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Why we love our cars:

a psychologist's view

By Dr Peter Collett

  Psychologist, Peter Collett, was a member of staff at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University and recently co-wrote ‘Driving Passion: The Psychology of the car’. His expertise covers a broad range of topics, including body language, culture, management style and television audiences. Peter was a resident psychologist on Big Brother for the first four series and was the body language expert for Sky News during the election.  He's also written articles for national newspapers and magazines, including the Times, Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, Daily Mail and New Statesman. 

After their home, people's most precious possession is their car.  Some drivers are indifferent towards cars and regard them as a mode of transport only , but these people are very rare.  Most car owners invest a lot of themselves in their car and in some cases see it as an extension of either their own body, personality or both. 

You can see this very clearly when you stop at the traffic lights and a cyclist pulls up beside you and steadies himself by placing his hand on your car - it instinctively feels like an invasion of your personal space.  You know that your reaction doesn't make sense, but you can't help it - that's because your car has become an extension of who you are.
We can see how important cars are to people from the trouble they take to choose one, the fuss they make about its upkeep, and the way they protect and care for it.  We also see signs of these protective and loving impulses in the way that people name their cars.
All cars come with a maker's name, but that's not enough for the vast majority of owners - they also feel the need to give their car a distinctive name, usually an affectionate title that expresses how they feel about their car and how they regard their car as being different from everyone else's.

The drive to individuate one's car in this way is very widespread, and it reveals a lot about people's relationship with their car and to cars in general.  Aside from giving their car a distinctive label, we often find people applying names that give human or animal qualities to their car. By anthropomorphising their car in this way, people convey - both to others as well as themselves - what the car means to them, and it also lays the foundation for how they treat their car, take care of it, and get upset when it's damaged.  By giving their car a special name, drivers are treating their car as something that deserves to be cared for - a friend, a pet, a companion, sometimes even a lover.

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