What Your Car May Be Saying About You

October 5, 2010
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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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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Attitudes – It’s often said that men buy pickup trucks because it makes them look and feel more rugged, capable, powerful, and in control. Well, what does it say about women who like to drive pickup trucks? I’ve enjoyed driving the big four-wheel drive Ford F-150s and Chevrolet Silverado1500 pickups in my time – as well as their more compact siblings. They’re certainly not difficult to drive, and I didn’t think they made me look any less feminine. I will admit, however, that I felt totally capable behind the wheel. It was also a lot easier to see the road ahead and behind.

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Environmentally-Conscious – Yeah, we have to mention this one, only because it’s so important these days when everyone is so concerned about greenhouse gases and cutting down on our dependence on oil. We choose hybrids like the Honda Civic Hybrid and electrics like the Toyota Prius to make a statement – a very visible one – to others that we not only care about the environment and our contribution to it, but we’re putting our money where our mouth is. That’s a good thing. But we can make the same statement by buying super fuel-efficient (nearly as good as hybrids, sometimes better) and powerful turbocharged four-cylinder cars – if we so desire.

Bottom line: Don’t lose any sleep over what your car may be saying about you. After all, you’re putting your hard-earned money out there every month to pay for those wheels. You may as well enjoy every dollar’s worth. And, if you’re still driving a car that’s long ago lost its new-car feel and may be in need of some serious detailing or car repairs, maybe it’s time you paid a little more attention to sprucing up the old beater and getting a few more miles out of it. Just imagine what message that would say about you?

We are, after all, the masters of spin. When it comes to our wheels, we have every reason to agree or disagree with what others say our cars say about us.

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