r/ZenArtofAutoDetailing by EnnuiOtter


Water spots. Hard water — especially from sprinklers — leaves mineral deposits on your paint. When it dries, the minerals etch into the clear coat. Calcified crusts that don’t wash away…

If ever there was a metaphor for life, it’s water spots. A slow accumulation of despair that leaves lasting marks.

It’s been a few weeks. After my last post I didn’t think I’d come back here. I was ashamed of the depressive spiral and mental space I was in, despite the reassuring comments (which thank you). It’s bleak for everyone (except for maybe the 1%ers) — so I guess we do all share some common experience of reality: suffering from Five/Nine as we wait for a savior who will never come to fix it.

I’ve been street parking my car (I temporarily opened my garage to a family that was out on the streets so they’d have a roof over their heads at least), and got tagged by sprinklers.

Damned water spots. All is not lost, though! This, unlike our broken world, can be undone. The secret: Distilled White Vinegar. Apply it with a sponge (pro-tip: wear rubber gloves!) or with a spray bottle (no gloves needed, but the hand cramps…). Let it sit for a minute or so, wipe it down and move on to the next section. This vinegar bath will remove the mineral deposits. If they have etched into your clear coat, use a compound and heavy cutting pad to buff it out.

I began to think about this, and if such a tonic could be applied to our metaphor. Is there a way to wash away the calcified deposits of adult life? Can you go back to happier times after you’ve gone through so much?

I don’t know if it’s possible, but the fact that there’s a trick for removing water spots helps give me some perspective. Just because you don’t know how, doesn’t mean there isn’t a way…

My dad always used to say: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

That’s a good way to understand a point of view of the world. Thinking about that old adage has made be bridge the gulf of our individual perceptions of reality. Helping me relate my perceptual experience to yours.

The world is broken and all we have is a hammer. But all is not lost. Some day someone will eventually stumble across some vinegar.

That’s how I found some hope again. And I hope that helps you, too.

[–]WhatInTheActualKylie permalink
I want you to know this post saved me. Thank you.


I found this subreddit by hitting the random button. I have a vague sense of fate and destiny and determination and all that — but I don’t think that I was delivered here randomly. I’ve enjoyed your OPs and how you relate to the world through auto detailing… something which I don’t have any connection to whatsoever (I don’t even know how to drive). You deleted all the comments on your post, so I know you saw the outpouring of support from your little community here. That’s what we are, even the most niche places. It’s dark for us all right now. Your posts helped cast some light. Come back to us, dude.



I suppose it’s strange that after all this time, I never really talked about where this subreddit derived it’s name. I liked the idea that it went unspoken — just a nod to those that might be in the know and could connect the dots… I also just liked the sound of it.

But my post about swirl marks left me thinking… troubled, really. And I wanted to dive a little deeper into some of the ideas in that post (and some others) that tie-in with Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. His book, which is less about Zen and even less about motorcycle maintenance, champions his ideas of VALUE — the fancypants name he has for it is the Metaphysics of Quality.

To Pirsig, quality and value can’t be defined because they are perceptual experiences. And because I perceive the world differently than you, we’d never be able to assign an empirical, static, agreed upon value to quality.

Here’s a passage from his book that I’ve got dog-eared:

“People differ about Quality, not because Quality is different, but because people are different in terms of experience.”

We could maybe agree upon a baseline, grouped around shared ideals of values — and maybe that’s what society is… or was, until fsociety. And maybe because of the fuzzy grey areas of an undefined value system, we allowed the space for chaos to root. But, let’s not get off on that tangent.

What’s been gnawing at me is the idea that quality — your high standards, mine — is inherently subjective, based on a multitude of world views. Your high bar might be knee-high for me. So, for example, in my post about Interior vs Exterior, I talk about about how I take pride both from a finely polished Outer Beauty, but get more satisfaction from knowing I hold consistent views about the Inner Beauty of a vehicle… that’s all qualitative, obviously. But more than it being clearly subjective; it doesn’t even have a sound foundation of reasoning given our separate perceptions of quality — of reality.

Because a cup of coffee isn’t just a cup of coffee, not for everyone. It’s all subjective.

And here’s where the sweater unravels: it’s all sort of bullshit, anyway, isn’t it?

I mean… who cares??? Honestly. Who cares about what I write in this space. That I would come on to the internet and think that someone else might give a rat’s ass about what’s pinging around in my head, is presumptuous at best and down-right ego-maniacal at worst. You are not a special snowflake. I acknowledge the fact that I am a philosophical hobbyist — basically an Armchair Quarterback; and now I’ve got the realization that maybe espousing my thoughts — forcing my values on to you — is just as annoying as a Backseat Driver. Or, worse, that the faux spiritualism my posts rub up against is as welcomed as a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses proselytizing on your doorstep.

You heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude.

Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.

You wanna talk about perceptual realities? It’s like I just took the red pill and realized what a giant dope I’ve been…

I’m just a guy with who didn’t even finish high school but coulda/shoulda/woulda gone on to greater things but I was a young know-it-all and fuckup. And now I read books to make me feel better about my station in life. As if I’m not just another loser in a godforsaken town surrounded by a bunch of other losers and that’s all I’ll ever be. So, yeah, let’s talk perceptual realities. I’ve been kidding myself, telling myself a lie. I’m just a washed-out old fool who wasted his potential on youth.

Maybe it’s how bad its gotten out there that’s gotten to me. The gloom of the outside world has crept into my innerworld, latching on to all my thoughts like a black tar. It’s hard to find hope in anything anymore. My calm and mindfulness has soured. And, honestly, I just don’t see the point in keeping this up anymore. I can only detail my own car so many times, I don’t have customers because, well you know, and I never go anywhere because gas prices — shit anything prices — being what they are. I am alone with my thoughts and I’ve come to realize just how limited and incompetent they are.

Time to throw in the towel.



I like to think that managing swirl marks are the Sisyphean task of auto detailing: you can spend an eternity polishing and polishing just for the darned swirl marks to return the next day.

Anytime you wash your car, dry it, brush up against it — come into contact with the paint at all… swirl marks are the result. You could go to extremes: have multiple micro-fiber wash mitts that you only use once; same with your micro-fiber dry towel. You could move to a touch-less wash system with a foam cannon (fine for maintenance, but not a substitute for a pre-detail wash). Point being, you could drive yourself down-right batsh*t to avoid swirl marks.

Or? There’s an ‘or’ coming, right? You know me so well, alter-ego. But maybe even you aren’t prepared for this statement coming from an author you know to be OCD:

You could learn to live with them.

I am not suggesting that you give up the good fight — your paint correction phase of detailing should still be aimed at polishing out swirl marks. But you don’t have to be so precious about it. I am giving you permission when it comes to swirl marks — I know this will be shocking advise given my detailing-borne mantra of “Sweat the Small Stuff” — but don’t sweat the small stuff.

Bear with me for a quick anecdote, if you will. I have a friend who is super into coffee. She was into pour-overs and roasting her own single-source beans long before mustachioed millennials found it fashionable. Like detailing with me, her hobby became her passion and became her calling. She had her own shop, sold her own beans, even turned down overtures from Big Coffee looking to buy her out. (Thought for a bit after the world went to hell in a handbasket that she’d regret that, but she’d later told me it just woulda made for a higher fall.) You get the picture I’m illustrating for you: this amazing woman had an appreciation for coffee that was on another level. Well, you know what she used to make coffee at home? It wasn’t some fancy Chemex or French Press or Pour-Over deal — it was her old, beat-up, 8-cup Mr. Coffee. She said to me: “Sometimes you just want a f-ing cup of coffee.”

From this profound statement, I came to accept that my high standards could get in the way of simple appreciation of the thing. To put it another way, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyed.

It’s worth repeating, this does not mean you should abandon those standards. But you shouldn’t get tripped up in them. Swirl marks are going to happen. Accept it. Live with it…

Because sometimes you just want to have a clean car.

The Greek would intentionally put imperfections in their art as a reminder that to be human is to be flawed and that perfection is only for the Gods. It’s a nice way of thinking that perfection, while a nice ideal, is not the end-all-be-all and is, in fact, not even attainable.

Dead on. Sometimes you just need to let go of shit. Water off your back.

dude… head aslpode.

Swirl Marks Happen.

make this a bumper sticker now



One of the things that I get asked a lot is: which do you spend more time on, the interior or the exterior of your car. Time might not be the best metric, since the exterior inherently takes longer because it’s exposed to the elements and the varying surface area (and also since I don’t bother about time). So what is really being asked is, where do I place the bigger premium?

It is an interesting question, no?

The exterior: The thing the world sees. This is their experience of the car. The interior: The place you spend your time in. This is your experience of the car.

Or another way to think about it — the person who is beautiful on the outside, but ugly on the inside. Beauty is only skin deep, right? But that doesn’t mean there must be a duality in which Outer Beauty vs Inner Beauty are at odds. Ideally, you hope for balance.

I want to be proud of my vehicle — that’s why I got into detailing in the first place. Pride, that’s the inner presented out. That’s the effort of a gleaming polish and wax, a wet sheen that pools in the light. That’s beauty for the world to see. And from it, I derive a sense of satisfaction. That’s important, true. But is it more important then driving in comfort?

Gotcha! Trick question. One man’s “comfort” could mean fast food wrappers in the backseat. Although, on a subreddit dedicated in part to detailing, I think you might correctly assume that’s not what I mean by comfort.

I want a clean cockpit. I want the dashboard dusted. I want the leather to last. Those are for me, and for whoever I choose to let into my world. My driving experience is equally important as the pride I feel from driving a gleaming car. And if the interior does not match the image I am presenting outward — there is a shallowness that undercuts the exterior showroom finish. A gross vanity that only cares about approval seeking. That tells my passengers (and the world if they peer through the window) that I only care about what’s on the outside. There’s honor in keeping a kept interior.

So, I’ll take a car that could use a wash but has a tidy, well-kept interior over the alternative any day (that means I also get to wash it!). Because, ultimately, I get the most satisfaction from knowing I walk the walk.

It’s interesting that you invoke the word ‘honor’ which, like pride, is most derived from external sources: honor is something to be received. I think, in the context you’re writing about you maybe meant to say, “There’s a dignity in keeping a kept interior.” Maybe it’s just a connotation thing and I’m getting way into the weeds with parsing language, but to me dignity is about holding an ideal regardless of recognition.

you should see my wife’s car… holy mary mother of god! i waved the white flag on that interior long ago. i keep her exterior clean because you know. i had no idea she was basically pig pen before i married her.

Do you have kids?

not yet working on it

Bewarned for when you do… sand. sand EVERYWHERE.

ur in FL though… we just moved to Sioux Falls. don’t gotta worry bout sand here…

Playgrounds, man. Gets in there shoes. And then gets m-f EVERYWHERE.

For my personal ride, I keep a roll of quik wipes in the glove box for on-the-go wipe downs. Works pretty well to keep it up to par between details.


Got a quick second while the sealant dries and thought I’d log in to share this:

I found a preying mantis in my garage. It was on my bike helmet — haven’t used the thing (or the bike) in years. They’re odd creatures. Maybe it’s because I don’t see them often, but when I do it feels special. Like they are these mythical creatures. It seems almost lucky when you do happen to stumble across them. I took great care in liberating the guy, ushering him to the outside to the bushes. He took to the branch and when I checked on him again after the final polish, he was no where to be found…

Years and years ago, when my daughter was little, we found a preying mantis while out for a hike. She was excited by it. She said it looked like an alien. She asked what it ate. I said bugs. She said eew. And then we went on hiking. It was a random little memory that popped out as I was rounding the rear quarter panel. I was hoping to see the preying mantis again… Thinking maybe my P sent him to me. Like a message from beyond. A crazy thought, I know. But when the preying mantis was gone, I couldn’t help but feel silly about my disappointment. Like she had escaped with him.

Strange how we make connections in our minds, and the sense we make out of the randomness of the Universe. I know that’s not particularly illuminating or anything. But, at least I got to smile at a memory of my Sweet P… time to buff, then one last pass with the quick detail spray and that’s it for this one.



I wished someone would have told me this one guiding principle when I first started out as a detailing hobbyist:

It’s ALWAYS going to take you longer than you thought.

That 3 hour job you’ve got planned is going to take 8 hours. Just a quickie wash and interior wipe down? Sure, that’s what you think.

This isn’t an experience thing, either. By now I know roughly how long a clay and surface prep will take. I have an idea about trim. About wheels. I can add all those items up. I know how long it takes to vacuum out a hatchback versus a SUV. So why, even now, does it always take longer than I anticipated?

The short of it: Things come up that you didn’t take into account. The long of it: You can’t know what you don’t know.

Which is to say, our ability to project the future based on the past — particularly when it comes to quantifying time, regardless of time management skills, often overlooks the unforeseen. This goes doubly for those of us with OCD (there’s a reason why the torment of detailing appeals to us, right??). You find a scratch that NEEDS to be buffed out, for example. The scope creep of the work is inevitable.

So why not just add a buffer to your estimate? Fair question, inquisitive alter-ego who is assuming the role of the reader. But here’s a better thought for you:

Give up your concept of time all together. Go in knowing that it is going to take as long as it takes. This attitude will free you from the shackles of time. With no clock to constrain you, no deadline to be under (or the pressure that comes with it), you will better be able to focus on the tasks before you; and cycle through the progressions of each in a more efficient manner.

Accept that your estimations of time are meaningless and arbitrary. What matters is that the job gets done and done by your standards, not how long it took.

And anyway, Kant said, “Space and time are the framework within which the mind is constrained to construct its experience of reality.

Time is an anchor. The way to master it is to not let it be your master.

Once I learned this lesson, I was able to incorporate this thinking into various aspects of my life. I found, by placing less value on time, and more on time well spent, I was overall happier and less stressed. Like I said at the top, I wish someone would have told me sooner. Maybe this will save you some precious time and energy. (Or at the very least better help you plan your day when you set out to give your car some TLC).

Got a shop down here in FL and truer words haven’t been spoken. Sometimes you get the estimate right and other times your racing and racing and SOL. Gotten to be I stopped trying to bill by the hour and just by the job itself.

Not much of a poster, mostly a lurker but wanted to give a shout out from OH-IO.

Glad to have a couple fellow detailer-in-arms find me! Welcome.

so true! wifey gets p-i-s-s-e-d when i spend all day on the car. (i think she’s jealous).

Frankly, I think the odds are slightly in your favor at hand fighting. (Even if she’s gone 264 to 1 lol) 😀

You mention Kant, but are you familiar with McTaggert’s “Unreality of Time”?

His thinking that our perception of Time is an illusion is interesting, but I get a little lost in it truth be told. It’s easier for me to think of Time in Slaughterhouse-Five terms: it is just our view that time is linear — past, present, future are just human constructions because we lack the ability to view the dimensionality of time.


via GIPHY 


Polish/Finish time. You’ve prepped the paint, washed and clayed. Now you’re ready to fire up the Orbital Polisher. You pull out your favorite compound, give the pad a couple sprays of quick detailer, and go to work in 2×2 sections. Serpentine, weaving up and down. Then back and forth. One rep. Two. Move on to the next 2×2 section.

This can be a mind-numbing exercise that’s painful and tedious. But it doesn’t have to be. This is the perfect opportunity to practice Mindfulness. Be aware of what you’re doing in the moment. This is auto detailing at it’s finest, so focus on the details! And think about your thoughts, turning them over — up and down, back and forth. Be in the moment as it is. The point isn’t to quiet the mind. The goal is to pay attention to the present without judgement. Let your judgments pass by, just as your Orbital Polisher moves across the paint with ease. Your mind will drift and wander, and when it does, guide it back to your mental 2×2 section.

It might take a couple tries, but so did your polishing technique. The better you get at examining your thoughts as they occur, the easier it is to control your emotions — your frustrations, your disappointments. And in chaotic times like these, we could all do well to shift control from the things that hold sway over us and re-evaluate why they had their power to begin with.

hey thinker, just wanted to say i stumbled across this and its cool what your doing. got any tips to just start out about the whole mediation deal for a beginner?

Try for just two minutes at first. Don’t get discouraged, your mind WILL wander. It took me a while before I got it down, and even longer before I married the concepts of Mindfulness with detailing. I actually still remember the moment and the customer’s car I was detailing when I had my first break through. My thoughts slowed to a standstill and in their place was a sense of calm and reassurance — like it would all be OK.

cool cool. i’ll try and see. what was the car btw?

A burgundy 1997 Cadillac DeVille. In pretty good condition too, but the customer was about to trade it in and trying to squeeze out every penny.


This small corner of the internet is dedicated to finding some perspective in it all as you focus on the details. Here you’ll find musings on life, philosophy, and other such noodlings. Maybe even some helpful tips on keeping your car up to snuff (but no promises!). Mindfulness can come in many forms — this brand of thinking just so happens to come with a random orbital polisher.

Mostly this is a place to put down my thoughts, and I don’t claim to be a great or grand thinker, just a guy who sees the world how I see it. I hope someone finds this subreddit and finds it useful and maybe even adds their $.02, too, and helps me see the world beyond my own blinders.

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