How To Learn About Cars [2021 Guide]

January 18, 2021

Car meet overhead view  

The Ultimate Guide To Learning About Cars

To learn about cars you can read forums and online magazines, watch YouTube videos, work on cars yourself buy and restore a project car, join local clubs and communities and take driving courses. Keep reading to get more details.

Know The Basics

No matter what field of cars you're interested in, understanding the fundamentals is an important first step. Animagraffs does an excellent job of visualizing how an engine operates and what each part does.https://animagraffs.com/how-a-car-engine-works/

Once you understand the engine, look into how it sends power to the wheels, the difference between automatic and manual transmissions and anything else you have questions about.

We get it, this is information overload, so take it slow. Learning everything on how a car operates from the get go is hardly required. Understanding enough to have questions pop into your head naturally is where you want to be. 

For example, if you know what a camshaft does, you may wonder what the difference between a DOHC and a SOHC is. Later you may learn that VTEC uses multiple camshaft profiles, so you Google that next and so on.

Every gearhead in the 21st century regularly consults Google for car questions. The machines we love are complicated, so never feel too proud to look up answers. This process will likely never end as you learn more about cars, you'll start asking more complicated questions.

If you don't want to dig through Wikipedia articles and wikihows, start by reading car reviews. When you see a term you don't understand, look it up and keep reading until you see another unfamiliar term. Keep that up and you'll quickly get a basic understanding of the terminology.

If you want to deep dive, https://www.howacarworks.com/ has hours of videos going over the basics.

Read About Cars

Find magazines and websites that interest you. If you are interested in modifying cars and tuner culture read Speedhunters, if you want to learn how to drive well dig through Drivingfast's archive, if you want to be on top of general news make visiting Autoblog, Hooniverse or any major publication part of your daily routine.

No matter what category of cars you're interested in, someone is writing about it. If you pick out a few websites and make them a daily part of your life, you'll start to pick up a few things. 

Here is a list of popular sites covering different aspects of the automotive world. 

Tuner: Speedhunters, Super Street
Classics: Barnfinds, Hemmings
Performance Cars: EVO
Trucks: Truck Trend
Classic Muscle: Hot Rod
If you want to spend all your money: Bring a Trailer

The only wrong way to do this is to read about content you don't care about, this is supposed to be fun! There are no rules on what to like or find interesting - except liking the E30 and wishing the Prowler came with a V8. 

Car YouTube Channels and Podcasts

Car content can range from entertainment focused like Top Gear, The Grand Tour and most car movies to more informative options like ChrisFix or Engineering Explained, or land somewhere in the middle like Mighty Car Mods, Roadkill or The Smoking Tire.


There's so much car content out there it's impossible to hit every big channel and show, so we'll list some popular YouTube channels ready for binging. Like the websites, find content that resonates with you, every channel is going to have a different style and focus. The video above is a good example that is informative and entertaining.

Car Throttle, Regular Car Reviews, Doug Demuro, noriyaro, Petrolicious, Donut Media, Carfection, Harry's Garage, EVO, savagegeese, The Straight Pipes, MotorTrend, VINwiki are often recommended.

Podcasts are a great option too if you want to take your knowledge on the go. Like YouTube channels, there is an overwhelming amount of choices but The Smoking Tire, Car Talk and Everyday Driver are popular choices. 


Learn By Wrenching



There is no better way to learn about the mechanics of a car than by working on them. 

Before you dig in, first see if you can find a service manual for your car. It could be a book directly from the manufacturer originally for dealers, or a Haynes Manual. Either way, those books should cover essentially every type of repair you'll need to conduct. 

Start off doing simple tasks like changing the fluids, brake pads and spark plugs. You'll make mistakes and turn what was supposed to be an hour of work into a weekend project, but it's all part of the process. Look up Youtube videos and consult the internet when needed.

In general, the simpler the car, the easier it is to work on. So if you are going to purchase a car with the intent of maintaining it yourself, something without too many bells and whistles (heated seats, turbocharger, sunroof) will be easiest.

The go-to recommended car is any pre-2006 Honda Civic. They are plentiful, easy to work on, simple and reliable. Plus, you'll be able to find one for $3k, and sell it for $3k in a couple of years. First-gen Miatas, '90s Corollas and old trucks are great choices too.

A car that is easy to work on will have plenty of engine space to fit hands and tools, plenty of spare, cheap parts to purchase and was built with maintenance in mind, so easily accessible oil filters, spark plugs etc. Dig through forums to ensure you're not buying something with a crowded engine bay or bolts only accessible by a contortionist. If a car is a pain to wrench on, enthusiasts will talk about it - the 300ZX is notorious just for this reason.

If you want something more modern there are still plenty of great cars that were assembled with accessible components and room for tools. Again, the internet is your friend here. 

As you progress and gain confidence, buy more tools and take on new tasks as they come up. Try to convince friends and family to help you with promises of beer and pizza.

Oh yeah, and expect to ruin your clothes and bust up your fingers. We've all gone into the garage to take care of something small and end up crawling around on the floor with our nice clothes on. Keep an old pair of jeans and a shirt you don't care about making a few holes in on call. Mechanics gloves are nice to have too. They not only shield you from hot oil and components, but are a welcome buffer between your fingers and whatever part of the car you will inevitably smash them on. 

Plus, if you learn how to wrench, you can check out future cars on your own without needing a mechanic.

Love Your Car

 
Whether you own a $500 beater or something Jay Leno would be jealous of, learn to love your car. Hopefully you already feel this way, but for those of you who fantasize about replacing what you have with anything else, try to focus on the good. Even cars notorious for being boring, unreliable or just plain bad have redeeming qualities.

If you can learn to love your car you'll want to take care of it, clean it and read about it. In the process you'll learn to feel when something is off, find worn out parts when you're cleaning it and learn future problems you'll need to tackle on forums and websites.

We understand this is a tall order for those of you with shall we say "less-desirable examples" but if you can see the good, you can learn arguably the most important lesson about cars: how to be a good owner.


Buy A Project Car

 
If you want to learn quickly instead of waiting for your car to need maintenance, buy a project car. There's no better way to learn how to wrench on a car yourself than buying something needy that requires a lot of work. Just understand your wallet will have some unexpected weight loss if you go down that road.

Just don't underestimate how hard restoring a car can be. If you buy a shell of a car and plan to fully restore it in a year during your free time, expect to still have a heavy paper weight in your garage. 

That being said, outside of working as a mechanic, there's no better way to speed run your automotive knowledge. Just don't expect it to be easy or cheap! You can find a middle ground too. A project car doesn't need to be pulled out of a scrap yard. Find a car you like that has seen better days - bonus points if it runs.

Clean it up, replace old or broken parts and enjoy it! If you're lucky you might even be able to sell it for a profit!


Join Forums and Facebook Groups

 
Forums can be a mixed bag, but in general forums covering specific cars (for example rx7club) can be extremely helpful for specific models. If you have a car with a following of any kind, chances are there is a forum full of fellow enthusiasts interested in helping you maintain your machine. 

Chances are if your car has had a problem, someone on a forum had a similar problem and documented the fix. Plus, many forums have highly knowledgeable members who have thousands of posts and seem to know everything about your car. Being able to reach out to these folks can be invaluable.

There are also plenty of Facebook groups of the same nature. Unfortunately Facebook isn't the best platform for documenting DIY fixes, elaborate explanations and guides, but is where many past forum users have moved to.

Many of these pages also have local meets, leading us into our next segment.


The Community

 
Becoming involved in the community isn't just a great way to learn about cars, it's arguably the best part of the hobby! Meeting new people with similar interests, poking around other rides and having a good time hanging out, wrenching and going for drives is a blast!

To get involved you can join local Facebook groups, look up car meets in the area (If you are in KC you can check out our monthly event calendar or join our newsletter to stay in the loop) or attend events near your city. 

Wherever you are, be respectful of other cars and be friendly! There's nothing an enthusiast likes more than talking about their car, so ask!

If you don't want to just walk around and chat, you can always kill two birds and attend a driving school.


Learn To Be a Better Driver

 
Every enthusiast worth their salt has some driving skill. Learning how to control your car well isn't just fun, it's useful in bad situations and can save you if the worst is thrown your way.

The fastest way to learn how to drive well is to take a driving class. If you have the budget, time and a sporty(ish) car, a track day is the best - and most expensive - way to learn how to operate a car on the limit. 

Signing up with SCCA or NASA and having a coach instruct you on the finer points of car control while you have the time of your life on a closed circuit is the fast track for learning how to drive. Keep in mind as long as your car isn't a hazard on the track, you don't need a $100,000 sports car to participate. We've seen Chevrolet Cruzes, base Civics and even some sporty SUVs on track days.

Sure, the cars will obviously be out of their comfort zone, but as a beginner you will likely be what's holding your times back, not the car itself.

A step down in price, speed and wear on your car is signing up for an autocross.

Instead of renting a track, autocrosses take place in a parking lot and set up a course dictated by cones, not asphalt. While the speeds are lower autocross makes up with frantic pace. The corners are much closer and any straightaways are only a few seconds long making every session a manic ballet as drivers thread their cars through the cones.

With the lower speeds, autocross wears less on brakes, tires and each session is so short, cars don't have enough time to overheat. Plus, many organizations have the option to work the event - AKA resetting cones knocked over by enthusiastic drivers - making the cost of entry even lower.

Autocross isn't without downsides though. Each session is just one lap of a course that takes less than a minute to complete (usually). A weekend at the track will provide 2-3 hours of driving time, usually with an instructor giving you pointers in the passenger seat. Compared to a weekend auto crossing you'll be lucky if you get 30 minutes of seat time. That being said, an autocross event can run as little as $50 compared to the $250-$400 for a weekend at the track - not counting the wear and tear on your car - making it an excellent option to learn how your car operates at the limit for cheap.


Sign Up for a Defensive Driving Course

 
If you want to become a better driver but don't want to do any racing, a defensive driving school is another excellent option. Many insurance providers will often decrease your monthly premium with proof you've completed one of these schools as well, essentially paying for themselves. Just make sure they actually get you in a car. Some courses are all online, and while they may help, learning from an instructor in the passenger seat is going to be more impactful.

Courses like these are what you are looking for - if you're a new driver you'll have even more options.

If neither of these options are appealing or you don't want to spend the money, your options are limited, but there are still exercises you can do to improve your skills.

The most fun requires an empty parking lot and snow. Practice sliding your car in the snow and "catching" it when you start to lose control. This will let you feel what losing grip in your car feels like in a safe situation and how to gain it back. In Sweden, a country famous for its winters, requires new drivers to practice this very exercise to receive a license.

Just be careful picking a lot with few obstacles and understand some people and police might just see hooligans drifting in a parking lot and not an important driving lesson taking place. That's why we recommend getting permission for use of a private lot. If you choose not to, don't say we didn't warn you!


Just Enjoy it

This is a marathon not a race. There is no predetermined route to learning about the hobby or time limit, so don't sweat trying to do everything on this list. If you are curious about cars and the community that surrounds the hobby, you'll eventually learn more about them. You don't need to read every article on the internet, restore a car or take home a trophy from the track.