Back when I was little I would hear the members of my family (mostly men--but I'll get to that) discuss cars all the time (in between conversations about politics and sports). When I went to school, I would hear kids my age talk about cars. There were even those playing cards you could buy that allowed you to play games with other people by comparing various characteristics of cars.
I never understood that fascination that everyone around seemed to have about cars. Granted, I didn't really know much about cars, and my parents didn't get a car until I was a teenager, so I didn't have much exposure. Still, talking about it seemed like a giant waste of time.
As I learned more about the world around me, I found a spectrum of opinions that people had about cars and car ownership, and discovered that meta-opinions -- opinions about views people hold about car ownership -- were fairly frequent (I guess this post is one of them, huh). Cars were said to be a reflection of their owners' insecurity or vanity (I particularly love vanity plates as icing on the cake, but I'll get to that later); cars as a reflection of their owners' need to dominate; cars as a reflection of the society's reach for ever increasing standards of living. Cars as a symbol of independence and means of living. Cars that liberate, impress, inspire, disgust, bore. Cars as symbols of indescribable wealth. Cars from vending machines as a statement of the society's desperate reach for the extremes of consumption. The opinions are countless and diverse, but one thing is certain: cars seem to be talked about or otherwise involved more than many equivalent objects. The reason for this? The car to me seems to have a large capacity for rhetoric -- it's used as a carrier of illiteral information -- because it's an inseparable part of the human culture; because it's indispensable; because it's an extension of our humanity (this is also why we like cars that look like humans).
When I got a real job, I had to drive to work every day. This necessity brought about car ownership and, subsequently, many thoughts and feelings about cars. I suddenly saw how the humanity of the car applies to my small world. The car connected me with others (how else would I be able to get to NYC to hang out with my friends?), allowed me to get to work, helped me in emergencies, sheltered me when I found myself in the City at 5am about to pass out, having to wake up at 8am, offered me its warmth or cool breeze. It was an extension of my body (while many people like to think of cars as giving their owners undeserved or supernatural powers, I thought of mine as extending my reach (I could go faster) and sight (I could see all around me)).
But most importantly, my car gave me a way to express my passion in a simple, effortless way. Driving my car was like sitting in front of a canvas; each trip was a small work of art. Over the few years I had it, I discovered a lot about what I liked in my car and what I didn't care about. Initially excited about the many bells and whistles--push button ignition, headlights that turned where I turned, eventually even power side view mirrors--I slowly deconstructed my passion towards my car to just one thing: the act of motion, the dance I perform whenever I drive.
This is a highly personal opinion. I know a lot of people who prefer a comfortable ride, or things that make driving easier, such as an automatic parallel parking system. Everyone needs to get to a point when they know what they like in a car (and very usually this is a very fundamental thing). I strongly encourage everyone to lease their first car (or intend to sell it after a couple of years); I look back and realize that I knew nothing about myself or cars when I decided on my first car.
Once you are faced with moving on to your next car, I think you should pursue your passion. Purchasing a should not be a result of calculated, detached reasoning. For example, the rational part of my brain would come up with all those reasons not to get the car that I now own. If I had listened to it, I would never have bought the car. But instead, I followed my passion. This made my car ownership something special; and all those problems that my logical brain came up with turned out not to be problems after all--I came up with good solutions without much of a sacrifice.
A great thing about passion is that it is what keeps you going; an even greater thing about logic is that it is robust enough to recover even after you ignore it from time to time. The art of living is to know when to switch between passion (to live a fuller life) and logic (to live a better life).
Why do men seem to like cars much more than women? I don't know; at the risk of being called a summerist, I believe that men's and women's utility functions are different, and this is reflected in what the two genders care about, and, subsequently, what they purchase: men seem to me to purchase fewer items than women do, but the items they purchase cost more money. I have a feeling this can have something to do with how men value consistency and women value compatibility (this may also explain why women have larger wardrobes--the top and the bottom must match; this means that women will tend to need n^2 articles of clothing while men need 2n).
What about vanity plates? Many plates are trite (they include some variation of the owner's name--it's unsurprising given that they are vanity plates but feel a little too much); many employ irony or try to otherwise be funny. Some are clever; some are just aesthetically pleasing. I love spotting them, and trying to figure out what they say about people.