Tim Esterdahl is one of the resident auto writer contributors here on CarNewsCafe.com. How did this self-proclaimed truck guy and “truck snob” get started in the wacky world of writing about cars and trucks though? In this exclusive and candid interview we find out what pulled him into auto journalism, and we found out what his first car was. Tim and I also discuss what it means to truly make it as an auto writer, versus the people that want to keep their artistic integrity, and why just writing about trucks isn’t a good idea and the debate over girls and trucks continues.
Adam Yamada-Hanff – So Tim, tell us about yourself? What got you started writing about cars and more specifically trucks?
Tim Esterdahl – I don’t have the “typical” automotive writer background. Actually, automotive writing wasn’t even on my radar before I started doing it. About 6 years ago, I started a web design/graphic design/PR company and while business was good, I wanted to add something different to it. I stumbled upon a Craigslist and here I am three years later.
I’m not a complete automotive newbie. I grew up in Michigan surrounded by people and family who worked in the automotive industry. My journalism degree and inquisitive nature helped as well.
AYH – So you replied to a Craigslist ad and got a job as a full fledged auto writer? What did your family do in the auto industry?
TE – As crazy as it sounds, yes, I responded to a Craigslist ad. Initially, I worked for a few years before I ventured out and went to auto shows, did media tours, joined press associations, etc. It has grown into something now that I don’t think anyone really anticipated.
I’d rather not answer the question on family. I don’t want to name names.
AYH – Tell us what your role is here on this excellent online car news magazine?
TE – Keeping the East Coast car guys in line.
AYH Describe a typical day for Tim Esterdahl, auto writer extraordinaire.
TE – This is a tough one, since I don’t really have a typical day. Each day is unique. Most often, I start around 6 or 7 am with reading the news. I’m a big news junkie and I try to read at least a few hours a day. This helps get the “wheels turning” and ideas flowing.
Then, I head off to my office. Being that I work for a big non-profit, an automotive publishing company and freelancer on the side, I just don’t fire up Word and call it good. For example, right now I am writing a newsletter, an automotive story, scrolling through FB looking for items to share and finding breaking news items.
I generally do this until after lunch and then I hit the golf course or go for a bike ride. When I get back, I respond to emails, scroll the news some more and finish up any little items.
AYH What’s been the most memorable fun experience you’ve had in your career?
TE – I had an especially memorable experience last month in fact. Through my automotive contacts I was able to get my father, a long-time GM employee, a special life-time achievement award. We had a private lunch with Jeff Luke, GM Truck chief engineer, and his business manager Rob Thom. During this lunch, my Dad received the award. This “Once a Trucker, Always a Trucker” has only been given out around 30 times and my Dad helped create the award.
AYH – You are a self-described “truck snob” can you explain to our readers what that means? How might one obtain this label and status?
TE – Haha… I simply love trucks. My first new vehicle was a truck, a Chevy S-10. I just really enjoy driving them. As far as a “snob,” that comes from my disdain at driving other vehicles at times.
AYH – So you can’t drive a sports car and enjoy it?
TE – Sure. I can drive a sports car and enjoy it. I’ve driven on tracks, taken a BMW 435i convertible for a drive through the Colorado Mountains and have driven a slew of other cars. My preference is trucks.
AYH – What do you like writing about Toyota trucks? As Top Gear has shown us they are basically indestructible but Toyota doesn’t seem to have as strong a foothold in the American truck market as the Big 3 automakers.
TE – The Toyota truck label is pretty interesting actually. I got my start with two large Toyota truck sites: Tundraheadquarters.com and Tacomahq.com. Before that, I really didn’t know anything about their products. I have since leased one. My truck helps me learn more about their products. I didn’t race out to get one, it was just time for a new vehicle.
It’s true they don’t have as large of a foothold as the other manufactures. However, they haven’t been around nearly as long and the acceleration issue hurt them quite a bit. They make good trucks. Are they better/worse than other makers? In some ways yes, in others no.
AYH – Actually about that, I know one issue you have had in the auto writing field is that you feel you have been “typecast” as not only the truck guy but the “Toyota truck guy.” What steps have you taken to change PR company and automakers view of you? Do you feel you’ve changed your persona?
TE – The first thing I did was talk with other journalists like Aaron Turpen to make sure I was correct in what I was seeing. Second, I had a new company called Spork Publishing created. This is a smaller company based on the larger Spork Marketing. Third, I tried to find other media outlets that would take my guest posts to show automakers I was more than just a Toyota guy. It is still an uphill battle with some automakers, but I’ve broken down many doors thanks to contacts I have made.
Lastly, even though sites like Tundraheadquarters.com or Tacomahq.com are Toyota focused, when I write a post about another automaker, I try to do my best to present both sides of the information. And while the perception is always there. “Gee look a Toyota site wrote a negative article about X, Y, Z,” the astute readers know I have also taken Toyota to task as well.
AYH – In my interview with Geraldine Herbert, who founded the website WheelsforWomen, she said, “the key to a successful website is define your niche and stick with it.” What are your thoughts on that statement and advice?
TE – I think there is a LOT of truth to this statement. The fact is not everyone is going to be like Car and Driver or Motor Trend. And covering the entire automotive marketplace is extremely difficult and costly. Just look at sites like Autoblog. They try to cover the entire industry and end up spending enormous amounts of money doing so.
Yet, this is a double-edged. Let’s say you decide to cover only Nissan as your niche. You will always be limited in what you can write about, get access to and how far you can grow it.
There has to be a happy medium. For a lot of female journalists, this seems to be women-focused car reviews and news. The fact is women want to know about cars, yet the industry is incredibly biased against them. This works.
AYH – On Carnewscafe.com we’ve had a lot of back and forth debate about chick magnets and cars. This is after we released our article “10 Cars that WILL Get you Laid” and you pointed out with much disdain we did not include any trucks on the list. You countered with an editorial “Full Size Trucks – The REAL Chick Magnet.” Nicolas Zart also had his editorial about women liking Sports Cars vs Green Cars, I noticed you didn’t like that much either.
TE – LOL. I stand by my comment.
All of these lists just depend where you live. I just moved from Denver, Co to western Nebraska. Go to any bar around here on a Friday night and you will see a parking lot full of trucks. I haven’t seen an electric car in the 3 months I’ve lived here nor, do I recall seeing one, in the past 10 years that I have been visiting. I see trucks, lots and lots of trucks. Every guy I know around here has a truck. Heck, most of them have 2-3.
AYH – How about we just settle this? Can you just admit in this interview that we are right? Women generally don’t like trucks! 🙂
TE – No. We can agree that you need to get out more. 😉
AYH – I guess I’ll always be a city slicker. I’ll probably own a truck one day when I feel I need it. What’s a “truck snob’s” opinion about guys who buy trucks but doesn’t even know how to use a hammer?
TE – I think that is the inherent problem with city slickers and trucks. City people see a truck as a “tool to get a job done.” Most truck buyers see it as a versatile vehicle. Who cares that you can’t use a hammer? I don’t. In fact, I bought my truck NOT to get “work” done, rather it was a better option for my family than a van. As of this point, I haven’t hauled lumber, tools or a dirt bike in it. I have moved with it, hauled kids bikes and my golf clubs/bicycle.
Will I haul lumber at some point? Heck yeah. We are in the process of buying a house.
The fact is, a truck isn’t just a tool. It is a versatile vehicle that you can use for all sorts of things.
AYH – For someone that wants to be a truck writer, not an auto writer, what advice do you have?
TE – Reconsider. Look I enjoy writing about trucks, but I also write about all other vehicles as well. Apparently, you didn’t catch my Prius V review?? In order to truly understand trucks and what automakers are thinking, you need to branch out. For example, why does Ram offer a EcoDiesel? One reason is because Chrysler stinks at selling cars. That’s important to know.
AYH – I know in the past when we have talked you said that you were willing to take on some of the more boring jobs that other auto writers won’t. Is this something that you feel some people don’t get or pass on jobs because they don’t feel it fits with how they view the auto world?
TE – When I first started writing in college it became apparent to me that I can either write what I love or write what pays the bills. Rarely, do you get the chance to do both. For example, I put out say 80 articles a month and out of that, I really enjoy maybe 2-3. I enjoy the other ones, I just don’t really enjoy them.
I think far too often, people get the idea they will only write what they love. This is great except two things tend to happen. 1. They don’t make much money. 2. They fight with those who want to change it like copy editors.
For myself, there was a time when I would fight a copy editor. Now, I have better things to do like play with my kids. It is a difficult balance when you “give birth to a story” and then are able to walk away without getting your feelings hurt. I try to keep things in perspective. It is only one story and it is their work in the end. The only things I can really control are my personal business items.
AYH – Great advice! Do you feel that your journalism degree has given you a leg-up compared to others who want to be auto writers?
TE – From a writing standpoint, yes it has. From an automotive standpoint, not so much. I mean there are plenty of guys who know a lot more about cars than I do. Yet, they have a hard time writing out their thoughts. For me, it is probably easier to write up a story, but it may not be as detailed because I don’t have the same knowledge base.
AYH – Tell me about your company, TE Creative Services? What services do you provide and offer?
TE – TE Creative Services was my brainchild in response to seeing nonprofits lay off communication staff whenever funding dried up. This situation is pretty ironic since when funding dries up, the nonprofit needs to communicate their needs more. Yet, communication staff is normally the first to go.
With this in mind, I offer low cost services as well as contract-communications services. Over the past 6 years, I’ve never not had a contract-communications project and I have helped launch 20+ websites and designed 50+ marketing pieces. I’m pretty proud of that.
AYH – I assume the “TE” stands for Tim Esterdahl?
TE – Yes.
AYH – If you weren’t a truck writer and content specialist would you still see yourself working in the auto field in some other capacity and way?
TE – No. I’m not really a “gear head.”
AYH – Now for some fun questions. What was your first car… or truck? Can you share a found memory of it?
TE – First car was a Chevy Cavalier that had one mirror on the driver’s side. At the time you ordered it, you could “delete” the passenger mirror and save money. I bought it for $2,000 and drove it around for 2 years. My brother sold it for $2,000 when I was done with it.
I cut my teeth on automotive repair on that car by replacing the head gasket and doing other minor repair work.
AYH – Yeah, I’m sure you did do a lot of repairs on your Cavalier since I hear they are terrible cars. So you ordered the Cavalier without the passenger side door mirror?
TE – I bought the Cavalier used.
AYH – What is currently in your garage? What are you currently driving on a daily basis and own I mean.
TE – 2013 Toyota Tundra CrewMax and a 2001 Honda CR-V. I drive the truck mostly when I don’t have a press car. The Honda is my wife’s and I seem to be constantly repairing something on it! In its defense, it is 13 years old and has 170k miles on it.
AYH – What’s a dream car, truck, or vehicle you’d like to own?
TE – I may be weird, but I don’t lust over “dream cars” like boys do with posters on their walls. Currently, I am more interested in an older car. I’ve been looking at 1950’s Chevy and Ford pickups as well as 1970-80s FJ-45 trucks.
AYH – What’s on your automotive bucket list? Racing on the famed Nurburgring? Off-roading somewhere exotic? Owning a ton of trucks?
TE – This is a tough one. I’d have to say an off-roading trip would be a lot of fun. I’m going to the Texas Truck Rodeo this year which was one of my bucket list items.
I don’t know. I guess I just really want to keep improving, become more influential and learn more about all trucks.
Adam Yamada-Hanff – Anything else you want to share about yourself, your job, or your life Tim with our readers that we did not discuss?
Tim Esterdahl – Nope.
END OF INTERVIEW
I hope everyone enjoyed this interview with Tim about his experiences in auto journalism. I encourage everyone who got value out of this interview to leave a comment below thanking Tim for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview. Also if you have questions you’d like Tim to answer please leave them below and we will do our best to make sure he comes back to respond to as many as he can for all our readers.