Why everyone judges you for what you drive (including me)

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One of the very few truly great things about getting older is that you might finally be able to afford the car you've always wanted.

A car is, for those of us who don't buy superyachts, the second-biggest purchase we ever make, but for much of our lives, the vehicle we drive is a combination of the one we need for our lifestyle (hence so many people buying, big, unattractive SUVs, because they're good family haulers), and what we can afford.

Once you get a bit older or even, whisper it, become empty nesters, you can afford both a better kind of car, and one that's more aligned with who you are rather than who life has forced you to be.

what your car says about you

It is perhaps at this point, then, that the car people choose to buy says the most about who they are.

You should be in no doubt, of course, that the vehicle you are seen in shouts an awful lot about you, from even a long distance away. If clothes maketh the man, or at least suggest a lot about who he, or she, is, then you should think of a car as a hugely oversized outfit (think David Byrne of Talking Heads/Big Suit fame).

Strolling around in something measuring several square metres and covered in paint is definitely making a loud statement about your personal taste. As someone who regularly works as a motoring journalist, I can tell you that strangers definitely react to me in hugely different ways depending on what I'm driving in any given week.

I've had tradies throw crumpled cigarette packets at my head through the sunroof of a Porsche, I've had women make the cruel little-finger curl of mockery at me when I've been in Ferraris, and I even had one woman beg me to take her home, once, when I was driving past her in a Lamborghini.

Ferraris inspire genuine awe - and there are few things more fun than telling an excited punter that they can sit in it if they like, it's not mine, and even start it if they want to - while big, angry Aussie cars, like HSVs, cause people to wave their tattoos at you.

And when I'm in a small, Japanese or Korean passenger car, suddenly it's like I've ceased to exist for other people. It really is strange that celebrities, who doth protest too much about people recognising them, so rarely choose to drive Toyota Corollas.

Have no doubt, then, that your car is speaking measures about you. When we first get our licences, as teenagers, most of us are desperately keen to show off, and if P-platers had unlimited budgets and free rein of car choice, there would be an awful amount of insanely fast Italian supercars, tech-savvy Teslas and humungous Hummers on the road with young men at their wheels.

Teens are, in the main, financial straitened, however, which means they're often stuck with a kind of bouncy castle on wheels - the car their parents selected for them, a choice generally made with only one factor in mind - safety, and getting as much of it as possible between your offspring and disaster.

So it is generally not until our 20s - if we're very lucky, and get rich quick - or more likely our 50s and 60s that we can actually afford a car that genuinely reflects, and broadcasts, who we are.

Which is why I'm always deeply shocked to see someone childless driving a big German or Italian, or even Rolls-Royce-badged SUV monstrosity. Why would they?

Perhaps it's just all about size, or the ability to look down on creation, because if you don't really need all that space, what are you thinking? Car companies, at least, seem to understand this kind of thought process, of course, as they make expense soft-roaders that have coupe-style roofs, meaning they slope sexily backwards and reduce rear-seat headroom to almost nought.

These are SUVs for people who don't need one, but still have to have one.

The convertible is, of course, the antitheses of the practical family bus. It's not practical at all - too damn hot in summer, unless you're particularly fond of the smell of lightly toasting flesh, and completely pointless in winter - but there are at least a few evenings a year when driving one with the top-down approaches bliss.

The convertible - from Mazda's affordable and hilariously fun MX-5 through the Germanic Porsche, Audi and BMW versions, right up to the glorious Ferrari 488 Spider  - is the very definition of a frivolous purchase. It says that you are old and care-free, that you have substantial spare spending cash and that you are probably a Boomer.

There are plenty of other statements your car can make for you of course; you can shout "I'm having a midlife crisis" by buying a Lamborghini, or express your feeling that you're still virile and powerful, despite outward appearances, by purchasing a Porsche 911 or a BMW M4 (sexy little coupes that give off a strong sense of danger and daring), or you can scream from the rooftops "I have given up!" - by choosing a motor home.

Whatever choice you make to tell me, without the two of us ever meeting, what kind of human being you are, or have become, I just hope it brings you joy. And if you do buy a Porsche 911, can I please borrow it?

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Stephen Corby used to sit next to the staff of Money magazine, back when he was the editor of Top Gear Australia magazine, and he really wishes he'd listened to all of their helpful financial advice, instead of revving his engine and pretending he couldn't hear them. Stephen likes to buy and sell shares, has bought and sold several properties and believes that negative gearing is a very good thing, but that stamp duty is evil, particularly if you live in Sydney, as he is blessed to do.
Comments
Boderick Boddington
July 9, 2021 9.47pm

Hah! I laugh. Don't care what people think of me by the car I drive.

In theory, could buy quite a few Rollers, but I choose to drive around in my 18 year old station wagon on LPG (can't get more daggy than that).

Cars are a money pit, especially new ones that depreciate. I try to keep my vehicle expenses as low as possible, because I would rather be doing other stuff than wasting my money on perceived status.

I have read many an article on personal finances that say that new cars are sure fire way not to accumulate wealth. Hopefully there will be one on this site soon in response to this article.

brett nicoll
July 11, 2021 4.45pm

I generally agree that cars don't make a good investment however just look at the price of old cars nowadays! A good friend just bought an early 70ies Holden for the price of a house not too many years ago. What's causing this? Low interest rates? I hear profits from car sales aren't assessed as taxable (as generally they sell at a loss), so could both of these reasons be contributing to the price rises? Or perhaps with the end of ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) just around the cornier is now being seen as the last chance of grabbing one and the old HOMO syndrome ramping up the prices? It's happening worldwide, though. I'm very interested to hear others thoughts on this.

Carl Warburton
July 10, 2021 11.17am

A strange article to appear in money magazine... I think of cars as a financial liability. When I buy a second hand car I always check the depreciation curve to calculate value for money.... My next step is to ensure it aligns with lifestyle. But you are right. A lot of people use their car as a projection of themselves. I remember an article a couple of years ago where a guy was driving a hummer in Sydney. He stopped at some lights and someone said 'nice car', he took it the wrong way and beat up the pedestrian.

ken scott
July 10, 2021 2.05pm

Having just come back from having my Mazda serviced by the local dealer, I definitely agree with the money pit. Having driven a camry for 10 years where servicing was cheap and it only needed tyres, battery and brakes, I was shocked at the price dealer servicing and then all the extras they expected to tack on. The previous year, the dealers report said there was >50% brakes remaining but after a further 10,000 Kms they said it was now

Garry Kydd
July 10, 2021 10.12pm

When I see someone driving an extravagant, unnecessary car like a Ferrari, Porsche or Bentley, I like to hope that they are as generous to those in need as they are to themselves.