Griot’s Garage Random Orbital is the best DA polisher for beginners.
There are quite a few dual action polishers on the market right now. A few years ago, the Porter Cable 7424XP was everybody’s go-to machine. While that polisher can technically do the job just fine (I still use mine regularly!), there are a lot of newer options out there.
We have short throw machines, long throw machines, forced rotation machines, and they all come in a bunch of different sizes. Trying to choose between them can be overwhelming. Is it necessary to keep up with the latest and greatest though?
Not if you don’t want to. Some professionals might gain some credibility with their customers by holding a fancy long throw polisher in their hand… and that might be a good enough reason for them to justify the purchase. But that doesn’t mean that an expensive polisher will give you better results.
If you have the money to spend, go ahead and assemble an arsenal of polishers. Having just the right size and style of machine for every area of a car will certainly make your life easier (and wallet lighter).
Most DIY detailers can’t justify that kind of investment though. And unless you’re looking for absolute perfection in the least amount of time, you don’t need them. Much like any other tool, they’re only as good as their operator. Buying a high-end machine isn’t going to make you a pro.
As a matter of fact, it’s the exact opposite. Give a seasoned paint correction expert a $50 DA polisher from Harbor Freight and they will blow the results that an amateur will get using a Rupes machine out of the water. Every. Single. Time.
Expensive long throw DA polishers like the Rupes LHR15 and Griot’s Garage Boss G21 are great machines. As a beginner though, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to take advantage of (or even notice) their benefits. That money could be better spent elsewhere.
If your answer for fixing the swirls and scratches in your paint is to throw money at the most expensive machine you can find without spending any time working on your skills, save yourself the hassle and hire a pro to do the job. It’ll cost you about the same, give you way better results, and your back will thank you.
The reality is that most DIY detailers are simply looking to make their paint look amazing in everyday lighting conditions. A stranger isn’t going to lay down on the ground and point an expensive light at their car to find minor defects in the paint.
These people just want their cars to look great whenever they look at them, whether it’s in the street lights at night time or with the direct sun blazing down on them during the day.
Does your paint need to be perfect in order to look perfect?
The thing is, your paint doesn’t have to be perfect to appear “perfect” in those conditions. Learning how to make a 75%-80% improvement is more than enough to make your vehicle stand out from the crowd in a way that most non-car people won’t understand. They just know that it “looks way better” than theirs.
Achieving this level of paint correction will remove all or most of the noticeable swirl marks and scratches, and for most car guys that’s all they want or need.
An inexpensive short throw DA polisher like the Griot’s Garage 6″ Random Orbital can make that happen. Up until only a few years ago, many professionals like Larry Kosilla of AmmoNYC were using this polisher to work on cars that are worth more than your house. Since then, a lot of pros have upgraded to the more modern long throw machines. The reason for that might surprise you.
It’s not because they do a better job. They simply do the same job more efficiently. In a professional setting, time is money. So if they can get a paint correction done in 8 hours that would normally take them 10, that’s totally worth the extra cost. For the average Joe that’s polishing his hotrod over a weekend, it’s nowhere near as important.
As a matter of fact, these high powered long throw machines can actually inflict more damage to your paint if you don’t know what you’re doing. They still aren’t as dangerous as a rotary polisher, but they definitely have the power to cause some harm. Even if you wish to buy a high-end polisher in the future, it’s safer to learn the ropes and perfect your technique on one of these “entry level” machines.
Griot’s Garage Random Orbital Polisher Overview:
The Griot’s Garage Random Orbital polisher is what’s referred to as a dual action (or DA for short) machine. This just means that it not only spins like a rotary buffer but also oscillates too. The ability to keep the pad moving over the surface even when the machine itself is staying in one place reduces the chances of burning through or overheating the paint greatly.
This specific machine features an 8mm throw. That’s considered a “short throw” compared to the newer long throw machines (12mm and up). The 850 watt, 7 amp motor provides plenty of power to keep your pad from stalling over body lines and in tight spaces. If it does stall, you’ll probably want to adjust your technique or pad size.
The Griot’s Garage Random Orbital has 6 different speed settings in 1/2 increments that are controlled by a dial on the lower end of the body. This location is easy to reach but it’s also out of the way enough to avoid touching it accidentally.
I like to make changes to my speed as I’m buffing and I find this is a much better place for the dial than some of the other polishers out there. It also has an easy to use on/off switch. Nothing too special there.
The Griot’s Garage Random Orbital polisher comes with a 6″ backing plate, the wrench to change it, and a D-handle with the appropriate hex wrench to take it on and off. Polishing pads and polishes are not included unless you purchased a bundle kit from your seller of choice. Otherwise, you’ll need to source those yourself.
Some Tips For Using It:
This machine comes with a 6″ backing plate, but I switch to a 5″ one for the majority of the time. The smaller backing plate and pads give the machine a more aggressive cut and allow it to fit into tighter areas. The lower amount of leverage it provides also helps to keep the polisher from stalling out.
I tend to use these smaller pads even when working on a large vehicle like a full-size pickup. It might seem like you’ll cover less ground, but think of it as kind of like hitting the “fast forward” button. I find this setup makes this machine more efficient.
No matter what polisher I’m using, I always remove the handle if it came with one. They can only worsen any bad form or technique you may have, and add zero advantages. Using these handles will tempt you to put more pressure on the machine than you should, and often in an uneven or tilted manner.
One important aspect of machine polishing is to keep your pad level on the surface. I strongly recommend removing it and hanging onto the rubber grip on the body lightly instead.
The extra cost of the 25-foot cord isn’t worth it. Chances are, you’ll need an extension chord no matter what. A longer chord on the machine just means you’ll have more to wrap around it when you store it. I find the 10-foot chord option with a nice long extension cord is the perfect setup. You’ll likely need that extension for your leaf blower or vacuum anyways.
I’ve been using the Griot’s Garage Random Orbital regularly for the past 3 years without so much as a hiccup. It has a strong, well-designed feel to it without being overly heavy. These polishers have a lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects.
The only complaints I’ve seen online have been about the brushes wearing out. Griot’s includes a spare set with every buffer and changing them is pretty straightforward. You can also purchase extras if need be. I’m personally on the original set without any issues. I can’t count how many vehicles I’ve used this machine on.
Other Future Uses
It’s highly likely that you’ll be tempted to upgrade to a more expensive polisher long before this one ever lets you down. If that’s the case, the money you spent on the Griot’s Garage machine isn’t necessarily wasted. First of all, simply using it a few times can easily justify its low cost.
The thing is, you don’t need to throw it away just because it isn’t your main polisher anymore. It can still be very useful for other things, making this polisher a fantastic stepping stone if you plan to upgrade eventually. Here are just a few of the things you might want to keep it around for:
Convert it for use with smaller pads
All it takes is a simple backing plate swap and you can use this polisher with 3″ or even 4″ pads. This transforms it into a very powerful tool for getting into smaller areas or dealing with curves and edges. Be careful though, because the smaller the pad, the more aggressive the cut!
Its shorter throw also makes it perfect for headlight restoration. A longer throw will actually work against you in this case when you’re trying to stay in a smaller area.
Use it to apply sealants or waxes faster
I prefer to do this by hand most of the time. But when the clock is ticking and you need to make up time on a big vehicle, using a machine really helps. Many people prefer to use short throw polishers for applying these products because of the tighter pattern the smaller throw creates. Use it with a soft finishing pad to apply a thin, even layer of the wax or sealant of your choice.
I was able to apply a layer of Jescar Powerlock+ on a full-size pickup truck last weekend in less than 10 minutes thanks to the Griot’s Garage Random Orbital.
Scrub carpets and upholstery with a brush attachment
Anyone that has spent time scrubbing away at interior stains by hand knows how tiresome it can be. Your shoulders and arms will be on fire by the time you work your way around an entire vehicle!
Some of us don’t mind the pain (hey, a workout is a workout!) but if you do, this machine can be a life saver. A brush attachment that sticks to your velcro backing plate like this one will unlock a world of new uses in your interior.
Keep it as a backup
Breakdowns are always a possibility, even with the most expensive machines. This situation can be annoying if you’re a DIY detailer, and catastrophic if you’re a professional.
Hanging onto your Griot’s Garage DA polisher could make all the difference between finishing a paint correction and having to put it on hold midway through. It’ll also come in handy if you have a friend that’s willing to give you a hand!
Possible Results Using The Griot’s Garage Random Orbital:
With all of that being said, I’m still confident that this could very well be the only DA polisher you’ll ever need. Spend some time educating yourself on paint correction, and you can use this machine to deliver professional quality results every time.
Here are a few examples of the results I’ve been able to produce with the Griot’s Garage DA polisher lately: (pay extra attention to the area the sun hits the paint – if there’s any swirls or scratches remaining, they’ll be the most noticeable there!)
Quick 2 step correction with a Meguiar’s Microfiber cutting pad and D300 compound followed by a white Lake Country polishing pad and Meguiar’s M205 on the Griot’s Garage Random Orbital polisher (then protected with Jescar Powerlock+)
Those are 2 very different vehicles with very different types of damage. Same fantastic end results. Knowing what products to use and how to use them is the key to incredible results, even with a short throw polisher!
Griot’s Garage vs Porter Cable 7424XP vs TORQ 10FX :
I personally own the Griot’s Garage machine as well as the Porter Cable 7424XP. I haven’t tried using the Torq 10FX but I’ve held it in my hands and got a quick first impression. When I have the chance to actually use it, I’ll update this post.
Porter Cable 7424XP
I use the Griot’s polisher with a 5″ backing plate and keep the Porter Cable set up for smaller pads. I prefer to quickly switch machines to suit the area I’m working on rather than change the backing plate back and forth on a single one.
For use with smaller pads, the Porter Cable does just fine. With 5″ and larger though, it becomes very apparent that this machine is underpowered compared to the others. With only a 4.5 amp, 500 watt motor, it stalls much easier than the Griot’s Garage polisher with a 7 amp, 850 watt one. It just doesn’t have enough power to keep spinning under moderate pressure or in a tight area.
All 3 of these DA polishers share the same 8mm throw so there’s nothing to compare there.
The Porter Cable 7424XP is reliable and well built, but noticeably weaker than other DA polishers on the market. I continue to use mine with smaller pads, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for a stand-alone polisher. It’s also only a few dollars cheaper than the largely superior Griot’s Garage machine.
Despite being marketed as a “professional” polisher, this one seems to be built with the hobbyist detailer in mind. Chemical Guys lists it as a 700w motor but doesn’t mention the amps.
It boasts features like a digital screen with push buttons to control speed and a soft start. In my opinion, these things are only done to make it stand out from other comparable machines. No real professional will care about that stuff, plus screens and buttons tend to fail over time. I’ll take an old-school rotary dial any day. No need to over complicate things.
One thing I really liked about the Torq polisher was the handle that’s molded into the upper part of the body. While the others just have a rubber grip there, the Torq is perfectly shaped for your hand, similar to the more expensive polishers from Rupes.
The Torq 10FX is the most expensive of the 3 and aside from a few flashy gimmicks, has nothing to brag about over the others. In the real world, the speed buttons and screen won’t increase performance at all and if anything, they might even slow you down.
My only complaint about the Griot’s Garage Random Orbital in comparison to the others is that it tends to want to fall over when you set it upside down on the ground (without the D-handle installed). This can get frustrating every time you set it down to wipe the polish off of a panel. You also risk contaminating the pad if it falls over and touches the ground or something dirty.
Aside from that, I feel that the Griot’s Garage machine is a much better buy than the Porter Cable or the Torq. It sits right in the middle price-wise and offers just the right features. It also has the best warranty.
As a hobbyist detailer, the Griot’s Garage Random Orbital is the only DA polisher you’ll ever need. I know that’s a bold statement, but they have a great track record and mine has never let me down. You might want a better machine eventually, but you won’t need it.
The Griot’s machine produces incredible results once you get your technique dialed in. And remember, your technique is the most important thing. You should spend hours educating yourself on paint correction long before you ever touch a machine to your paint. Everything you need to know is out there on the internet. Youtube, forums, and sites like this one are your friend!
I’ve never been in a situation that I thought to myself “I need a better machine to be able to do that“. As you gain experience, you’ll learn how to use different products and techniques in order to reach your desired result every time.
The Best Pads for the Griot’s Garage Polisher
I’ve always been a fan of Meguiar’s and Lake Country pads, but everyone has their own personal preference. There’s a bunch of different types of pads available out there, but you don’t need to buy all of them.
Find a cutting pad and polishing pad that you like to use, and stick with them (add a soft finishing pad if you plan to apply waxes and sealants with your machine). Some of the best paint correction experts in the world rarely use more than 2 different types of pads. The key is knowing when to use them, and how to use them.
The most important thing when buying pads, and I can’t emphasize this enough, is to buy a few of them. A single pad is nowhere near enough to polish an entire car. And rather than buying a $200+ pad cleaning machine and spending the time to clean it, it’s much easier to switch between multiple pads.
Simply complete 2 or 3 panels, then swap it with a fresh, clean pad. Failure to do so will result in the other panels you complete having nowhere near your desired outcome. As pads clog up with spent polish and paint residue, they lose their cutting ability leaving them virtually ineffective. So buy a few of each pad!
For a medium-sized vehicle, 2-4 microfiber cutting pads and 4-6 foam polishing pads should be enough. You can get away with using fewer microfiber pads by regularly blowing out any spent compound or residue with an air compressor. This helps with foam pads a bit too, but the residue tends to get trapped in the pores of the foam. It’s easier to just switch those out often.
How To Change The Backing Plate On A Griot’s Garage DA Polisher:
Changing the backing plate on your dual action polisher is easy, but a bit awkward. You’ll probably want to do this with the machine unplugged, just in case. The spline of the polisher that the plate threads into is shaped like a nut. Most polishers come with the proper tool for the job which is basically just a skinny wrench.
Slip it behind the backing plate and try to grab onto the spline. You might need to spin the machine (by hand, of course!) or insert the wrench at another angle if you can’t get it to bite. Once the wrench is holding the spline in place, simply hold it with one hand and loosen the backing plate by turning it counter clockwise. To install the backing plate, do the opposite.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: