I’ve been struggling with this question for years. I just keep going back-and-forth — I love Detroit; it’s the greatest city in the world for car people, and I won’t even hear arguments to the contrary. I can buy running motors for $145, rent a house with a proving ground out back for under $1,000 a month, hang out with car enginerds and designers on a regular basis, tour incredible junkyards and snag dirt-cheap parts every weekend, spend a reasonable amount of money on gas, and just generally do dumb car stuff with great people for cheap. This place really is the Motor City. But I don’t know if I can stay.
You all know me as the rusty Jeep guy from Detroit, but I’m not from here. I have no family here, no childhood roots, and fewer and fewer ties as many of my friends seem to all move away. But I have stayed for nine years — the longest I’ve ever lived in one place. It’s counter to my nature as an “Army Brat,” and indeed, in the early days after my move here from college, I thought for sure I’d be rolling out within a couple of years. But I stuck around because the car culture is unbelievable (and also because I travel out of the country for usually a month or two out of the year, so this keeps things spicy).
View this post on Instagram
Watch the Instagram video above, and you’ll see what I did today. After waking up, I drove to the legendary Pasteiner’s Cars and Coffee meetup, then headed to a junkyard and gawked over awesome machines with a cool reader named Nick (plus I ran into the legendary engine-carrier, Jeremy Benson, who was wrenching on a Ford Ranger), then helped Nick get unstuck from my muddy backyard “Proving Ground,” and then I just drove around in my brother’s 1966 Mustang to a bunch of car parts stores (and obsessed over how cheaply I can get high-zinc Diesel Oil and high-quality Purolator filters). It was a great day in the month that caps the beginning of half a year of absolutely perfect weather followed by genuine frigid hell.
I know how good I have it here. I can experience things that translate to great content that can help this site thrive, and that, of course, is really important. I have space; cars; a low cost of living; friends and neighbors who genuinely share my passion; specialty car shops run by old-timers who will (cheaply) machine my cylinder heads, replace my leaf spring bushings (and make me custom U-Bolts), braze up my leaky radiator, rebuild my starter motors and generators; no vehicle safety or emissions inspections; a big airport that will get me to Hong Kong, Germany, Australia, or wherever the hell I want to do dumb car things next; car shows damn near everyday; access to tremendous automotive knowledge, and on and on.
Prior to my arrival in Detroit, I had mixed feelings. After having seen documentaries about abandoned Detroit neighborhoods, and after living in the city and witnessing the blight in person, I initially wondered: “Is this still the Motor City?” After nine years I know that the answer is, well, not really — it’s actually the Motor Suburb, but it’s still freaking incredible.
Then why leave?
Well, for one, I don’t know if I’m built to live in one place too long. As I’ve said before, I have no roots anywhere, and my childhood showed me the incredible richness I can get out of life by experiencing new places. And not just a few weeks at a time; many months or years — enough time to really embed myself into new cultures. Remaining in one place is something with which a lot of children of service members struggle.
I’m not going to complain about the winter or the salt; those are what they are, and I’m not sure how much they’re factoring in my decision, anyway. My main considerations involve shaking things up and experiencing something new, and also possibly diversifying my social life outside of work. Regarding the latter point: Is suburban Detroit the ideal place for a single 30 year-old dude to thrive socially? It’s possible that LA is no better, honestly. I don’t have the answers.
Why LA? You’re all now wondering.
It’s tricky. I mean, part of me wants to move to Germany to be with my family — buy an Audi A2 and Renault Twingo, and road trip all over the place. Another part of me wants to move to Kansas or Arkansas, buy a big-ass plot of land, and just go absolutely crazy buying cars by the dozens (though the social scene could be a concern). I anticipate one of those happening at some point. But L.A. offers some opportunities right now; for one, it’s becoming more and more Motor City 2.0. Dozens of my engineering friends from Michigan have moved out west to work for budding EV companies. There’s a lot of great electric vehicle stuff going on over there, and I’d like to be able to explore that side of car culture. I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns when it comes to discovering Detroit’s car scene — the idea of exploring a new one excites me.
Of course, there’s theoretically a decent social scene filled with diverse people — something appealing to me at this point in my life. There’s also The Autopian’s main supporter, Beau Boeckmann and his amazing team — working with them in person could afford our site a number of great opportunities. And really, that’s where my priority needs to be above all else: Trying to do what’s best for this company and its readership; if working with my team out in California helps us, and if it also happens to scratch other itches of mine, then that seems smart. LA is not exactly wrenchtopia, but I’m doing more editing than anything these days. Plus, most of my wrenching seems to be happening on other continents, anyway.
Plus I bet the off-roading is great in California, and the weather will mean year-round wrenching and no rust. Let me repeat that last one: NO RUST. I’ve been in basic training these past nine years; just imagine me wrenching on California cars — I will be a wrenching god!
Obviously, cost of living in insane. Wrenching on junkers on the side of the road in LA sounds, honestly, no worse than fixing crap-cans in 20 below weather here in Michigan, but still not great. Gas is expensive, emissions inspections would definitely preclude my Jeep J10 from going out there (I’d be rolling in the Mustang and my future overlanding rig, my $350 Holy Grail ZJ. Also my FC, though I realize three cars out there will be rough), and I have my concerns about car culture in LA. Is it too exclusive? Is it difficult for the less privileged to get into the car scene? Is it all about wealth flaunting? (For you LA natives, my apologies for the ignorance. That’s just how it looks from the outside). Is a haggard, balding, recovering trenchfoot-er who’s suffered far too many harsh winters wrenching on rusty heaps going to stand out among all the good looking models? Will everyone I interact with either avert their eyes or instantly vomit?
To these, I have no answers.
Honestly, I have no answers to any of this. I do know that I’d want to return to Michigan later in life, because this place feels “free.” There’s very little bullshit here except for an occasional police officer from some fancy suburb pulling me over for passing him in a snowstorm. But otherwise, I can do what you want, and have plenty of space for it.
As for right now? I’m getting antsy, and lots of people in my life keep telling me that hoarding cars in suburban Detroit maybe isn’t the optimal long-term strategy. They’re probably right. Honestly, I could see myself blinking once and then all of a sudden another nine years pass by, I’m still here hanging out with a fleet of cars at age 39, with a stack of ordinance violations on my counter. Honestly, depending on the cars in my fleet, that sounds kind of epic. But also not — again, I’m conflicted.
One thing I’m not conflicted on, after spending the past four hours researching, is how to minimize the cost of maintenance of my fleet. I have found that base-model Purolator oil filters, when purchased in bulk, can be had for less than pretty much any oil filter you can buy, including Walmart Super Tech oil filters (some of which I’m pretty sure are just rebranded Purolators). Check it out — $29.21 for twelve Jeep 4.0/Mustang filters! That’s just $2.43 a pop! As for my Jeep 258 filters, those were a bit more expensive at about $2.80, but still dirt.
These filters, along with diesel engine oil — which is high in zinc (which is good for flat-tappet engines like those in my vehicles), and, when purchased in 15W-40 weight can be had for pennies — basically mean I can change my oil for less than $20. I spent quite a bit of time researching whether I can use my Jeep’s TL14670 filter on my brother’s Mustang. Turns out, I absolutely can. I also read through service manuals and owner’s manuals to see if 15W-40 is an acceptable oil for the Ford 289 and Jeep straight six, and it turns out the answer is yes, in the summer (I don’t drive these vehicles in the winter, anyway). This is all great from a cost-of-maintenance standpoint.
From the Mustang manual (it even says oil as thick as 20W-40 will work):
From an old Jeep manual:
Anyway, that was a hell of a digression, but that’s what my day was like today. Car show, junkyard, mud pit, trips to car parts stores and far too much research on oil change cost minimization. This is normal, right?
I wanna see David as a “Low Rider”….who’s with me!
Shouldn’t you ask Andrew Collins? The similarities are endless, and his travels back to NY seem to indicate some reservations to living in LA full time.
I was going to make the same comment. I have no idea how he would be able to afford space to work on vehicles in SoCal.
While I’m mostly against moving to LA (if you do, choose somewhere outside and as far as you can get while still be able to participating in the culture), you have to determine what are your goals for the next 10 years. Living and having lived in expensive areas it’s not fun, personally if I had the choice I would love somewhere cheap and travel a lot, but CA is amazing and off roading there is awesome! Whatever you choose, I think you’ll do well, as there is not a bad choice on the board!
We’ll do an off-roading trip here in Michigan later this summer.
I moved to LA about a year ago, still getting used to the cars. It’s unbelievable. Like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Highly recommend.
I wouldn’t want to wrench from my apartment if I had the choice to do it somewhere else, but there are definitely places in the greater LA area that would work. Or maybe you could borrow shop space from Beau?
Go where the girls will take you for what you are.
TJ isn’t _that_ far from LA, right?
California is a huge state with so many diverse areas, and going along with that are different car cultures. Don’t limit your thinking to just the LA area. You could go anywhere on the central coast south from the Bay area to north of the LA area, be out of the main crush of humanity (and possibly be a little rural on larger property for, you know, projects), and relatively easily drive to either large metro area. Cost of living definitely will be lower, (not Detroit low, but def not LA), and some of the most beautiful back roads you’ll ever see. Come on out to this area and we’ll show you around.
Do it! The car culture is second to none. @gasandglaze on Instagram is my local cars and coffee that I go to. There are all kinds of cars in all kinds of conditions. SoCalCarCulture.com has the most complete list of events and clubs, but it still only list about half of whats going on. Year around 4 wheeling in the desert, mountains, or beach. Car spotting anywhere in So Cal is the Best. Saw Ferrari Testarosa parked between a Benz SUV and a Prius in a strip mall in Puente Hills last night. Last week saw a Citroen 2CV driving down Whittier Blvd. You won’t be disappointed. Now is the time
If DT can pass Germany’s extremely tough motor vehicle requirements, he can pass Ca. DMV requirements.
When you visit family in Germany, if you want a tour of the French Detroit,aka Sochaux, i’m your guy. There are some interesting stuff to see there.
Yeah Sochaux, from richest city in France when the Factory was hiring almost 40 000 person with everything owned or related to Peugeot to one of the poorest now. High unemployment rates, about 25%. Abandonned buildings like concert halls because the city can’t maintain it anymore. There is still a R&D center there, Belchamp with test tracks where i work and the factory reduced to about 4000 workers. They sold recently the first Peugeot factory in Terre Blanche recently. But what’s left is slowly dying too. I have no problems to park nowadays compared to when i started 6 years ago. There is the Peugeot museum there with it’s hidden reserve too. Not far, the Mulhouse factory and the Schlumpf museum and its Bugatti collection, and just on the other side of the border in Switzerland, the not very known Monteverdi’s museum in basel.
Car scene there is pretty active in autocross, uphill racing and rallying. There some youngtimer meeting but i find the classic and tuning car scene boring there.
I guess you’ve already been to Sinsheim and it’s gogo mobile collection.
I’d say the Kansas/Arkansas idea is better, I’d suggest Texas but there’s already too many people moving here FROM California. Move somewhere you can get the space to do all the wacky stuff you enjoy doing with vehicles.. I don’t really want to read about you wrenching on one Jeep in your driveway in LA!
no one should ever move to Arkansas for any reason.
Just in time for a major western water crisis.
I dunno man, you gotta go work on your Ute and your Euro-Chrysler. A good solid base of operations like where you are now seems to be a good thing for your future travel plans.
If you enjoy your freedom to do what you want on your property without getting hassled you’ll not love LA.
While there is lots to do there isn’t a ton of space to do it in that’s not already spoken for.
Move as an experiment but you’ll be back to the suburbs / country as soon as you get sick of not having any elbow room.
Come check out northern Vermont! We’ve got less of everything except maybe snow. Less people, less paved roads, less diversity… it’s a lot like Germany!
Nah I enjoyed living in VT but it started going all nanny stayed in a big way.
From reading your post, it sounds like the biggest thing keeping you in Michigan is convenience. Sure, you like the car culture in Detroit, but it sounds like you are ready for something new. If that is the case, just move to LA. If you decide you don’t like LA, you can always move back to Michigan. Other than finding a landlord as tolerant as your current landlord, moving back to Michigan (or somewhere else) wouldn’t be a big deal if LA isn’t for you.
I don’t see this as that difficult of a decision, assuming you genuinely want to try living in LA. You don’t have family obligations keeping you in one place and you don’t need to worry about finding a new job. You don’t even have to go through the inconvenience of selling a house. I’m sure you have friends in Michigan, but it seems like you are the kind of person who has no trouble meeting new people, and nothing prevents you from regularly visiting your friends back in Michigan.
As someone who has lived in 10 states, I know what it is like to move frequently (I’m actually moving again in two months; I’m moving back to state #9 [Florida], although in a different city). I know moving isn’t a trivial decision, but it isn’t a life-or-death decision either. I have found that moving to new places has a lot of benefits. Moving has allowed me to meet new people, see a lot of places, and discover new interests. As a result of moving, I have a better idea of what is truly important to me and what isn’t. For me, aside from inconvenience, the only major downside to moving frequently is “where are you from” is now a difficult question.
I guess I am biased in favor of moving based on my personal experience, but I think you should give LA a try. If nothing else, at least make sure you have good reasons for staying in Michigan.
It could be difficult to find a good place to come back to if he doesn’t like it.
It might be worth paying rent on the place in Michigan for an extra month or two, staying flexible and making the final decision a little later.
David, we love you, and don’t want you to be arrested, so please don’t go to California! Your wrenching habits won’t fly in an apartment complex, and unless this site is making you significantly more than I expect, you’re not going to be able to afford a property with land in a safe area. Not to mention the emissions standards that will ensure nothing in your fleet is ever road legal. I get the appeal, and I love to visit Cali, but it’s not for you. Want a new adventure that’s still friendly towards your habits? Look at Texas. I hate it here and am counting the days until I get out, but if you’re a bit out from a big city land is affordable, you could buy a couple acres and have room to grow!
As someone that lived 15 or so years out in Cali (San Diego, with frequent trips to LA) I can say I absolutely loved it there, except for the cost of living, which was brutal, and I only had one car (at most) and a 3BR apartment (usually).
For the life of me I can’t imagine how you could afford your current lifestyle in LA without a sponsorship. I mean, maybe Jay Leno has an RV in the back lot?
If I remember correctly – and I may be misremembering since it’s been 20 years – you have to have insurance and current inspection sticker to even park the thing. That adds up super fast.
If it’s parked off the street no insurance needed and registration is one-time-fee planned non-operation.
I can’t imagine a shitbox lover moving to LA.
There’s a lot to love there, but really, you need to be in a place where you’re free to do dumb shit all day long and not have to live in a sketchy neighborhood to do it. You don’t want to waste all day in traffic just to visit a few junkyards.
I understand your wanderlust, but I don’t know any place better for you than Detroit.
Maybe St Louis or Memphis, so you can attract shitboxes from all around the country to a central meeting point, where land and storage aren’t too expensive, and the weather lets you work on them almost all year.
It’s a difficult choice.
Houston metro comes to mind, so does Chicago metro maybe. Houston has no rust, a ton of diversity, and you can get a lot more land than in LA.
Houston has plenty of rust from hurricane flood cars
Counterpoint though: Houston _sucks_.
I was also going to recommend Houston. No snow, no rust (as long as you keep your cars above the water level), and no freezing winters. Really, nobody needs a heater in their garage here. What we do have though is August. Not a lot of fun times spent in garages in Houston in August without air-conditioning.
Are you trying to get David killed?
Ran Diesel oil in my Geo Metro because it was cheap and I was changing it every 3K miles and putting 450 miles on it a week commuting.
Piston slap when it was cold. Went back to cheap O’Reillys and it went away.
The real question is about your priorities. You have been adaptable to many environments throughout your life, so that’s not an issue. If growing this site is your top priority, and being in closer proximity to Beau will help that happen, make the move.
As you already know, you will have to dramatically reduce your fleet, and having a bunch of old cars in CA will be problematic unless you live well outside the city.
As for the social scene, it’s what you make of it. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Detroit, but if it’s like other large cities (Chicago, for example), I don’t think LA will be the improvement you seek.
OTOH, the climate is great, there is car culture everywhere and rust nowhere.
Bottom line: You are young and single. If you give it a shot and it doesn’t work out, you can easily leave.
30 years ago, I spent a year in Pasadena, CA for training on a computer system (I am not a rocket scientist, but I did eat lunch in the same cafeteria). My employer did pay for the rent in an apartment. This was a 1 year deal, I got a long weekend home every 3 weeks. I did find a Classic Chevy car club to hang with, made the year go much better – Lots of friendly folks out there.
First a question: How often will you have to physically show up at the office? Where you live will determine how many hours you spend in traffic. If it is only once or twice a week, a longer commute is not so painful. As a general rule, the cheaper rentals involve a longer commute (or a truly sketchy neighborhood).
Finding a rental with land and a garage for multiple vehicles might be a challenge. I did not have any luck 30 years ago.
Get a clearer idea of your objectives before committing to a long lease (this advice coming from a 77 year old that still has not figured out what he wants to be when he grows up ). Maybe for your next few trips to headquarters, take the weekend to explore LA and the surround area.
Maybe consider a couple of years in LA – I feel your dedication to getting the Autopian off the ground (p.s. I am impressed with the progress). Start with a short term apartment fairly close to work. Google tells me that the Bob’s Big Boy Classic Car Show in Burbank is every Friday night (30 years later, I still miss it). Maybe swindle Beau into letting you use a far corner of the back lot to park a couple (6 to 10) of vehicles (a.k.a The Autopian Dumping Ground). One at a time, we get a David Tracy road trip feature as you drive the next heap to CA. Consider taking a different route each trip (Rt-66 is an obvious choice). Also consider: From I-40 in Amarillo TX, Clovis, NM (Bear RIGHT (South) onto US-70 [S Prince St] 103.9 mi), Roswell, NM, Las Cruces NM onto I-10.
After 6 months to a year, The Autopian should be “on it’s feet” and you should on your way to finding your personal goals.
Trailer trash in semi-rural southeast AZ
can confirm, semi-rural southern AZ is the place to be
Don’t do it. My wife and I moved out here in 2004 for work and I’ve regretted it ever since. Sure the weather is nice. For the most part the people are nice. I like the politics of the state, but I still wish I was on the east coast. No seasons, so you actually look forward to rainy days (which rarely happen). The economy is based on the entertainment business, so even if you aren’t in it, you are in it. Lots of people trying to be something they aren’t, famous and wealthy. Like I said there are many positives, and maybe you went notice or care that you’re paycheck isn’t going as far, but I can’t wait for my kids to get to college so I can get out of here. One side note, if by some chance you are thinking of becoming a multi-media celeb, then maybe it is a good fit for you.
This is true of the more affluent parts of the county, but there’s a whole lot of greater LA where people are just people, not wannabe actors or InstaTok stars.
The cool thing is that nearly everyone cares about cars. You absolutely need one and since they don’t rust people don’t mind spending a little (or a lot) extra to customize them or keep them looking nice.
As to the weather. I live in Chicago now I’d trade Chicago’s seasons for LA weather in a second. God I miss it.
Only a tiny fraction of LA is in the entertainment industry and complaining about it is like complaining about Las Vegas having casinos. Guessing you live in Culver CIty and never leave that area.
Reading your post, I started wondering if David might actually stumble into his own car show, kinda-like an Ed China situation. His passion is there, and he has wrenching experience.
Not likely, but a crazy thought!
There’s a bunch of car cultures in LA. A lot of them are pretty gritty. Decide who you want to hang with and then locate where it’s happening. Unless you decide your thing is supercars or esoteric European sports cars, no enthusiast is going to look down their noses at you.
It’s also a huge area. There are still parts that are relatively reasonable and, not coincidentally, that tends to be where cars get worked on.
I left LA a long time ago so please don’t assume my advice on specific areas is still valid, but maybe start with a Google maps search on “auto wrecker”.
There’s a gold mine of yards in the East San Gabriel Valley (look around Monrovia and Started) and that’s about as close as you are likely to get to the center of LA for rents that you would likely consider anywhere near affordable.
Moving further west is the Inland Empire. There are race tracks in Fontana and Corona and Pomona and car culture is deeply ingrained.
Another area to consider is the high desert north of the mountains, basically from Palmdale to Victorville. Space is relatively cheap, car culture is deep and your Jeeps will be right at home. But you are a long way away from the beach bunnies if that’s what you are hoping for.
You need to go check all these places out. How about a set of couch surfing LA stories? I’m sure you can find local readers to put you up.
That’s Duarte, not Started. I keep forgetting there is no editing here yet.
I’ve been to Palmdale and the high desert nearby enough to second this suggestion — beautiful area, and a very fun drive to get there. Lots of aerospace back stories, beautiful pictures, proximity to excellent off roading, killer road trips to Vegas/Joshua Tree/Mexico/San Diego/NorCal/Tahoe/etc. Plenty of hot rod history between Bakersfield and LA. Cars can live forever there, even if rusty to begin with. Cost of living is way better than LA. And, when it gets hot as hell, it’s simply time for a road trip or flight to Detroit or Germany. The cars will be exactly as they were upon return.
This too.. those LA car cultures can be gritty and exclusive, but they also can be exclusive of each other. You’re usually born into them.
Palmdale/Victorville is indeed the most likely for a fleet of projects, but it’s also 120 degrees in the summer.. but that’s where the cheap space will be.
Move to Douglas County Nevada. No Smog testing, Lake Tahoe is a short drive away, Reno is an hour drive away, pretty dry but it still gets a good amount of Snow, road salt is hardly used, great off road trails everywhere, no state income tax, etc.
What work for an automotive engineer there?
David has enough vehicles to give two mechanics a full time job.
But in all seriousness there is a Tesla gigafactory one county away.
Nevada gives you all the great weather of CA with the benefit of land and being able to drive older cars legally.
What’s the over/under on the number of cars in his fleet that he can get to pass California smog testing?
I’m going to say it could hit the negatives: he might pick up more failing cars along the way and fail more cars than he currently owns.
Are we talking first attempt passing or just passing smog at all?
I found a VERY helpful shop in the Bay area and had my XJ tested 10+ times before it finally passed. Only paid for 1 test (and all the parts to do a top-end rebuild on my 4.0).
Once you understand your vehicle and how it generates pollutants you can get just about any stock motor to pass.
What was the issue with your XJ? Oil getting through the guides and burning out the exhaust?
Things I thought it was:
Exhaust leak (new manifold)
Vacuum leak (fixed all leaks)
Carbon deposits (seafoam and then removed head and cleaned out cylinders by hand)
Coolant temp sensor
Several other things I have since forgotten
Turned out to just have been one (or more) weak injector(s) causing a lean mixture (which pushed up cylinder temp which then produced excess NOx).
So most of what I fixed didn’t NEED to happen to pass smog, but when I did finally pass it was with 1 ppm NOx.
The tech thought his machine was broken.
Oh and because 1 or more cylinders had been running lean for a while my O2 sensor caused the other cylinders to pump more fuel and burn rich and keep burning all the way through my cat and muffler.
So ultimately it could have been as simple as a new cat and new injector…
Move to a developing country (*cough* Indonesia *cough*) to spice your life up! Girls here go crazy for westerners, and your net worth will skyrockets thanks to the shitty currency exchange rate and affordable living cost. And you can experience buying true modern shitboxes that will instantly kill you in an accident! What’s the downside? Nothing I tell you!
Can drive your Daihatsu Taft?
Why not? You can wrench on it too if you want! ???? The transfer case needs to be rebuilt if it tickles your fancy.
Whoops not sure why there are several question marks there
It’s something to do with not supporting emojis.
So like if I do the “thinking face” it turns into ????
Philippines instead. No problem for the English speaker and lots and lots of Jeeps.
Been watching CBmedia’s YouTube channel and can 100% agree — 3rd/2nd world East Asian motorsports culture is bonkers/riveting. The people always seem amazingly nice and accommodating, too.
I’d say go for it. You can always return to Detroit if you don’t like it.