As many of you know, the Internet is an exciting place, full of magic, and wonder, and delight, and a disturbingly large collection of tentacle porn. Thanks to online communities it's also a good place to invent a version of yourself that's better, older, and more interesting.
You can, for instance, use the Internet to order toilet paper with Sudoku on it. You can use it to send instant messages to your friends when you're seated at an automotive press event and the engineer has just said "spindle velocity" for the third time. Or you can use it to tell everyone that you own a Lamborghini, even though you're really just a middle schooler sitting in your parents' basement.
I say this because I used to be one of these middle schoolers. Back when I was a wee lad of merely 13 or 14, I joined a car forum and told everyone that I was actually a guy in his thirties who owned an oil field and drove a wide variety of cool cars. Normally this would've thrown up an instant red flag, and nobody would've believed me, and I would've been shunned, except that I had one major advantage that gave me credibility: I knew the difference between "their," "they're," and "there."
When I look back on my automotive forum lying now, I find it hilarious – not entirely due to the stories I told as a wide-eyed teenager with little knowledge of how the world worked (who the hell owns an oil field?), but more because of the cars I chose to "buy." For instance: even though I was lying, and therefore the sky was the limit on what I could "own," I told everyone that I purchased – this is entirely true – a Mercedes C43 AMG, a Nissan Titan, a used BMW 3 Series, and a 1992 GMC Typhoon.
Yes, that's right: I could've had a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, some sort of cool vintage car, an Aston-Martin, a Bentley, a Porsche … and yet I told everyone I was driving around in a 11-year-old GMC SUV with an interior that looked like it was made from Wal-Mart deck chair plastic. Occasionally, I think back on these teenage moments – many of which have since been deleted – and I shake my head in disbelief: partially because of the idiocy, and the lying, and the stupidity, but also because for God's sake, dude, why not at least a freaking NSX or something?
The funny thing is that when I actually grew up, and got a job, and made some money, I ended up buying better vehicles than the ones I lied about. In other words: my eventual automobile-owning realities surpassed even my wildest pre-teen fantasies – and as I get older and remember those early years, all I can do is look back and think: A Nissan Titan? Really? Even with all the differential problems?
Realistically, the issue of lying on the Internet is hardly limited to my teenage self. As long as there are computers with usernames and Internet "handles" and burner accounts, people will always be able to lie about the things they have, the accomplishments they've made, the places they've been, the Nissan pickups they own, etc.
And nowhere is this more prevalent than on automotive forums, where respect and admiration largely depends on the vehicles you drive. So today, I've assembled a handy little guide for spotting an automotive forum liar, drawn primarily on my own teenage experiences:
1. Ask for pictures (AKA The SR20 Rule)
Back when I was telling my tall tales of owning unique cars (a used BMW 3 Series? WHY???), we lived in a different time. Taylor Swift was still singing national anthems to 76ers fans who showed up solely to enjoy three-dollar beer night. OutKast had not yet told us to shake it like a Polaroid picture. John Kerry had not completed the full metamorphosis from old rich U.S. senator to old rich U.S. presidential candidate. And most importantly, there were no camera phones. In fact, there were barely even digital cameras. This was the technological dark ages, back when people like my parents still went into car dealers and asked: Does it have a tape deck?
These days, lying on the Internet is a lot harder than it was before, because everyone has a camera on them at all times. And if you don't believe something that someone says, you are well within your rights to ask them to document it with a few photographs. Here's a pro tip: the moment someone says "my camera isn't working right now," they're lying, and you can immediately assume they're a basement-dwelling middle-schooler.
2. Pay attention to details.
Even if someone does provide photographic proof of their exploits, they aren't necessarily telling the truth – and there are a lot of great websites available these days that can assist you in getting to the bottom of any seemingly ludicrous claim.
For instance: if someone posts a photo, use a reverse Google Image search to find out if the picture came from somewhere else on the Internet. Did someone claim they bought a new car? Go to LicensePlates.cc, which tracks all the most recently issued plates across every North American jurisdiction. This can be very helpful in determining exactly when a car was purchased, should the owner claim it's "brand-new."
3. Don't make assumptions.
People tend to believe a lot more of what you say if you use proper grammar, correct spelling, and accurate punctuation.
But there's a problem with judging people based on their writing style, namely: any 14-year-old who has taken a few English classes can look smart on the Internet. Whereas I've met a wide range of well-educated professionals – people who went to schools like Brown and argue about whether or not Westhampton really "counts" as a Hampton – who still use an apostrophe in normal plural words, as in: We don't really like any of the nanny's we found on the East Side.
As a result, it's important that you stay skeptical of people making ludicrous claims, regardless of how presentable — or stupid — they seem. After all: if they use correct grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, etc., they could be slick liars who know exactly what to say, and how to say it. But if they don't, it isn't necessarily a red flag: they may just be idiots.
4. Meet up.
Back when I was lying on the automotive forum, it was considered tremendously sketchy to meet up with anyone you found on the Internet. In fact, back then, there were only two types of online meetups: people who were paying for sex, and people who had gotten so pissed off in an AOL chatroom that they decided to meet in a public park to fight each other.
These days, things have changed – so much that virtually anyone who spends any time on car forums probably also attends Cars and Coffee, and shows up at 4 a.m. to get a good spot, and posts photos on Instagram of how their local Ford Focus club managed to take up an entire row of parking, and Tweets pictures of the Focus Nation rollin' together at Dunkin Donuts, and posts a Vine of their new exhaust, which is really just their previous exhaust with a hole in it, and after a while you maybe wish these people were lying, because that would be way better than the truth.
In fact, here in 2015, meeting up through the Internet is so common that I know people who have made friends, started relationships, even become engaged following their online rendezvous. And I'd say that I only disapprove of two, maybe three of these relationships, which is a far better proportion than people I know who met up at a random bar where the relationship began with a line like: "Hey, are you a model?"
In fact: since I started this writing thing in 2013, I've met up with roughly 75 different Jalopnik readers – and the results of these meetings have ranged from "best friend" to "holy crap what excuse should I make to get out of here." In other words: in this world of social media and public profiles, the stigma of an Internet meetup is long gone.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, a little car forum advice: if someone won't verify their claims, if someone's photos seem a little dubious, if someone refuses to attend local events or meetups, then you can assume that they're probably lying to you. Even if they only claim they're driving a Nissan Titan.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.
Photo: Raphael Orlove of Ken Lingenfelter's Garage, illustration by Jason Torchinsky