Picking the Right Car: You Are What You Drive
AFTER 11 years of daily use, the family kidmobile is nearing the end of its economic life. Meticulously maintained, it still runs fine. Or, rather, it does now the air-conditioning system has been overhauled—at greater expense than the car is actually worth. With the vehicle fully depreciated, the annual cost of ownership has been minimal for the past four or five years, but is now set to rise—as one electronic module after another can be expected to give up the ghost and need replacing at $1,000 or more a pop. Sadly, the time has come to contemplate putting the trusty old war-horse out to pasture. But what on earth to replace it with?
Purchasing a new car is the sort of emotionally draining experience your correspondent dreads. Perhaps that is why he keeps his cars so long: he has owned one of the two old Lotuses in his garage for 40 years, having built it from a kit in 1972; the other one he has had for the best part of 24. As a replacement for the kidmobile, he knows what he ought to buy, but is torn over what he would like to have instead.
There is a clever compatibility tool called My Car Match on edmunds.com, a popular site for American motorists seeking advice on what to buy and how much to pay. The algorithm presents users with a series of questions about their needs and preferences—how many people the vehicle will have to carry, how much luggage, what type of vehicle, what price range. Each time, users are asked to select the best out of three vehicles presented, while the list of possibilities is repeatedly refined.
After going through all the hoops, your correspondent was told he should buy a Kia Soul, when he had hoped it would recommend at least a more up-scale Hyundai Genesis. So much for inflated aspirations.
Car buyers should examine their needs rather than their wants, Philip Reed of edmunds.com points out. “In too many cases, people choose a car for its styling or because it is a trendy favourite,” he notes. But that implies consumers can easily ignore all the subliminal signals coming from those structures in the brain that are responsible for predicting the outcome of decisions and providing emotional rewards…
More than anything else people purchase, a car broadcasts so much about who they are—or, rather, who they like to think they are. The whole business is fraught with stereotypes, often amusing, rarely meaningful, but once in a while spot on. For instance, Bentley nowadays implies “footballer’s wife”. Cadillac screams “old codger trying to look cool”. Honda mutters something about being reliable but boring. Mercedes-Benz says simply “taxi” in Europe and the Middle East, and “too old for a BMW” in America. Porsche is code for “desperate male having a mid-life crisis”.