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What Your Car May Be Saying About You

We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you drive.” But what does that mean, really? In everyday reality, I’m not a pickup truck if I drive one and I’m certainly not a svelte and powerful sports car just because I’m behind the wheel of a Corvette.

So, what’s the real meaning behind those types of statements? How can you be a car, anyway?

Okay, this is a little misleading – since no one in their right mind thinks driving a car makes them a car. What people who study the psychology behind car purchases have discovered, however, is that consumers often buy vehicles to either represent something they want to have or to change how they may be perceived by others – or just because a certain car, SUV, CUV, minivan, or pickup truck makes them feel good.

Can it be as simple as that? Let’s investigate this a little further.


If I’m traveling down a busy street in Santa Monica, crowded with commuters in their fuel-efficient cars or hybrids (there are an inordinate amount of Priuses out here, it seems), and I’m in a high-performance V-8 Camaro, does that make me feel more or less environmentally conscious than those driving four-bangers alongside me?

Similarly, when I am driving an expensive, fully-loaded luxury car with all the latest safety and technology features, do I feel somehow superior to other drivers, luckier or more fortunate, or do I think they look at me and wonder who I am?

What about when I get behind the wheel of a spirited V-6-powered car that easily keeps up with those gas-thirsty V-8s and V-10s gobbling up the pavement? I’ll wager I feel a slight bit of a smirk creeping over my face when I think of the fuel economy savings I’m getting, not to mention cheaper car and insurance payments.

So, boiling it down to the basics, what is it that your car may be saying about you? Here are a few examples.

Status – Purchasing (or leasing) upscale brands such as Audi, Acura, BMW, Cadillac, or Mercedes-Benz, to name just a few, obviously send a signal about status. Either we’re trying to say we’ve arrived, or we deserve to drive the very best. Maybe we’re trying to compensate for feelings of shortcomings. Maybe we just got lucky. We don’t just choose one of these makes by accident. When we buy or lease one, we’re more or less doing so because it makes us feel special. It also confirms our belief that we’ve earned others’ respect and admiration. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. How about how you feel in a Jaguar XJ Supercharged?

Practicality – Vehicles that offer greater passenger and cargo capability might say that we’re practical in what we select to drive. Families may need more space for friends and assorted lifestyle-related possessions. You can’t pile a family of six in a compact sedan – no matter how much you try. Even comparing a Jeep Grand Cherokee or GMC Yukon SUV to a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna minivan, sometimes the choice is obvious. Sometimes it isn’t. Some vehicles, let’s face it, are just easier to get in and out of, while others are easier to haul things in and behind, while still others offer other stand-out features and accessories that make them imminently practical for a family vehicle.

Personality – Cars are often considered the ultimate in self-expression. Take the aforementioned Camaro or Corvette – or Honda CR-Z, Nissan Juke, or Ford Flex, for that matter. Each of these vehicles is a reflection of who we are, one way or the other. What others see when they look at us driving these vehicles may very well be couched by their own perception of themselves and what they drive. But if we look happy and contented in our vehicle, that’s even more evidence that our choice says something about our personality. It may be that we’re bold and adventurous, or that we’re interested in standing apart, being unique, or that we’re on the cutting edge.

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Comments (4)
  1. Shubham and Bob Wilson - great comments. I'm glad my story stirred your imaginations and prompted you to share your thoughts. Bob, "let the car drive the career" is an interesting concept. I think I've seen more than a few would-be producers out here in L.A. and Malibu...

  2. Articles like this cause MAYHEM on the roadways. The less intelligent amoung us fall for this baloney. Then go treating their fellow motorists like non-humans if they do not like what they have been told the other person's car says about them. PLEASE STOP IT!
    And that faked picture (camera tilted) picture of the Jeep is going to get some family killed!

  3. Donee, I appreciate your comments, but my intent was certainly a more light-hearted look at what may motivate consumers to buy certain vehicles. It's a subject that is intriguing to automakers, psychologist, sociologists, and some consumers. Regarding the photo of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, perhaps I could have selected a different one. The idea here was more to show a vehicle's go-anywhere capabilities. Consumers should only attempt off-road terrain with properly-equipped vehicles and adequate training in the right driving techniques to do so safely.

  4. We all have our dream cars, and some are lucky enough to be driving them. I love renting a jeep on vacation, but those roll over stories on television sure make you keep your mind on the road. Drive Safely!

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