By now, we’ve all found our own favorite automotive YouTube channels to follow. There’s a lot to choose from now and some of them are huge with well over a million subscribers. It’s obvious that those guys have plenty of cash rolling in, but how much does a small car YouTuber make?
We’ve been told many times that YouTube ad revenue pays you peanuts unless you have a large audience. While I won’t argue that the chances of you getting rich quickly are slim, I’m here to tell you that you can absolutely earn money by playing with cars on YouTube in 2020.
It’s been roughly a year since I first shared everything I learned by starting my own channel in this post. A lot has changed since then and I’ve decided this is a good time for an update. Just like that first post, I’ll be completely transparent and share my own stats and earnings with you.
Whether these dollar figures are worthwhile to you will depend on your own outlook and financial situation. One thing to remember though is that ad revenue from your videos is long term passive income. Think of every video you make as an investment of both time and money.
To most people, money that can be earned while you sleep is better than money earned at a regular job. This is what sets making YouTube videos apart from a regular job, and it’s also why I believe every car guy should at least give it a shot.
First, an update on my channel:
1. It got monetized!
The biggest thing that has changed for my Canadian Gearhead channel since the last time I spoke about it is that it got monetized. In the previous post, I stated that my goal was to hit this milestone by July 2019. I ended up getting there in September – close enough!
Getting monetized is probably the biggest target for anyone starting out on YouTube. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about what you do. Being able to make money at it not only provides more motivation to continue, but it gives you an added resource to produce better content – and more of it.
How much money can you expect to earn your first month after being monetized?
I didn’t have very high expectations when it came to YouTube earnings. For me, anything I make is considered bonus money and I’m grateful for every dollar. In my first month, I made $108.49 USD. That was surprising. My videos cost me next to nothing to make so it’s pretty much free money.
At that point, I had made roughly 40 videos. Compared to the people that upload daily, that’s not very many at all. And although I’ve tried harder in the past year, I honestly haven’t put that much effort into them.
In my first full month of being monetized (October), I earned $223.16 USD. That’s enough to pay for insurance and gas on all 3 of my vehicles. Again, that was only my second month of being monetized! That still might seem like pocket change to many of you. But this meant that my personal vehicles were no longer considered expenses.
At this point, they became my employees. The stars of the show. And now they EARN me money. In January, I had my highest earning month ever – just shy of $500 USD.
2. Traffic increased
Another big improvement I’ve seen is that some of my videos have performed pretty well in terms of views. Not all of them though. One thing that still hasn’t changed is that my detailing videos don’t get many views.
This is a bummer to me because not only is it what I’m passionate about and good at, they also take the most effort to make. I can’t complain though because anything 4runner related is more than making up for it.
A big reason why my earnings increased for the month of January is because of the hero video for my channel – 9 Interesting 4th Gen TOYOTA 4RUNNER Features. It had already received about 150,000 views since I uploaded it in the summer but in January, that increased by 58,000. That’s a pretty big jump. What happened?
I can’t say for sure, but based on some digging in the analytics, most of those views came from the “Recommended Videos” section while people are watching another video.
It just so happened that Throttle House, a channel with over 500,000 subscribers posted a video comparing a new TRD Pro 4runner with a 4th Gen V8 just like mine. Since my video ranks very highly for keywords like “4th gen 4runner” and “V8 4runner”, YouTube stuck it in the recommended videos section.
This is why it’s so important to put effort into keyword research, coming up with a decent title and thumbnail, and adding some relevant tags. It has truly paid off.
3. I have a further understanding of what works for me
I can’t help but laugh. I’ll spend a week detailing a car, and another week editing the video only for it to fall on its face and struggle to get more than a few hundred views. In contrast, my most recent 4runner video took me 10 minutes to film, an hour to edit, and had over 14,000 views in the first 2 days! That same video has earned me $80 in the last 2 weeks.
I can’t deny that 4runner videos are the ones that succeed for me right now. I’d be a fool to ignore it. So while it wasn’t my intention when I first started the channel, I’ve had to pivot a bit and focus more on that vehicle. The timing is actually quite good because both my MR2 and Harley are stored for the winter so the 4runner is the only one I have access to for making content.
Come springtime, I’m still going to produce car, bike, and detailing videos. But I have to continue making 4runner videos as well because that’s the road I’ve started down.
Can you still make money on YouTube?
The answer is yes, even if you’re just starting now in 2020. The truth is, it’s harder than it’s ever been. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it though. You just have to put some strategy and effort into it. The sea is full of fish now so competition is tough.
There was a time when you could make any car-related video, and people would automatically find it and watch it. That time is over. There are a ton of people with automotive channels now. You have to set yourself apart from the rest and convince people to click on your video instead of the others.
Good news though. From what I’ve seen, most car YouTubers don’t actually know much about succeeding on the platform. That’s not what they’re into. They’re into cars. So if you put some time into learning the ropes of building a strong channel, you’ll have a leg up on a lot of the competition.
It isn’t too late to start. If you can get to the point of being monetized with 4,000 watch hours and 1,000 subscribers, you will earn money. Will you be able to quit your job right away? Probably not. But some money is a lot better than no money.
How much do the big car YouTubers make?
The bigger automotive channels have really blown up over the past couple of years. Some have shot from a couple hundred thousand subscribers to well over a million. Are they actually making good money though, or is it all a front? They’re constantly posting videos of them buying, modifying, selling, and breaking everything from trucks to exotic cars.
Street Speed 717 is very transparent when it comes to his earnings on YouTube. He has shared info about his earnings that very few others are willing to share. In this video from 2018, he revealed that he makes roughly $35,000 per month. Obviously, that’s before paying tax and any expenses for the channel (and I’m sure he spends quite a bit on parts and labor for his vehicles).
Based on his own numbers, Mike believes that every 1 million views translates to around $7,000. He also shared what he believed to be a rough estimate of what some of the other channels are earning:
- Vehicle Virgins: $60,000 per month
- Cleetus McFarland: $70,000 per month
- Doug Demuro: $100,000 + per month
- Tavarish: $28,000 per month
Now keep in mind, that’s strictly referring to the ad revenue paid by YouTube. Many channels have multiple streams of income from things like merchandise as well. Again, this is just what one person thinks the others are earning – these are not factual figures.
Other ways automotive YouTubers earn money
Ad revenue isn’t the only thing that pays the bills for these channels. There are a few other ways to earn money from making videos:
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You’d be hard-pressed to find a YouTube channel that isn’t selling some kind of merchandise. For most, it’s a clothing line. Shirts, hats, key tags, that kind of stuff. Some will branch out into other products like their own rebranded detailing products (Durtymax Jack and 4BangersProduction).
Basically, they’ll set up an online store so they can sell physical items to their fans. Great strategy as long as you have a large enough following to sell to.
Some companies will offer a certain amount of money for their product to be featured in a video. When this goes right, it’ll be something they use and recommend – something relevant to what the channel is about. When it goes wrong, it’s usually some silly game app or hygiene product.
The latter tends to annoy the audience rather than sell them. I think sponsors that are related to what’s in the video are great though.
I’m sure you’ve heard your favorite YouTuber mention a discount code for you to save a small amount when you buy the product they’re talking about. This isn’t just them being generous and wanting to save you money. That coupon code is a way for the company to track which sales came from that YouTuber. Then they’ll pay them a commission for that sale.
This can be a very powerful way of making money online, and if it’s something you’ve used and recommended it’s a great way to help the audience at the same time.
Some channels choose to offer sort of a members-only section of content. Patreon is a popular one but recently YouTube has added a “Join” button for people that want to donate money to the channel in exchange for extra content.
Admittedly, I don’t know much about this. I would think it would be difficult to come up with extra content in addition to what is already available for free on the channel. If people are paying money for content, you better have something for them regularly. I’m just not sure if this really works.
This one isn’t very popular with automotive channels but some do it. An info product could be an ebook, checklist, or even an online course that people pay to have access to. This is similar to selling merchandise except you’re selling information rather than physical goods.
This is a great way to earn money but can be hard to implement if your channel is more entertainment-based.
Do YouTubers still get paid if you skip ads?
Nope. At least not from ad revenue. Companies pay to put their advertising in front of your eyes. If your eyes aren’t watching, they aren’t paying. It’s that simple. This goes for the use of ad blockers as well.
The only way to avoid seeing ads while still allowing the channel to get paid is to subscribe to YouTube Premium. A percentage of that fee will go to the channel you’re watching.
How to succeed on YouTube in 2020:
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe it’s too late to start an automotive YouTube channel. It might not be as easy as it once was, but I’m a prime example that anyone can cover the expenses of their vehicles quite easily. It’s as simple as making interesting videos and learning how to spread the word about them.
I talked about this in my first post and I still believe this is the hardest part of succeeding with YouTube. You have to start. You don’t have to have everything figured out, a bunch of expensive equipment, or even any skills on camera. Just share what you’re passionate about and hit the record button.
I can’t stress this enough: if you wait for the perfect time to start, you NEVER will.
Make videos that people are looking for
In the early stages of your channel, you won’t have an audience of subscribers. You might get the odd person that accidentally stumbles across a video, but this won’t translate to many views at all. So how do you get people to find you?
Upload videos that people are searching for. Answer questions that people might have. Search for something you already know about your vehicle. If no exact matches show up, that’s going to be a great one to make. If you searched for it, chances are others are searching too.
Once you’ve made a few of these helpful videos, they’ll start to rank for those topics. My channel quickly became an authority for 4th Gen 4runners without me meaning to. YouTube saw that some of my most successful videos were ranked in 4runner related searches, and I believe I was given some credit in the algorithm for that.
If you want to build an audience, you can’t just film your buddies goofing around or some of your favorite cars at an event. If no one is searching specifically for those things, they’ll never see them. Those videos will get lost down the dark YouTube hole.
I think this is the biggest mistake people make when they attempt to start a channel and complain that nobody watched their videos. Once you have an audience of subscribers, you can make those kinds of videos. Until then, focus on getting your videos ranked.
Put effort into your videos – but not too much
The amount of effort you put into filming and editing your videos can be a bit of a fine balance. On one hand, it’s 2020 and there’s no excuse for having poor video quality. On the other, you don’t want to spend too much time getting a video perfect because quite frankly, it won’t make much of a difference.
You might be surprised to hear that most viewers don’t care about fancy editing, crazy transitions or Hollywood lighting. They’re either there to be entertained or to learn. As long as the actual content of the video is good and the quality is up to par, they’re going to watch it.
So don’t obsess over one video. You’re far better off pumping out a bunch of “good” videos than spending a month perfecting a “fantastic” one.
Find out what works for you, then double down on it
This is something that I’ve learned recently that some might not know about. You need to cater to your subscribers. These are the people that have supported you since day 1. They’re the ones that watched your video and pressed a button that means “I want to see more of this from this person”.
Don’t ignore the importance of this. Not only does it make perfect sense to keep the people who already support you on your side, but it matters to the algorithm as well. I never thought about it this way but it makes perfect sense – if you have 10,000 subscribers and only 50 bothered to watch your latest video, why would YouTube share it with the rest of the world? Your own fans aren’t even interested!
Having a video get more views than your others is like being granted a cheat code. It’s telling you that is exactly what your audience wants to see! People pay thousands of dollars for market research in other industries and this is being handed to you for free. Pay attention!
Once I realized that 4runner content is what the majority of my subscribers want to see, I started to make more of it. My channel has grown at a much faster pace since I made that decision.
Keep making videos
Don’t stop. Even if it seems like nobody is watching. All it takes is one video to blow up overnight and before you know it, you’ll have a successful YouTube channel. If you truly believe the content you’re making is interesting and helpful, keep going.
I pulled off on the side of the road during an afternoon drive to the beach to shoot a quick video about interesting 4runner features. I figured since I didn’t have a chance to upload anything that week, it would be better than nothing.
That video is less than 7 minutes long and took hardly any time to edit. As of now, it has over 200,000 views and has earned me almost $800. That video is my number 1 employee and is largely responsible for my channel’s growth.
All I did was pull over and shoot a simple video. No fancy lighting, no music, no extra camera angles. Just a few interesting features that fellow 4runner owners might not have known about otherwise.
The more videos you create, the more likely you are to have one succeed. Each video is like another fishing net. The more you have out in the lake, the better your chances are. So keep going, even if it seems like it’s not working.
3 things you shouldn’t do:
There are a few things that you’ll want to avoid if you want your channel to grow and succeed. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. But for the most part, you’re better off to just stay clear of these.
Clickbait is a tough one because unfortunately, it works most of the time. It’ll get people to watch your videos. But it just isn’t an ethical way of doing things. If your channel is a business and your audience is your customer, you don’t want to lie to them to get a sale. That’s essentially what clickbait is doing and in my opinion, it’s wrong.
It’s better to build a following of people that trust and respect you. It might seem like you’ll be missing out on results at first, but it’ll pay off in the long run. If it’s in your title or thumbnail, it better be in your video.
One thing I’ve noticed though is the importance of building suspense and curiosity. You don’t always have to give the answer in the title. You can lead your audience on by teasing them with something interesting – just make sure you actually give it to them in the video. I’ve done this with some of my recent videos and I think it has helped to improve the click-through rate.
Have a long intro
Big, fancy intros are enjoyable to watch – the first time. When every video starts with the same one, it gets redundant fast. Long intros are the worst, but I noticed myself skipping over nearly every intro I saw from every creator.
Even channels like Daily Driven Exotics whose intros and editing are some of the best in the business. Once I realized I was skipping even the best intros, I completely quit making my own. Now I jump straight into the video.
This is another reason to keep the designs of your thumbnail images consistent. Viewers should be able to recognize you from that without needing a big intro with your logo dancing around.
People have shorter attention spans now than they ever have before. So don’t make them wait. Jump straight to the meat and potatoes and maybe they’ll be more likely to stick around for the entire video.
Be politically incorrect
Like it or not, freedom of speech is under attack. YouTube has made no bones about which side of the fence they land on. Swearing, offensive speech, talking about guns, etc is all going to get you in hot water.
Many of the channels that feature those kinds of things have been completely demonetized. You may have noticed that your favorite potty-mouthed YouTubers have drastically cleaned up their vocabulary too. This is the direction the platform is going in the future.
We don’t have to like the rules, but we have to play by them if we want to succeed. So try to keep things clean and family-friendly.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: