Cars – the things that matter more than our bodies, homes, and relationships. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement. Or is it?
If you want to see it for yourself, just take a look around your neighborhood. Chances are people are driving nice cars. Perhaps not the newest models, but still fairly new and quite well-kept. Yet, if you look at the people themselves, it is not necessarily the same story. But why is it so?
Why is it the case that your home may be messy, but your car has to be in perfect order? Or that you have to repair that fender bender, but you are not that diligent with your workouts? No pointing fingers here, I am the exact same way! Which messed with my brain, so I decided to figure this thing out. And it was not what I expected!
What does the car give us?
The internal combustion engine (ICE) is arguably the most important invention in human history. It has defined our technological progress like nothing before it. So much so that our entire world runs on it. Do you want EVs to replace conventional cars? You would be surprised to know how much of the manufacturing process can be traced back to ICEs.
Obviously, cars present the most common use of this engine. They have revolutionized transportation to a degree that has made the world feel much smaller. What would be a lengthy and costly trip before is just a 5-hour ride now. To me, that plays a big part in why cars are so important to us. However, there is more to it.
The three levels of freedom
Back in the day, people could not travel as freely. They were dependent on so many things, which you would not stand now. Transportation in the United States used to be a lot more limited. Even if people considered themselves free, were they truly so?
See, vehicles matter to us, because they liberate us in a sense. You can hop in a car and go anywhere. You may not see yourself doing it, but you still have the option and you like that. Plus, to you, it is one of the only places where you have personal space. You are not forced to take any opinion into account there. That is the first level of freedom – you can just drive.
Now pause for a second. Think about your home. Is it truly yours? Maybe you rent it, maybe you own it. It does not matter. You still have to comply with the people around you. The neighborhood usually has rules and regulations to be followed. At the same time, who is going to tell you how to upholster your car? You are free to express yourself through it however you like. That is the second level of freedom.
Let’s now take a look at our bodies. Are they ultimately under our control? Something can always go wrong, can it not? Plus we all have one pain or another. Cars are not like that. Sure, they may need maintenance, but that is as far as it goes. You can always depend on your ride, provided you take care of it. Even if it fails after years of use, you can still get a new one. This obviously does not apply to our bodies.
So… freedom. Is that all? Are we attached to our vehicles just because of that? Not that this is a minor thing, but it cannot be that simple. And apparently, it is not. Science has something to say about that!
Cars and human psychology
Did you know that when people look at the front of a car, they associate it with a facial expression? The headlights are its eyes, for example. That explains why you do not see vehicles with three of them. You would not buy one, would you?
In fact, for quite a while now car manufacturers have been using psychology specialists to help them with the design. Take a look at sports cars, which are notorious for their aggressive looks. A lot of them have flashy colors as well, with red being quite dominant. Then you have luxury vehicles. They are built boxier, with a lot of pronounced edges, and are usually black or white.
At the same time, family vehicles are built to look friendly, with bigger windows and rounded details. Even when people think aesthetics do not matter for such vehicles, the opposite is true. We have the disaster that was the Fiat Multipla as proof. Due to its design, it could not sell well, which was quite the lesson for the Italian company.
So yes, we are picky about color and visual appeal. However, that does not mean we are inherently connected to our vehicles. We just like them, that is all. We appreciate them for what they are. But they do not influence our behavior. Right? Actually…
Do you drive your car or does it drive you?
Imagine you are in a nice sports car with your foot on the pedal. It says 200 mph on the dashboard. It can definitely get there, can it not? Plus you have heard that driving faster is safer anyway. Before you know it, you are speeding. You lose control in such situations. Your unconscious brain is making snap decisions. Only because your car looks a certain way and there are some numbers on the dashboard.
In a sense, your vehicle is driving you. That happens every day. People’s behavior can be determined by the tools they use. What was that saying again? If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Is it not ironic that the same vehicle, which supposedly liberates you, also controls you in a sense? It just goes to show what paradoxical creatures we are. On a similar note, I should say that you also do not choose your car solely based on your opinion. It is all about other people as well. Let’s see!
How does your car define you?
The majority of people judge others by the cars they drive. At least partially. You have done that as well, even if you do not recall it now. Our brain thrives on prejudice and snap judgments because they help us survive. You do not see a snake, you see the danger. That split-second realization has saved your life. Or that of your ancestors.
Anyway, we transfer these “quick thinking” mechanisms to everything, including cars. And because we know we judge others, we also judge ourselves. You are not buying a minivan if you are single, right? It sends the wrong message. Maybe you go and get that sporty-looking hatchback. It should tell them you are ready for adventure or something.
People will not stop defining others by their vehicles. So it is only natural for you to identify yourself with it. Will they see a dependable person or a wannabe racer? An entrepreneur or a student? You get the point. You care about your car because it matters. And it matters because others care.
But what about you?
Do you treat your vehicle as a mere tool, or more like an extension of yourself? Do you take it for regular maintenance and repairs? Or maybe you simply use it to get from point A to point B?
If I have to bet, I would say that you look after your car. At least to a moderate degree. You do not want it breaking down, especially in the middle of nowhere. So if you are about to move across the country or go on a longer trip, would you drive your car there?