Finding Car Community on Social Media

Car lovers are a study in turning online friends into offline ones. Post by Rashaad Ahmad, SML Research Assistant

Photo by Rashaad Ahmad — His own 1960 Corvair!

Do you turn your online friends to offline ones? One criticism of social media is that interactions mostly happen online, but the automotive community is a perfect example of why that isn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, we can look at the automotive community as a lens for exploring social media subcultures and relationships in a more general way that applies to everyone. Youtube, Facebook and Instagram have replaced traditional sources of automotive culture. It is now simpler than ever to snap a picture of your ride and throw it up for the world to see.

How do people get into automotive culture in the first place?

Traditionally, working on cars was something mostly passed on from person to person. Unless you were adventurous and started working on your car by yourself, it was usually passed down through family members and friends. Due to social media, “becoming a car person” has drastically changed. Youtube is filled with how-tos and DIYs for fixing so many different cars and social media is a resource for getting reliable help from other car owners. You can learn so much from complete strangers by watching their videos and reading their posts. People also post short films and coverage of automotive meetups which also fosters a sense of community around the hobby leading to more enthusiasts.

Photo by Rashaad Ahmad

How does this transform into real life interaction?

To think about this, we need to understand that social media plays a role on a larger and on a smaller scale for auto enthusiasts. There are car pages on Facebook that cater to both bigger and smaller communities. For example, there are bigger communities that focus on more general tastes such as performance cars and lowered cars. These communities lead to large scale meetups such as car shows and other big auto events. At these events, it’s common to meet new people and make new friends. While this larger scale community usually doesn’t directly help you to make offline connections, it sets you up with the opportunity, usually through events. There are also smaller scale pages that are usually more narrowly focused on one auto brand or one specific model. Here, interactions are more personal and people tend to directly friend others more and meet up with them offline. Interactions begin online, but car enthusiasts like to meet up and check out cars in person, so offline interactions usually follow. Large groups tend to guide overall culture while small ones lead to more in-person interaction at a local level.

Youtube is another social media site that encourages interaction for automotive enthusiasts on both a larger and smaller scale. Bigger, more well known Youtubers often help dictate what is popular in the community. In turn, viewers may flock to certain car companies or trends due to popularity. People often travel to attend car shows they hear about on Youtube and like to meet up with other viewers and even the Youtubers themselves. Once again, these larger scale channels don’t directly set up offline connections but rather encourage them and guide the overall culture.

Smaller scale channels tend to focus on the local automotive culture and often endorse certain local dealerships, workshops, etc. These channels more directly support offline interactions as people are often from the same local community and local interactions are encouraged. Two Youtube channels that show the effects of large and small scale channels are Petrolicious and Dip Your Car. Petrolicious is a larger channel that focuses on mostly classic cars. It has a large following and reinforces the classic side of the hobby by featuring stories of classic cars and their owners. Viewers aren’t usually encouraged to meet up, since the channel features vehicles from all over the world, but it keeps interests in classic cars alive. On the other hand, niche channels like Dip Your Car also create offline communities. The channel is dedicated to Plastidipping cars — Plastidip is a removable sprayable paint that has become quite popular among automotive enthusiasts. Although Dip Your Car now is a bigger channel in terms of views, it was once a smaller channel which really allowed the company to develop its local business into a large scale online business. Dip Your Car encouraged customers to try their product and even come to their location in Florida for their plastidipping services. This led to interactions both locally and online.

Instagram deals with interaction in a similar way. IG fuels a lot of automotive enthusiasm, and there are many pages focused on automotive builds and personal accounts that show off users’ project cars. Local businesses often create Instagram pages to show off their work, encouraging local interaction, while larger-scale offer general encouragement for the hobby.

This was especially helpful the other day when I was trying to find a good tire shop in my area. My tires needed to be balanced but I wanted to go to a trusted shop with advanced equipment. I followed an Instagram page of a local tire/suspension shop called Intrack Tires and browsing through their page, I saw pictures of all the cars they recently worked on. I was happy to see that they were enthusiast-friendly and worked almost exclusively on modified cars. Many shops prefer to avoid modified cars as they require much more knowledge and tuning ability than standard vehicles. I ended up happily choosing Intrack Tires after viewing their IG page, which is a real life example of how smaller pages encourage local connections.

Photo by Rashaad Ahmad

Social Media Bridges Gaps You Didn’t Know You Had

A few years ago I got my first classic car, a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair. I first saw the car was when I was around 8 years old and went into my neighbor’s garage to grab something. Sitting, buried in dust, grime, cobwebs and mysterious bugs was an old American car with dull green paint and blown out tires. Now most people who had seen this car didn’t give it another look, but my neighbor took notice when he saw my eyes glimmering with interest. Having been a car enthusiast all my life, this was the first time I had really seen a classic car sitting in the same spot for over 4 times my life span. Ever since that day, my neighbor proudly said this car was mine when he passed away.

Fast forward a few years after his death, his daughters called me to take the vehicle their dad had promised me as the house was being sold. I called three of my closest friends, as well as my cousin and we were able to push the car out of its grave into the first sunlight it would see in over 30 years. I gave the car a thorough wash and the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair Project began. After getting the vehicle drivable and taking it on a few cruises and car shows, I posted a picture on one of the Facebook Corvair owners groups. A fellow owner realized that the Corvair I had posted was his own car from back in the 1960s. I then added him on Facebook and we confirmed that my Corvair was indeed his Corvair back in the day. I was able to talk to the previous owner of my car who I didn’t even know existed. I had assumed that my car’s history dated back to my neighbor, who owned the car, but I never realized there was more to the story than I originally assumed. It was an amazing experience which connected me with someone who is an important piece in the history of my project, whom I probably wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for social media.

How does this relate to non-automotive enthusiasts?

Even if you aren’t into cars, chances are you have a hobby or something you are passionate about. There are probably Youtube videos on your hobby, as well as Facebook and Instagram pages on it as well. As long as there is a community surrounding it then you are bound to have similar larger and smaller scale effects from social media. Social Media might be criticized for taking away in person relationships but that has shown to be a misconception. If people are passionate about something such as cars, social media is a tool which can facilitate in-person communication and interaction.

Have you met a friend through a hobby online? Tell us about it!