Car psychology 101: what your car says about you.

Car psychology 101: what your car says about you.
Melanie May
Melanie May

Published on February 12, 2016

So the '161' edition of our iPad mag is upon us and while the men are helping you choose a new car based on performance, road handling and value for money, I am here to help you in a slightly different way. I'm here to help you choose the right colour of car, because, you know, I'm the token girl and that is all us females know about cars.

Of course, I jest. You see, not a lot of you will know this, but I hold an MSc. in Psychology from Trinity and was in training to become a Doctor of Clinical Psychology. But then I discovered Twitter and discovered me, and, well, let's just say, I chose the path smelling of petroleum over the one paved with psychoanalysis. However, I still love psychology, which is the study of human thinking and behaviour - and the thinking and behaviour surrounding automobiles is incredibly insightful and can give us a glimpse into the mind and personality of car owners and buyers. Your car can indeed say a lot about you.

Psychological research shows that the population at large draws conclusions about the personality of car owners from their vehicles. So this must play on our minds when we are thinking about which new car to buy, right? If, by way of example, we think all BMW drivers are obnoxious, we are less likely to buy a BMW for fear we will be tarred with the same brush. Of course, there is always the other argument that we would be the exception to this rule because we are just brilliant drivers and no matter what car we buy, our driving will be better than most. This is called the superiority illusion and almost all drivers think they are better than others on the road. Again, there is a psychology theory behind this - we tend to lean towards a confirmation bias in our thinking. That is, if we think everybody else is a bad driver we look for examples of bad driving. When we notice these bad drivers they confirm our biased thinking and these examples of bad driving stick in our minds. As good drivers do not confirm our expectations our brain filters these out and we don't remember them.

The colour of the car a person drives can tell us a lot about their personalities too. The psychology of colour (yes, it is a thing) suggests that colours can have a wide range of effects on us, from boosting our moods to causing anxiety. The colour of the car you buy says something about the individual you are and the image you might be trying to project. The most popular car colour in Ireland is black. Black symbolises power and elegance. This may explain why it is the most popular colour for luxury cars.

The second most popular colour for cars in Ireland is silver and this is linked to the sense of innovation and modernity, but also a sense of being worth more. People who drive silver cars would not be happy with grey; they want the metallic finish to look more prestigious. However, grey is the next most popular car colour in Ireland. Grey is neutral, sober and practical. It's straight-forward. Driving a grey car will not make you Mr Grey.

White is seen as pure, pristine and direct, and white car drivers are perceived to have the cleanest cars - and probably homes too.

Light blue gives off the impression of being calm, faithful and true. Drivers of these cars are seen as cool and unshakable.

Dark blue is associated with confidence and drivers of those coloured cars are seen as credible and having authority.

Red is a sensual, dynamic and outgoing colour and drivers of red cars are seen as being vibrant and outgoing individuals.

Of course it's not just a car's colour that says a lot about its driver. Cars with a wide grille and narrow headlights are perceived as dominant and aggressive, while those with large windscreens appear childish and happy. Even specific models have associated personality traits: the BMW 6 Series and Volkswagen Sharan are considered angry cars, while the new Nissan Micra is submissive, the Toyota Aygo is childish, the Maybach is dominant and the Volkswagen Beetle is happy. You see, research suggests that humans assess the shape of cars in the same way they assess people's faces. Take a look at the Daihatsu Cuore and tell me that that car doesn't look sad. Research suggests that the Nissan Micra is a feminine car, the Chrysler 300C masculine and the Honda Civic neurotic and, by extension, the people who drive these cars are also seen to possess these personality traits.

The length of a car's bonnet is also quite telling - the longer the bonnet, the more arrogant and macho the driver is judged to be and the larger the boot, the less youthful the owner.

And the style of car? That says a lot too. Four-wheel drive owners want to be the only person on the horizon, as 4x4 cars can tackle all terrain and those who own 4x4s don't want to go past you; they want to go over you.

The sports car owner doesn't want company, that's why he drives a car too small to carry more than one choice passenger.

The convertible owner is an exhibitionist and lets the roof down not to let the sun in and feel the wind in their hair but to let everybody look at them.

And size? Does it matter? (Stop sniggering down the back) Of course it matters. If anyone says it doesn't they are just being kind. Bigger is always better. However, if that stretch Hummer is a bit out of your budget you can always show off how well endowed you are via the engine. Although you can't see the engine on most cars, its size is on display for all to see, and for others to draw comparisons with.

So, now, ask yourself, what type of image do you want to project when you are buying your new car? Is that grey, 1.2-litre Honda Civic with the large boot space really who you are? Or are you more of a red, 6.0-litre, 4x4 Volkswagen Beetle, with a small boot and average bonnet, type of person? Are the performance, road handling and value for money all that important now? But don't worry; whatever car you do decide to buy, we won't judge you at all, not one bit, although everybody else will. Just saying.

Happy shopping.