'Aging Wheels' Offers Up a Different Side of Car YouTube
Robert Dunn isn’t your typical automotive YouTuber. He doesn’t have any supercars or a mansion on one of the coasts. He isn’t all about pushing vehicles to their limits or flipping them for a profit. No, his channel, Aging Wheels, is meant for folks like you and me, who love oddball cars we wouldn’t see anywhere else. Cars that time has forgotten.
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Dunn started his YouTube channel back in 2014, but its current iteration really started to take shape about five or six years ago, when he got more into oddball vehicles and project cars. There are a few types of things Dunn focuses on with Aging Wheels: forgotten electric vehicles, Soviet-era disasters and a retired school bus he’s converting into an RV. What initially started as a hobby for Dunn has become a full-time career.
“When I started my first job, I wanted to get back into [YouTube] as a sort of hobby thing to do outside of work, that could potentially turn into a job,” Dunn told Jalopnik in a phone interview. “I didn’t really think it was going to, and I just kept doing it on and off for a long while until I got more serious about it.”
Since the beginning, Dunn, who is based in Missouri, has been churning out content you’d have trouble fitting into one neat category. One week he may be trying to convert an old Ford Escape to electric, using parts from a wrecked Tesla. The following episode might be a technical deep-dive on rebuilding the two-stroke engine in his Trabant, or showing off his fleet of almost completely forgotten-about Codas — a short-lived electric vehicle from the early 2010s. He may even be fiddling with his ex-pizza-delivery vehicle, a three-wheeled Reliant Robin, in order to make it vaguely safe to drive. If you’re into these sorts of vehicles, there’s nowhere better to be on the internet than Dunn’s channel.
But Aging Wheels is about more than just cars. In a way, it’s about Dunn himself. People come to Aging Wheels because they like Dunn – his subdued presentation style and his willingness to show his mistakes rather than edit them out. That approach makes Dunn a bit of a rarity when it comes to YouTube personalities.
“I feel like my audience watches for me, and the content is somewhat secondary,” Dunn said. “But also, part of me is the cars that I’m interested in.”
The Man Behind the Channel
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If you’re a regular viewer of Aging Wheels, you’re aware of the hundreds of hours of work Dunn puts into his vehicles. He’s not just changing oil or spark plugs. He’s really getting in there – removing entire EV battery packs, tearing down engines, or working on his school bus motorhome, which has admittedly been a slow project for Dunn.
Impressively, Dunn is completely self-taught. Before his life as a YouTuber, Dunn was a software engineer, a skill he said “didn’t translate at all” to the world of wrenching on cars. In a previous life, Dunn was an Android developer who did a number of “very un-notable things” including the kiosks at Enterprise rental car branches.
He had done some wrenching on cars in the past, but had never delved deep into DIY repair until he launched his YouTube channel. He kept at it and, little by little, he learned and grew as a mechanic while putting out videos.
“I get really interested in something, and I just go on these huge deep-dives,” Dunn said. “When I’m interested in something, I’ll watch a bunch of YouTube videos on that topic or browse articles, and I’ll just absorb stuff slowly over time.”
There’s one more feature in Dunn’s car videos (and his woodworking videos, posted to his Under Dunn channel) that you might not expect from automotive YouTube: Open, frank discussion about mental health, and Dunn’s own struggles with it. He often admits to having trouble getting motivated because of his ADHD, which he said he’s had to deal with “forever.” It’s an issue that’s exacerbated by being his own boss.
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“While working in the shop, it’s frustrating how easy it is to get distracted and forget what I’m doing. I’ll constantly go to get something small and find myself 30 minutes later pacing around developing an argument out loud or rehearsing some argument for a future video,” Dunn explained. “So basically, pacing around talking to myself.”
Dunn also talks about the tricks other YouTubers use to make a project seem effortless, like time-lapses or editing out struggles, and how that can have a negative effect on his self-esteem. It can be hard to tell how much work a project took – and how much time – depending on how a video is edited.
“I’ll try to pepper in comments in my videos like, ‘I spent a day on this. I spent a week on this. I just wasted another week,’” Dunn said.
Dunn also speaks candidly about how depression has impacted his content output, something few social-media personalities are willing to discuss publicly. His channel has been known to go dark for a few weeks or even a month at a time depending on what else is happening in his life. “I haven’t been around for two months. Here’s why: It’s because I’ve been sad,” Dunn said with a humorous tone during our conversation.
All that being said, Dunn admits that there are some situations where having ADHD is actually an advantage for him and his channel.
“It’s next to impossible for me to learn something I’m not interested in. That’s the main reason my channel always follows what I’m interested in. Sure, that helps prevent burnout, but I just can’t get into something if I’m not, well, into it,” he said. “ADHD helps a ton with research, knowledge, developing arguments, writing, and other things I get fixated on.”
What’s Next for Aging Wheels and Robert Dunn
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For Dunn and Aging Wheels, there’s always a lot going on. His main focus right now is finishing that Tesla-powered Ford Escape, which he hopes will be done by June and ready for some shakedown drives. Eventually, he hopes to apply what he learns from this project to help him electrify his bus-turned-motorhome. During that time, he’ll also be doing work on the rest of his fleet: his Codas, his Lada, the Reliant Robin, whatever else he drags home.
All in all, despite the trials and tribulations that have been Dunn’s past year, he still has a positive outlook – not only on life, but on a job he feels lucky to have. I asked Dunn how he ended up with the esoteric, offbeat vehicles featured on his YouTube channel. What captured his imagination in these unloved machines? “I think it’s just the difference of them,” he told me. “It’s like Saabs — being different just for the sake of being different.”
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