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).
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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?
As someone who lives in Detroit.
I want that J10 David!
So I am all for you living in Metro Detroit. One issue I had with your previous employer was it made it seem like Detroit didn’t matter. This was post Recession. They skipped Woodward for Pebble Beach. Then there was the Belle Isle is a bad track article, and finally the Chris Harris didn’t want to go in a car show in the cold article.
The best thing that got my attention was hiring Aaron Foley and yourself. I was living there at the time. I loved the car culture. I loved the fact that you were the feet on the ground person in Metro Detroit. Around 2015 I moved back to my home area and I somewhat regret it I find myself coming back to metro Detroit at least once a year for a freelance job.
This year I’ve been back twice. Once for work, another to pick up a motorcycle and I should be back again in June to complete an Iron Butt (1000 miles in 24 hrs on a motorcycle) run.
If you do leave Metro Detroit please hire a journalist that lives or wants to live in the area. I would even throw my hat in the ring for that job.
David, there is a lot of good advice already on here. I would suggest that you take the time to figure out why it is that you would want to move. Is it to better help The Autopian? It’s the 21 century. You can do everything online as far as business meetings. If it’s about content, you could make the occasional trip to get material. You’re already doing multiple trips a year. Honestly, it might be cheaper than you actually having to pay rent in LA. If you feel the need to be in close proximity to Beau and associates, maybe look at being LA adjacent rather than LA itself. There are a lot of good suggestions from rural Cali to across the state line in Nevada. Living in a big city is going to limit your car wrenching freedom.
If it’s just a burning desire to not be rooted to one place, you’re going to have to make a decision as to what you’re willing to give up in order to sate that urge. Living in LA is going to expose you to new cultures, car and otherwise. It’ll give you a good jumping off point to travel as well with access to massive international airports as well as just the state itself. The trade off may be that you wouldn’t be able to afford to travel as much. Kansas and Arkansas can give you plenty of open space to maintain your wrenching habit. As someone who lives in a very red state, I can assure you that pockets of blue can be found. It’s not as monolithic as people make it out.
I would suggest maybe testing some places out before committing to a move. I’m pretty sure that you can find someplace to crash for a month or so. Hell, people are constantly contacting you to sell you vehicles dirt cheap or even for free or buying you vehicles as spare parts in other states/countries/continents/hemispheres. I’m sure that some of your fans will be willing to help you find a cheap or free place to rest your rusty little head for a few weeks. I’d test the waters before jumping in head first.
I moved from rural TN to California 22 years ago. Its been good to me. Met my wife, started a career and now do pretty well. Bought a house 12 years ago. The weather is amazing. Not that this is a “good” thing but it barely rains.
But….. this is a HARD state to live in unless you just happen to be completely loaded. Its EXPENSIVE as hell. Renting and buying are both astronomically out of sight. I just looked up average rent in LA. Its $2600 for a 750 foot apartment. I live in another part of the state ( Bay Area ) and due to the tech industry it costs even more. The smallish 1300 sq foot house we bought for $457k 12 years ago now goes for around 1.5 Million. LA is not too far behind.
And then there is the sheer amount of people and traffic. Everywhere is crowded. Want to go on a nice peaceful hike? Get ready to share the trails with tons of people. The grocery stores, bars, restaurants and so on are always crammed full of people. And the traffic. I cannot overstate just how bad it is. Its super bay here in the Bay Area…. a lot worse in LA. So bad that most people simply stick around their own neighborhoods versus really go anywhere since doing so means possibly spending 2 hours to go 15 miles.
If it were me in your shoes? I would seek alternatives where you are still close to some sort of metro area but can “get out of town” and into the sticks easily. Nashville TN comes to mind. Its not exactly a huge city. But you can be out in the sticks relatively quickly and obviously its a lot cheaper there than CA. Then again you’ll have to deal with all of the MAGA shit that permeates that and many other southern states.
Good luck. I did it, but it was hard, took years to save up enough to buy something. Had I known it was going to be this hard? Not sure I would have done it.
Here’s a thought, DT.
Why not Arizona? You can still live pretty cheaply in southern AZ, like between Phoenix and Tucson. It has advantages like:
Lower cost of living
Desert 4×4 adventures
Flagstaff is a few hours away for mountain adventures and cooling off in the summer
You’re an easy 6.5 hour road trip from SoCal
Desert cars. Sure, the interiors are sun blasted, as is the paint, but rust is just patina.
Great twisty roads in the Superstitions (and elsewhere) that aren’t wrecked by winter.
Sky Harbor is a decent airport. It’s a gem compared to LAX, but not Burbank or Long Beach.
Mud? What’s that?
The meth coming up I-10 is cheap. /s
Of course there are disadvantages:
It’s hot AF in the summer, you’ll want A/C in the garage and working A/C in the cars (not unlike LA)
Deserts that WILL try to kill you if the car conks out.
Scorpions. Then again, maybe you like 80s arena metal.
Speaking as someone who lived in the L.A. area for a bit over 5 years and then in the San Diego area for the past 30+…
Look, I love living here. It is truly home in a way that the place I grew up never was. The weather is great and I can be in the desert or mountains in under two hours. The local 4-wheelin’ culture is widespread (I don’t wheel, but I do a lot of outdoorsy stuff like backpacking, climbing and camping and at times need the 4×4 for those purposes). Cars don’t rust into oblivion like they do back east and there is a strong car culture out here that’s not just all about exotics.
With that said, I’m not sure I see SoCal life working for you. You are a cheapskate and that’s a perfectly fine thing. However, coastal southern California is not a place for cheapskates as it is expensive to live here. The need to have smog inspections every two years is a pain for post-1974 vehicles. You will not be able to afford a property where you can work on your cars.
Now, if you’re bent on doing it there is one powerful option you have that could give you storage and a place to work on your fleet without needing it to be at your residence. You have the amazing Beau, and you may be able to sweet talk him. After all, The Autopian absolutely needs a garage area, right? You could go build out a mixed use headquarters with a garage, offices, and a studio for podcasts and videos, etc. SoCal car owners could bring their oddball treasures in and you could have a regular weekly featured video. Or bring in engineers and designers from all the L.A. headquarters that many manufacturers have for podcasts. That clearly makes it a legitimate business expense and I have no doubt Beau has the means and wherewithal to find some place that’s cheap and relatively nearby to the home of Galpin. And if you make the wise move and DON’T move to L.A. this is still a viable idea with local staff as you grow.
“there is one powerful option…”
Absolutely this option. Autopian is a blog, but I bet Beau wouldn’t have backed this venture if he didn’t see an opportunity to fold it into a larger media empire that could eventually spawn a TV show he could pitch to Discovery networks or whomever. Now that’s something I would like to be a part of.
Unless you’re a multi-millionaire, I don’t think you’ll be able to afford to keep 3 semi-scrap project cars in LA. Even finding a place to store and work on them will be difficult and expensive. It’d be one thing if you were there and established, but you’ll be coming in from out of the cold basically. So, your 3 project cars will end up on Torch’s lawn while you move to LA. SoCal is gorgeous, but it’s so expensive to live there.
Why are we ignoring the obvious, people?!?
Moab. Move to your personal paradise, David!
I even found you a home to rent for just a tad over $1k/mo. where it looks like your car collection would be right at home!
Native Michigander here, but moved to PNW 9 years ago. Still love Michigan and go back frequently, but so much older car stuff out west with minimal rust. Housing is alot more expensive, just find a place further on the outskirts, plus you’ll need room to store all of the great vehicles you’ll drag home. (stuff people pass up on in the west but is considered great in Michigan).I wish I would have been more adventurous when I was your age and experienced living in other places.
Please do not go to California. It is literally ANTI-everything you want to do . It’s expensive, and California detests the car, even though they need them badly.
As we had discussed, I really think Kansas is your best bet. There’s no real car rules here at all, and where I am, you have me, AND the Wichita Youtube Mafia – Tyler Hoover, JR, the Ninja….
Not to mention, while we DO have rust on cars here, it is NOTHING like what you cope with. I break a bolt once or twice every few YEARS.
Living is pretty cheap, and ICT can get you anywhere you want to be. As an example, a place down the road a piece just sold for about 150K. It was on a couple acres, with a shop and a nice sized house. The mortgage equates to right around what you spend on rent!
I’m dealing with the same thing right now. I’m a Michigan lifer. My family has been here for generations and my 5th great grandfather even founded my home town. However, I’m looking at a move to SoCal within about three years.
I don’t think this even needs to be a debate.
Affordability is going to nix that whole LA idea.
Not to mention he’d have to sell his whole rag-tag fleet in order to move.
Sounds to me like your mind is already made up and you’re just looking for a little validation. Well here it is – Go Ahead and move to LaLa land. Worst that happens is you move somewhere else in a couple of years.
Come to Virginia! I mean. You can get a place in the sticks that’s still close enough to somewhere where stuff is going on. Lots of enthusiasts here, a fair amount of local shitboxes available (especially Jeeps), and it would be easier to grab flights abroad. Maybe.
I agree with many folks, LA/California in general is too restrictive and expensive, Nevada would be a better option.
I voted on the Jason item, as I think the southeast would be better for a few reasons, similar to LA it’s warmer all year long, but it’s way cheaper, and you could be closer to Jason for more collaborative articles and such.
Maybe that’s too close for comfort, in that case I say either Nevada or Texas, as the number of rust-free cars and days warm enough to shade-tree mechanic proper are bountiful out there.
If you read comments in the 90s, I have an opinion. You should move to the desert in Nevada just outside of California. Nevada has lax auto laws like Michigan but has better weather and tons of open space for wrenching. That also keeps you within driving distance to S. California. Social life in SW Nevada may be a little bit fleeting but I like small towns anyway. Otherwise, move to the west side of Michigan, it’s still got the lax auto laws and great car community but isn’t as dirty and crime ridden. There’s also plenty of room for wrenching, hell I have a three stall insulated poll barn and I’m looking at doubling it’s size. Unfortunately, you will be forced to decide what is most important to you, live where there is an active a thriving social experience or live in the boonies where wrenching life is more obtainable. You can have both, but its probably going to be too expensive. When winter comes, go to Germany, see family and drive all over Europe. Maybe try both and see what you like.
On the one hand “Don’t move to California” is an easy thing to say to people who like old cars from after 1975.
On the other hand, having just read your piece on you indentured servitude to your landlord as an “Oldsmobile” mechanic… you should probably get the hell out of there!
LA and your car collection do not mix.
As an Army Brat myself, I know the traveling around every few years. I finally found a place I liked and stayed there.
For you, I would suggest Kansas. Firstly, plenty of land with some off roading opportunities. Plus there are at least three Youtube Car Nuts based in the same general area with large collections.
And for what you would pay for LA, you can get a nice property, room to spare, maybe a barn/outbuilding for wrenching.
Fly to LA for events, soak in the culture, then run away 🙂
LA is a great place to visit and a terrible place to live. That said, DT is clearly a man who finds the best wherever he goes so he could just roll a five-sided dice and go for whichever.
Looks at theGeek dice collection. That is the one I do not have. I have the two sided (coin) and the 100 side golf ball.
I live in a dying rust belt city and I feel like LA is the most over rated place I’ve ever been (been there numerous times). Yes, the weather is fantastic, and yes, the beaches are nice. But everyone else feels that way and thus you are stuck in mounds of traffic, paying exorbitant prices, and you can’t get away from anyone. Oh, this little 20 mile run up the coast to that beach you want to check out, yeah, that’s a two hour drive. Fuck that shit.
While I dream of moving out of my gloomy and economically depressed city (not all that different than Detroit), and have occasionally wondered about LA, it gets mentally shot down really fast.
I grew up in Michigan and every January I swear that I am going to move somewhere warmer. I did 10 years in Upstate NY, 7 years over a couple different assignments in Germany, and I almost took a job in LA, last time I changed jobs….but I’m back in Michigan. When it came right down to it, I didn’t choose California because my life would have consisted only of work and commuting. I didn’t feel like I could give my kids the childhood I wanted them to have there…
You are young and single, can live cheap, and can do interesting things that only young, single, cheap people can get away with. I look forward to reading about your misadventures in LA. When you get sick of that, come back to Michigan. Maybe consider the UP, your rusty car collection would be a prized fleet up there.
If I get a say, I do it as a consumer of Autopian. Dont go. There is no shortage of LA based “clean hands” car content providers. There is a severe lack of Detroit based “tetanus shot” content providers. Detroit is where ALL the interesting stuff is happening, including the history related stuff. Of all the content I digest, Autoline After Hours and Autopian are not only the best, but are thoroughly Detroit. I dont give a fuck which Lambo Johnny Lieberman likes. I dont care which 911 Matt Farah is humping.
Unless Beau will triple your salary, you won’t enjoy LA. Trust me, most of LA has moved here to Austin and it’s been brutal for us natives.
However, Tesla just opened their new assembly plant and are hiring left and right. If you’re into the EV world, I bet you could easily get on there and you’d definitely like the countryside East of Austin- it’s quiet, plenty of land for a fleet, people leave you alone and it’s cheaper here than living in Austin. Plus- no rust!
California is the land of regulation. And the cost of living is ridiculous. Plus, the water situation there is only getting worse. No one should be moving TO Los Angeles. There are already too many people there for the resources as it is.
It might be interesting to see how the next economic crash plays out in metro LA. But you’d need to pony up for the zombie apocolypse supplies and a home compound with concertina wire and flame throwers.
Pluses and minuses…
Seeing as how I turned down a job offer from Honda because they wanted be to do an 18 month rotation in Torrance after 2 years, I’m probably not the best to vote on this. Would have been a 2+ hour commute just to find a house comparable to what I was used to, and still 50% more expensive, conversation was over as soon as CA entered the picture
While you’re still in Detroit, there’s a guy trying to start a new car company. He recently bought an old Ford and Lincoln factory.
He goes by @thatdetroitandy on TikTok and he has a small bio on the website of one of his companies here.
Is this what his latest thing is now? I’ll eat my own head if this guy can actually “start a new car company”. LOL
Does he have a history of flaking out on projects? I don’t know anything about him except the (IMO) fairly entertaining videos he posts to tiktok about fixing up his ancient factory. I just figured he might have done good content for DT to write about.