Why do we keep that old Toyota Corolla?

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We all have an interesting story about an old vehicle. Perhaps it was our dad’s first car. Or the family van that still runs if someone bothers to use it. Or that old Toyota Corolla that cannot seem to die, no matter how hard you push it.

A lot of folks all over the world feel a weird sense of attachment to their older vehicles. It is not that you would not buy a new one – you just rather keep the old as well. Maybe to tweak it a little bit over the years. Maybe to give it to your kid one day. Or maybe our brains are hardwired to keep these old rides. But are they?

As a car shipping company, we at Corsia Logistics notice that a lot of people grow terribly fond of their vehicles. We are often hired to transport such cars when a family moves. The car is barely operational, yet people cling to it. Why though?

How common are older vehicles?

It is easy to assume that old cars are not all that common. Depending on where you live, all you see can be newer vehicles and modern designs. That old thing you notice every now and then is surely an outlier, right? Maybe not.

We have written about classic cars in California and all over the States. However, these do not really count, do they? After all, the vintage market is just a niche. And it is not the one, in which that old Corolla fits (yet).

So in a sense, it is true that bigger cities do not see as many old vehicles. In such places, a new car can give you an edge. If it is smaller, driving around and parking would be easier. Newer also means more efficient and (supposedly) eco-friendly.

Due to all these reasons, getting a new ride every 5 or so years is commonplace. You just do not have the time to get attached. So where are all the mentioned older cars? The answer is not that obvious.

The statistics paradox

Do you know how many new vehicles get bought in the United States each year? For 2017 that is over 6 million passenger cars sold. A hefty number for sure. And even though it is on a current low, Americans are still buying automobiles by the millions.

However, the average age of cars is on the rise and has been for quite some time. It is about 11.5 years. That sounds weird. How is the average car age getting higher if so many new vehicles are being bought? This is our data paradox.

As cars are getting more reliable, people are less eager to give them up. At the same time, more and more households see the need for multiple vehicles. In such a case buying a new car, while keeping the old one, is the obvious solution. When put like this, the situation no longer looks like a paradox. But it is only a tiny part of the reasons why we cling to the old machine. It turns out there are more substantial factors!

The rationality behind keeping your old vehicle

If you go around asking people why they keep their old cars, they will give you all sorts of seemingly logical reasons. Here are a few:

  • “Oh, you know, it’s a backup ride. I can’t be late for work just because my car won’t start.”
  • “I guess I will give it to my son one day. Better to beat up that old thing than a new car, right?”
  • “I think it will appreciate in value. Give it some time and it is bound to become a classic.”
  • “It just gives me a sense of nostalgia. Maybe I’ll take it on a road trip.”
  • “I just don’t trust manufacturers with newer models. They break too much.”

These are all genuine explanations that people give online. You can find entire communities dedicated to cherishing older (but not classic) cars. People love their 15-year-old Corolla just as much as their new van. And often, the older vehicle is the only one in the household, even if the family can afford a newer one.

In such situations, people usually point out the economic reason. If a car is still running there is little point in buying a new one. Sure, modern engines are more efficient, but not by much. Gas prices are relatively low as well, so people are rarely interested in better MPG ratios.

After you have heard all these reasons it seems rather obvious why people cling to their old rides. Only with humans, it is not that simple.

The role of emotions

We are not rational creatures. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves, we base our judgment on emotion rather than reason. For example, how practical is keeping an old Toyota Corolla when a new one is dead cheap and reportedly reliable?

A lot of people have a sense of attachment to their car. For many, it serves as a projection of their character. Damaging it feels painful. Caring for it seems almost like caring for a loved one. In fact, the reasons for keeping older vehicles are more psychological than you think. And they are not limited to cars.

You love that doll from when you were a child not because it is anything special, but because of the memories that come with it. The same goes for that action figure. Or the baseball glove your father gave you for your 8th birthday. Or all kinds of other stuff.

If you are used to changing vehicles on a regular basis, this sense of attachment will be naturally underdeveloped. You have primed your brain to only see the car as a tool. After all, it is going to get replaced soon enough. However, if buying a new ride is somewhat of a spontaneous decision for you, then you will inevitably become attached to your old one.

How far can it go?

Change, while inevitable, is not usually a pleasant experience. Whether you are switching smartphones, homes or cars, you will feel rather uncomfortable at first. That feeling goes away with time, but it tells us a lot about our human nature.

Our attachment to items is more serious than you think. Associating that Toyota Corolla to something more than a vehicle is what makes it so special. To you, it is not a mere tool. It may be the first car you have bought with your own money. Or the only memory of your father. Or maybe it is just a car that you have had for 13 years. Weirdly enough, your attachment to it would be equally as strong in all three cases.

See, in the end, it is not about memories. It is not about how we feel around the car. It is about us and what we consider ours. This is the basis of many human behaviors.

We feel uncomfortable in a new place, with a new phone or in a new car, because we have not made them our own yet. Legally they may be ours, but they are strangers, in a sense. They are unfamiliar and thus – unfriendly. It is reasonable then to want your old thing. You already know it well. Sure, it has its flaws, but at least there are no surprises with it. No dangers.

Actually, for people who have been through traumatic experiences, embracing change is much harder. However, even if you have not gone through anything drastic, the uncomfortable feeling may still be subconsciously scary. So you keep your old car in the garage. You pay its auto transport costs.   Your subconscious convinces you that you have moved on. But have you really?

How attached are you to your old car?

I hope that this little psychology lesson has helped you see things a bit differently. Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with having a sense of attachment to that old ride of yours. I know I have it. And I probably will feel the same way about my current daily driver.

So what about you? How do you feel about your car? Is it just a tool or do you feel a bit sad when you have to get a new one? Answer these questions for yourself or put them in the comments below. Either way, you will know a little bit more about your mind and your car.

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About the Author:

Atanas Nikolov is a creative with an affinity for psychology and science. He believes the universe is a wonderful place to explore, and no universe is greater than the one inside ourselves. He enjoys a good debate, and can always bring an alternative viewpoint to the table. He also loves reading fiction and poetry. It is highly likely that he writes some as well, but these rumors have not been proven yet.
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