According to You: Tips for young enthusiasts in the car hobby

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Welcome to According to You, a weekly prompt on Hagerty Media where we pose a question, collect the answers, and share them the following week!

Last week we asked you to impart some wisdom for younger generations interested in our hobby, and the responses are both reassuring and enlightening. I think we would all benefit from reading the Hagerty Community’s feedback on this question, because one day you’re gonna meet someone younger than you at a car show, and they’ll pepper you with questions about our collective automobile culture. When that moment happens, consider these points.

Seek a mentor

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We had three great comments recommending that young enthusiasts seek mentorship, and that’s likely the most important step for anyone starting their career/hobby with cars. Hagerty Community member DUB6 says it well: “If you agree that you don’t know everything, understand that some people know quite a bit, and if you approach it correctly, they might just share their knowledge with you.”

Our very own BMD4800 gave good advice for how to get the ball rolling:

“Ask questions—lots of them. Most car guys willingly share their knowledge. When I got big into Buicks, I bumped into an old-timer who lit up like a kid in a candy store because I wanted to learn. I listened to all his tips, tricks, and old stories, because they mattered to him—and now with hindsight I can see the arc and meaning as it applies to me, in my youth.”

Consume high-quality automotive media

Rick Steves | Amazon

This is an obvious thing to say if you work for Hagerty Media, but our nefarious motivations need not apply here. That’s because JEL395 said, “Way before I had anything to take apart or drive, I was a voracious reader of all things automobile—workshop manuals, parts catalogs (now as free PDFs), famous races, biography, etc …”

There’s so much truth to this statement—and don’t forget the wealth of valuable information found on YouTube and brand-specific forums. Even certain folks on TikTok and Instagram have plenty of bite-sized information of great value to the young enthusiast. Sure, you have to sift through the nonsense to get to the good stuff, but that’s part of the fun. (For the record: I was very good and didn’t self-promote my Piston Slap column in the aforementioned list. See how modest I am?)

Stay humble

Greenwich Lemons - 1977 Ford Pinto wagon
Bill Doyle with his 1977 Ford Pinto wagon. Jeff Peek

Speaking of modesty, DUB6 reminds us all that keeping yourself humble is a great long term strategy, because “you don’t know everything there is to know, and thinking otherwise will turn most people off and cost you a LOT of money.”

Making mistakes isn’t normally free, and you’ll make less mistakes if you follow in someone’s footsteps. While this applies to only folks over 14 years of age, Hagerty Community user Jabip suggests: “Go to a garage that works on older vehicles and ask to work for free in your spare time and learn and understand how they work and how to fix them. I’m 72 and still working two part-time jobs and enjoying cruise nights and car shows with my daily driver!” Wow!

Know your limitations

1981 Olds SportOmega front three-quarter
How it started: “What kind of idiot would restore one of these cars?” Courtesy Brad Zeidler

Hagerty Community member Hyperv6 said it well: “Be it racing, or buying a car, keep your head on right. Do not let your emotions rule. This often leads to mistakes that cost a lot of money. Ask for help if you need it [or if you] waste money or break something.”

This was echoed by DUB6—younger folks often fall for wanting things immediately, but we all know that is never applicable with cars. Even today’s new cars are more likely to be a matter of placing an order and waiting for it to get filled. That’s why DUB6 suggests one should also “be willing to sacrifice—you will likely have to work hard for your money, and you will likely have to part with most of that money to get into car stuff. It’s not a cheap hobby.” For those who need to budget for future plans like college, home ownership, children, etc., this advice is even more crucial!

Forge your own path

saturn enthusiast jessie flag skateboard cars
Chris Sundquist

Limitations are important to know, but perhaps it isn’t a bad idea to test their boundaries. To wit, Snailish says: “Dream a dream, preferably many. Pursue obtainable dreams, including those that are incremental steps along the way to larger dreams. Don’t be afraid to change your dream, but do that because you have decided that it won’t work for you to do that.”

Reinforcing the same sentiment, MikeS16 says that you should follow a type of car you like, and “follow it regardless of what others say,” adding that “the beauty of the cars is in how they can make you feel when you see them and drive them.” I can safely say I’ve embodied that truth for many years now, no matter how not-appealing that is for most folks.

Buy for love, but be smart with your money

1996 C4 Corvette Coupe front three-quarter
Mecum

Unless you’re really lucky to find a mentor that’s successful in the world of automotive retailing, cars (and trucks) do not a complete financial portfolio make. Or as Hagerty Community member TG puts it:

“Don’t start with something genuinely collectible. Instead start with something neat, old, cheap, and with good parts availability. Having some mechanical ability goes a long way—otherwise you are putting a boatload of trust in other people doing the right work for the right price. Don’t even dream of collecting for profit. Some people can do it, but there are probably a boatload of misses under their belts before they got the formula right.”

Advice for young and old, alike

Tabetha Hammer Davin Reckow garage
J. Gabriel Augustine

To be honest, I was completely bowled over by the response of Hagerty Community member Binksman, as he did a wonderful job framing the issue for both parties involved. Here is his comment in its entirety.

“May I break this into two categories? My advice for young people:

“Part of your interest in cars are going to be VERY boring, but the rest can be very exciting. The boring parts, the work parts, are very necessary to enjoying the fun parts. Go take something apart. Somewhere near you is something that is broken that you can take apart and see how it is supposed to work or how it is broken and not working. Bonus points to you if you put it back together or fix it.

“You don’t need fancy tools. Period. When you are making money off your skills with tools, then you can spend the money on good tools; but for now a decent set from Harbor Freight will be just fine. Anything a human built can be understood and rebuilt by another human. The information is out there, you may need to go find it and sometime IRL. And if you have a teacher or mentor that doesn’t understand something, someone else does.

“And don’t let the old farts scare you off. That cranky guy at the car show in last weekend that yelled at you for breathing on his car is just super nervous because he spent 20 years working on it.”

Here’s what he has for adults giving advice to young people:

“Don’t be that old fart that scares kids off. Young kids dream of your cars. Young people look to your car as an image of what can be done with time, skill, and patience. They need to see the payoff. And they need to see it as more than a poster or image on their screens. Let kids take something apart. You have some piece of junk somewhere that does not matter if a kid takes apart to see how it works. Best case, they fix it for you. Worst case, the junk is still junk.

“Give a young person a break! Your hulk of old iron with a tree growing through the engine bay or with an interior rotted and laying on the floor has more value as a learning experience for a young person or as project to a young person that will support the automotive hobby into the future. They keep the industry alive; you were just growing weeds.

“Anything that can be built by a human can be understood and rebuilt by another human. At some point we don’t want to invest in learning about something else. Used to carbs and don’t want to learn EFI? It’s fine that you reached your limit because it meets your needs, but don’t talk about in a way that limits someone else from learning about it.”

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