Choosing the right car for you… and why emotions matter

With what seems to be an ever-increasing array of choices in the new car market, how do you actually make a decision? Jane Speechley wants to talk about emotions.

OKAY, OKAY before I lose half my readers with the mention of the ‘e’ word, let’s throw in some facts – quick.

According to a recent market study by the ACCC, nearly 1.2 million new cars were sold in Australia in the past year.

That’s an increase of 3.8 per cent compared to the previous year, and the highest ever annual number of new cars sold in Australia. There’s a lot of choice.

As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I write about motoring is because your choice of vehicle has an enormous impact on your life. That why I think – contrary to what most experts will tell you – your car-buying decision should be driven by emotion.

Review any survey of ‘why car buyers buy’, and inevitably, the key factors will be things like purchase costs, size, fuel efficiency and safety. All of which are important. Some, critically so.

However, I’d argue these essential requirements just provide the goal posts, or boundaries, for your decision.

With around 60-70 brands on the new car market today, and countless more available second hand, chances are that once you’ve settled on your ‘must haves’, there will still be any number of models that tick all the boxes.

Now, think about all those SUVs you see in suburbia, that never actually leave the road.

Think about all those cars on the road that can travel up to 200 kmph, but thankfully, will never reach even close to that speed (and certainly not on the gridlocked daily commute).

Think also about that friend who has an old bomb, that’s constantly on the verge of falling apart, but which they love like it’s their soulmate, despite all the trouble and expense.

These are clearly not decisions that were based on logic.

When people are asked how they choose a car, they generally provide logical answers because that seems like the smart, sensible, grown-up thing to do.

But when you’re making a major purchase, something that you’re going to be spending a good part of your time in for any number of years, why shouldn’t you feel comfortable saying, ‘I bought it because I just loved it’?

Chances are, you’re already employing emotion in your choices in some way, anyway.

As a marketer by background, I know my colleagues in the car manufacturing industry are aware of this – that’s why car advertisements are filled with beautiful people, amazing landscapes, powerful music and even humour.

They know if you feel ‘good’ about the brand, you’re more likely to buy the products. Watch Skoda’s recent anti-car-commercial car commercial… it’s still paying on your emotions.

Even when you think you’re being given a logical sales pitch, chances are, they’re targeting what might be (emotionally) important to you as well.

That super special after-market servicing program is designed to make you feel special and important.

The pitch about environmental benefits is soothing your conscience and probably giving you a reason to feel a little smug.

And that ‘free’ gift of a luxury watch or mountain bike (that you know you’re actually paying for somewhere along the line) aims to help you see yourself in the lifestyle you’d like to lead.

Which all sounds very obvious, right? And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t feel duped. In fact, we’re all pretty savvy consumers these days and we generally know when our heartstrings are being tugged.

What’s interesting is that logic certainly does come into the equation, but surprisingly, it often comes into play more after emotion has made the initial choice.

We decide upon what we want, and then we use logic to reinforce and justify our decision. Reading positive reviews, seeking endorsement from people we like and trust, talking up the resale value or low cost of parts.

All help us to feel logically good about a decision that was made largely on the basis of how we see ourselves, and who we want to be.

My Toyota 86 meets my needs, but may not have been the most logical choice; I’m sure I could’ve picked a neat, economical and affordable little hatchback instead.

But would that car still make me smile every time I get into it, after more than three years of everyday driving? Not a chance.

Tick all the boxes, sure. Be smart. But then choose a car that makes you happy – that’s just as important.

If you’re reading Practical Motoring, however, I’m probably preaching to the converted. And maybe you can refer back to this column to justify your next emotional car purchase (you’re welcome).

What’s the best car you’ve ever owned, and why? Have you ever made an emotional car purchase, and really regretted it?


  1. JohnGC
    November 21, 2016 at 4:28 pm — Reply

    I’ve not made an emotional choice and regretted it, but I’ve made a practical choice and regretted it. A Subaru Forester and a Ford Laser. Just dull driving. When your trump card is ‘resale value’ you don’t deserve to win any automotive arguments. I was going to add “reliability” but that wasn’t overly impressive anyway. There really isn’t much difference between today’s cars, despite rating scores, so I agree, buy the one that makes you the happiest.

    • Jane Speechley
      November 22, 2016 at 2:09 pm — Reply

      Great example! Your point about the narrow difference between today’s cars – once your broader parameters have been set – is spot on as well …

    • Allen
      November 23, 2016 at 6:25 pm — Reply

      “There really isn’t much difference between today’s cars, despite rating scores”

      • JohnGC
        November 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm — Reply

        Yeah, have a look at the reviews and the ratings. Most cars score between 70% and 90% and the difference tends to be minor things like some tech/safety features missing, or minor differences in road noise, engine power. But you never hear of a car getting a fail score and within each class of vehicle, each car tends to have its pros and cons .e.g, the Alfa Guilietta might score lower than a Golf, but if you really like the look of the Guilietta over the Golf then buy the Alfa and you’ll be happier. They’re still both good cars.

  2. Der0
    November 21, 2016 at 5:19 pm — Reply

    HSV’s ’90s advertising campaign slogan of “I just want one” really just plays strongly here.

    Get the car because it fits your requirements but it should also fit your desires so that whenever you get into it, and sit in it for maybe approximately 24 hours per month, that what you have and are driving you enjoy.

    • Jane Speechley
      November 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm — Reply

      It reminds me of when people say, ‘I work to live, I don’t live to work’. You’re going to be spending 8+ hours a day at work, for most of your life – why not choose something you love doing? Good decisions can be made with both the head and heart 😉

      • Allen
        November 23, 2016 at 6:23 pm — Reply

        French cuisine is well known in the world but we also have a French saying that goes like this: “Eat to live, not live to eat”.

  3. K
    November 22, 2016 at 3:45 pm — Reply

    100% agree with this Jane! Due to some mishaps on the road, most car decisions I’ve made have been purely based on which family member I could get a hand-me-down from, however being lucky enough to get a new car a couple of years ago, I admit it was a combination of the euphoric new car smell, the cool sound the blinker made and the sparkly paint that won me over more than the safety warranty.

  4. Allen
    November 24, 2016 at 7:09 pm — Reply

    Is this site still “Practical motoring”?

    • Nemo
      April 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm — Reply

      If you keep the car for longer and avoid the ‘changeover cost’ more often does that suffice as sound advice? 😉

      • Allen
        April 5, 2017 at 9:02 pm — Reply

        No, people who buy car just based on emotions will change it more often.
        Who use the brain, not the heart, to buy cars keep it longer.

  5. SgtCarlMc
    November 27, 2016 at 1:52 pm — Reply

    We, the motoring public in Australia keep seeing these outlandish concepts in overseas Motor Shows.
    Why can’t we buy these models, take the orange Colorado, fantastic body work, a vehicle you can say, I want one, instead GMH gives us another boring same as last yrs model

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Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au