Auto Pilot - September 2015

If You Love It, Drive It!

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by Jay Ramowski

While running errands this week, I was reminded how we tend to make assumptions about a person based solely on the car they drive. Case in point, I saw a new Honda minivan pull up and park at the pet store (total soccer mom kid hauler I assumed), but then a very attractive woman in her mid-20s got out of the van. Coincidentally, the driver of the van was in front of me in the checkout line inside, which gave me the opportunity to ask about the minivan. “I have two big dogs and like to go camping and to the beach so it seemed like the perfect car for me,” was the answer I received. 

Like it or not, we usually associate a certain type of car with a certain type of person, but, occasionally, we can be surprised by who is actually behind the wheel. 

Good or bad, I think our choice of car silently speaks volumes about our personality, but maybe the public’s perception of our choices is more amusing than reality. I conducted an impromptu focus group survey using the bartender and five servers (all female) at one of my regular lunch spots. I mentioned a car and they said the first thought that came to mind. The results — recorded on my napkin — where not only amusing, but also proved my point about car stereotypes. 

Jeep Wrangler: “Oh, I totally want a Jeep, good for the beach.”(You didn’t answer the question, but I’ll take it.)
Chevy Corvette: “Old guys, midlife crisis with gold chains. Will leave his phone number on the check.” 
Minivan: “Soccer mom, unless it has a plastic clamshell thingy on top. Then tourist family from Ohio.” Ford Mustang: “Young guy who wants a sporty car.” (Camaro got about same response, but the driver was always perceived as male.) 
Mercedes sedan: “Older couple, business people.” 
Pickup truck: “Working guy, he can fix stuff.” 
Big tire jacked up pickup truck: “Short guy with smaller than average man parts.” (I almost fell out of my seat laughing.)
Porsche: “Rich guy; is he single?” 
Land Rover/Range Rover (which is what I drive): “Lots of room for shopping and family; don’t they break a lot?”
VW Beetle: “Young women, high school.”  
Lexus: “Business professional, mostly women.” (Notice Lexus was perceived as female drivers’ car.)
Subaru Forrester: “Hipsters, or bicycle rider guys, maybe kayaks too.” 
Toyota Prius: “Cares about environment type.” 
Chevy Tahoe: “Family SUV, good for road trips.” 
Mazda Miata: “Cute, fun convertible, girl car.” 

Ok, now that you’re done laughing — or cursing my focus group because you drive a Corvette or a monster truck — I hope as you drive around town and look at cars, you’ll think about the people inside them and maybe what your personal choice in a car says about you. 

Automobile manufacturers have whole departments dedicated to giving a new car a certain persona and targeting the market segments to advertise that car to. It’s called psychographics, which is the art of grouping customers according to beliefs and attitudes and selling them products that specifically fit their group. But do they really do a better job at it than my BBQ restaurant staff?

I recommend that prior to purchasing your “dream car” you do a little bit of homework in the form of looking at crash data and safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( You can also research and visit online forums for the model you are interested in (they exist for everything from smart cars to Ferrari’s) to see if there is an active owners club locally, such as PCA for Porsche owners and the Corvette Club for those owners, etc. Car clubs can also be a good place to find a nice example of the car you are considering for sale. 

Also, remember to visit your car insurance carrier, prior to purchase, and get a quote on how much it will cost to insure the new dream ride. You may be able to afford that ‘80s vintage Lamborghini, but insurance costs might cause ramen noodles to be re-introduced to your diet for the first time since college.  

Does it really matter what others think? I say if you love it, drive it! 

Jay Ramowski is a commercial helicopter pilot, automotive consultant and professional driver based in Charleston. Jay brings an easygoing love of all things mechanical and a particular passion for cars and the people who drive them. Have questions? Email Jay at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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