What is Car Spotting ?

Car Spotting is what it sounds like. You see a nice car, take a photo of it, and usually post it online as content. Car spotting, in my definition, is not taking photos at a car show or communal gathering of like minded hobbyists. I’m talking out of the blue, in the wild, unexpected sighting of a cool, vintage, or interesting vehicle.

Whether it’s parked on the street, store parking lot, someone’s driveway, or tucked away behind an All Trespassers Will be Shot sign. Car spotting is Pokemon Go car people with the same potential for danger. Why? Because you’re taking photos of private property without permission and people can reacted weirdly to seeing that. However, most anxiety fueled paranoia is often just the imagination running wild.

Car Spotting in Laredo, TX

I was exploring a part of town I’m rarely in. A part of town where BEWARE OF DOG signs become more frequent the moment you cross a set of train tracks. Driving through suburban neighborhoods with an hour to kill turned into a car spotting safari. Driving in 103 degree Texas heat with the windows down scanning driveways and chain linked fenced yards for any signs of chrome or worn FOR SALE sign.

Vintage cars with Sarah McLachlan lyrics on their metal faces as they wait for “someday” or “tomorrow” to arrive. Project cars neglected, pushed back, forgotten, or even just lost interest. Trapped in a toxic relationship with owners who refuse to sell for a spectrum reasons. These cars are still everywhere.

I’m always cautious when car spotting. My over thinking imagination often goes on a scenario bender of paranoia. Day dream scenarios of angry shotgun wielding home owners ready to greet me with the sound of a front door slamming the side of the house. Or being chased out by some half-assed self appointed neighborhood watch who thinks I’m casing houses to burglar, or worse.

I try to imagine what I must look like to people; a mustached stranger in a cowboy hat taking photos of derelicts sitting in the front yard. Driving a dusty old Silverado with 238k miles makes it even more suspicious as it creaks through the streets with worn suspension components and a steady but wheezing V6 engine doing minimal effort at 1,200 RPM.

An abandoned Dodge Camper Van parked on a street is a decent find and parked across from it. Turning to observe my surroundings unintentionally locking eyes with a woman talking on the phone in the front porch at the house I just parked in front of.


I wondered what she assumed I was doing. Looking for someone? A private investigator looking for a cheating spouse following a hutch that led him to this street parked vintage RV? An undercover cop scoping the area taking photos to build a case on the stash house of a suspected drug trafficker? Or a hipster creep with a fetish for late 70’s shagging wagons? I’ll never know, but I imagine she was just wondering why I stopped in her house.

More than once I’ve been confronted in a Wal-Mart parking lot by security guards asking why I’m taking photos of a car. Wearing stern and assertive masks as they approach the young guy taking photos of a brown dented 1979 Chevy Impala with the enthusiasm of a swimsuit photographer. They always start off the same way, “Sir, may I help you?” Being inside my own head their unexpected question suddenly drops me back into reality where apparently saying, “No” isn’t a long enough answer.


They follow up by asking why I’m taking photos of this car. My responses always sound like a Starbucks order coming from my millennial aged face. “I like cars, and I run a website where I post photos of interesting cars I see in public on Instagram.” Their eyes shift over to the piece of shit Chevy from the Jimmy Carter administration and they assume its bullshit.

I flash my badge of civility, a business card, to prove that I am who I say I am. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of what angles I still need to take as soon as these pepper spray packing rent-a-cops leave. They always leave because apart from looking suspicious there is no real crime here, and I happened to look a certain way – until my last name blows my cover.


Tips for Car Spotting

Car spotting is a weird activity. Like trying to explain an inside joke to someone who wasn’t there. If I could give any tips to fellow car spotters is try to smile while doing it. Not a full cheese platter, just enough to make people think you are at least in a good mood. If someone does have questions why you are taking photos of their buddy’s, neighbors, or own car you have to put them at ease. Saying you are a fan of the car and talking like you know something about the vehicle in question goes a long way in defusing any tense assumptions. “Nice car bro” doesn’t always work with regular people.

If you approach a car and see someone nearby wearing a “who the fuck are you?” mask. ASK PERMISSION! Which you might assume is common sense but then you have remember that chain-saws have a warning label telling you not to hold on to the blade. Some people need a friendly reminder.

“Is this your car? May I take photos of it?” They might say no. And if they do say no, honor it and just put the phone away. It happened to me with a 1992 Cadillac. The owner’s husband kindly said no, because they had a bad experience someone who took photos of the car and tried to sell it on Craigslist as the owner. They filed a police report under the suspicion that the person was planning on stealing the car once they had a buyer. That is just one of the very real reasons people can be defensive about random people taking photos of their ride. Especially when said car is not an Italian supercar wrapped in colors that would make an Easter egg say, “That’s a bit much…”

Good manners can break the ice and it allows the opportunity to explain why you are taking photos. But of course you never know how people will react so. If you get a bad vibe, just walk away. No amount of Likes or Retweets is worth gambling with humanity.