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What Your Car Knows about the Inner You

If you want to understand your emotional baggage, take a look in the driveway. That's right—the car you bought can offer as many clues about your issues as a therapy session.

Charles Kenny, an expert on the psychology of the car buying experience who has worked as a consultant to every major U.S. auto manufacturer, says "there are emotional needs and emotional barriers that drive the decisions people make." Kenny argues that anyone who plunks down money for a new car is looking for more than transportation. The driver wants to feel young, powerful, adventurous, successful or something else. “It is all about how it makes you feel," he said. "That is the bottom line."

For instance, consider the mom in an SUV. She chose that Range Rover because she "doesn't like being identified as just a mom," he said. She needs a roomy vehicle but doesn't want to be seen in a minivan. He points out that 95 percent of people who pay extra for four-wheel-drive never use it. They buy it so to feel adventurous. For a mini-van mom, Kenny says, that "conflict is not as raw." She is "more comfortable, more secure" with her role in life.

Four-door pickup trucks also are popular with a certain mother, who needs the backseat for children but wants the feelings "of independence and capability" she gets from a pickup truck, Kenny said. She wants to be able to haul fertilizer and yard sale finds without calling a man to help. And have you ever noticed single women rarely drive four-door sedans? That’s because the extra doors make them feel like they should have wedding rings on their fingers, Kenny said.

Seriously. The singleton who opts for a small BMW wants to feel powerful, the one in a two-door Lexus needs to feel successful, and the lady in a so-called muscle car ( Thunderbird on Camaro ) "is aggressive in her personal life and may have problems with impulse control," Kenny says.

I know what you are now wondering: What does my car say about me? I was thinking the same thing during my conversation with Kenny. Finally, about 45 minutes into our chat, I got up the nerve to ask him about my Volkswagen Passat station wagon. He admitted he hasn't done a ton of research on station wagons. Still, he took a stab at analysis. Two of the most popular brands are Volkswagen and Volvo. Volkswagen is associated with reliability, while Volvo is known for safety. Buyers, Kenny says, "are people who are really into feeling they made a good purchase. They want to believe they spend their money wisely and keep their families safe."

OK, I can live with that. I'll cancel the shrink appointment.