Aaron Turpen: Before You Ask, Let Me Explain What I Do for a Living

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By Aaron Turpen, automotive writer
Cowboy State Daily

“Hi. My name is Aaron and I like to drive.” This is how I imagine my introduction would be were there some kind of group therapy for driver’s anonymous. And even then, I’d probably only be there under court order. Driving doesn’t interfere with my life. It is something I love doing and I get to do it (more or less) for a living. Well, technically, I get paid to write, but I do a lot of driving to lead up to said writing. And the driving is the fun bit.

The question I get asked most often is a variation of “what exactly is your job?” People see me driving new cars all the time and wonder what I do, where I get the cars, and whether I sell them. I’ve been asked if I’m a drug dealer, a spy, or some kind of car dealer. One fourth grader once told me she assumed I had a giant garage and was just really rich. Sadly, no, I am not Jay Leno or even his cousin. I don’t work for a dealership; or, frankly, know anyone locally who does. And I don’t sell drugs. I can neither acknowledge or deny the accusation of being a spy: need to know and all that.

The reality is that I’m what is called an automotive journalist. Specifically a freelance one, which means I don’t “work” for a given company, I just have several that accept some of the stuff I write. “Automotive journalism” is kind of a catch-all term for writers, photographers, and personalities that work within the automotive realm. It’s everything from covering news items related to automotive to writing opinions to making YouTube videos. Some write for well-known publications like Car & Driver and Motortrend, others have large Instagram followings, and still others write for various dot coms and online outlets. My work is almost exclusively online and my audience is global. I mostly write opinions to include reviews of vehicles and commentary. And now, a few times a month, I write something locally-oriented for Cowboy State Daily. Often to you, the reader’s, chagrin, I bet.

The gist of the job is this: manufacturers bring me cars to drive. I drive them for a few days (usually about a week). I test some things as appropriate. Those might be things like fuel economy, off-road prowess, towing capability, or family hauling. I use the vehicle as a daily driver to haul my family around or I act my age and cruise around as the middle-aged white guy with a two-seat sports car. I also attend driving events and presentations from manufacturers and membership groups to familiarize with new technologies, new vehicles, and so on. Then I write about all of it. Often with Oxford commas. Editors love those.

One of the events that I attend is an annual driving get-together put on by the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. RMAP is a group based in Denver for automotive journalists and influencers in the Rocky Mountain region. Membership is exclusive to those of us who are established automotive journalists with a few up-and-comers being sponsored as well. At the event, manufacturers bring vehicles and we, the journalists, talk with representatives from the makes and drive the vehicles in Colorado’s mountains. Called the Rocky Mountain Driving Experience, this year’s RMDE was held in Golden, Colorado with drives into the mountains just west of Denver. Previous events have been held in the Estes Park area and at the High Plains Raceway east of Denver.

At this year’s RMDE, I drove the new Toyota Tundra pickup truck, the new Kia EV6 electric crossover-SUV, the all-new Nissan Z, the totally remodelled Honda HR-V, and other vehicles from automakers of every description. These events help introduce me to the new vehicles being introduced for the current and next model year and give me a chance to talk with representatives from each manufacturer to learn what’s new and how they’re positioning the vehicle in terms of technology, buyer market, and so forth. That baseline information and first-time drive gives me a starting impression of the vehicle. Then, eventually, the vehicle will come to me as a loan and I will drive it over several days to gain a full feeling for what it is, who it’s intended for, and how well it’s positioned in its market compared to the competition.

My goal is to be as unbiased as possible. When I can’t be completely neutral, I try to point out my own bias wherever possible. For example, I get a serious off-road beast and get to go nuts with it in the wilderness? I’m probably going to like it a lot more than I would, say, that A-to-B commuter car with the weak engine and soul-sucking transmission. For me, though, the most interesting and fun vehicles are the ones that take me by surprise. A good example there is the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT. I was ready to be disappointed that the Mustang name was being stuck onto a small SUV and paraded as “new.” Then I found out what 0-60 miles per hour in 4 seconds feels like as a daily driving option that won’t have the police in hot pursuit because your engine announced to the entire world that you are definitely hot dogging.

The experience of doing what I do for a living (I’m now on year 10) has been great. The manufacturers supply the vehicles, but I’m free to editorialize as I wish. My opinions are my own. And amongst the automakers, the respect level for that is higher than you’d think. I’ve never faced repercussions for negative reviews.

My opinions do, however, often cause much consternation amongst enthusiasts for a particular brand or vehicle when it doesn’t jive with their love affair. I get a lot of comments along the lines of “Ya, but it’s still a Dodge” or “You clearly didn’t actually drive that or you’d have realized that the bed length is 52.73841 inches, not just 52.” I’ve even been told that I’m a shill for the “other company” when I have negatives to say. (This is especially true if the vehicle in question happens to be a product of Elon Musk’s corporation.)

But that’s OK. I’m writing opinions and not everyone will agree with them. Most of my work is actually just my love affair with driving manifested as words on a screen. Because, when it’s all boiled down, I really just like to drive. I’ve driven 18-wheelers (aka “big trucks”), tiny three-wheelers, muscle cars, rock crawling beasts, small cars, big SUVs, and everything else I could get my hands on. My greatest fear, in fact, is that autonomous vehicles will become mandatory within my lifetime. Luckily that’s not very likely. We’re still pretty far away from that horrible dystopia. I won’t likely have to portray Rush’s Red Barchetta lyrics in real life.

So I drive and I write. That’s basically my job. It might be confusing to some when it gets to the details, but in the end, that’s the gist.

Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.

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