Do We Have an Emotional Attachment to Our Cars?

No wonder our emotional attachment to our cars is so strong: our dads teach us to prize them, we focus on a dream car, then strive to own it, and we're shattered when we have to give it up.

Emotional Attachment To Cars
Dad and me with the first car I was emotionally attached to, the Blue Bubble. Photo: Cindy Stagg

I Can Relate.  

When my dad married my mom in 1975, he adopted (the two-year-old) me and bought a Ford Gran Torino. For all intents and purposes, that car was the car of my childhood, the first car I loved. My dad had his own emotional attachment to it; he lovingly washed and waxed that car every week.

My siblings and I even thought that it looked like him – as far as cars can look like people. We took it on road trips to Las Vegas to visit my great-grandparents. I remember sitting in the middle of the back seat, feet on the hump, resting my chin in the space between the headrests of the front seat at the drive-in theater. We affectionately called it the “Blue Bubble.” 

Perhaps you can imagine the scene at my house the day he sold it. By this time, I was fifteen. My parents had four more children after me, and the car simply didn’t fit the family’s needs anymore. I remember that day vividly. My dad handed my mom the car keys and then left. I don’t know where he went, but I do know he didn’t want to be there when the buyer came to pick it up.

Maybe it was just me, but the mood in the house was low. I remember watching through the front window as some stranger drove off with the Blue Bubble.  

That, as they say, was that.   

My dad has always been a car guy, and he shared that enthusiasm with me. I  have many great memories with my dad and they usually revolve around a car. So when I cried because my own car was recently totaled, I called him up and said, “You made me this way!”  

Pedal Car

Me, practicing my budding emotional attachment in my dad’s old pedal car. Photo: Cindy Stagg

The Sweet Joy of My First Car 

Back in 2001, when I first began writing automotive reviews, one of the very first press events I attended was for the Lexus IS 300. That car was sweet. It had a suede-like ceiling headliner and a really cool chronograph speedometer. When I sat in it, I felt like it was custom fit for me. I told myself that I would have one someday. Well, that day finally came in October 2020.

I found a gem in a 2014 Lexus IS 250. She had everything I wanted: split spoke alloy wheels, pearl white paint, and all-wheel drive. I named her Ilsa, and she was perfect. This was the first car I owned that was all mine – a reward for raising my kids. I felt really cool whenever I drove her. I washed and waxed her every week. Never let the gas tank get below half. Parked her at the far end of every parking lot.  

Then, one day, a couple of months ago, as I drove down the street, a guy peeled out of a coffee shop and T-Boned me. With the front axle cracked, the insurance company decided to total it out. 

That as they say, was that. Again. 

Goodbye, Ilsa

The emotional attachment to my car (and my heart) was broken the day this happened to Ilsa. Photo: Cindy Stagg

Cars Are Part of the Family

So, what is it about cars that gets us so emotional? There have been songs written about cars. There have been books and clubs devoted to cars. Let’s not forget about the great car movies, television shows, and toys. Hey, the Gran Torino was the car on Starsky and Hutch! Undeniably, cars are woven deep into the fabric of our culture.  

At its base, a car is for getting from point A to point B. It’s just a thing. A machine. At its best, it is also the thing that is there with us for major milestones and life events. If you tend to personify your car like I do, then it can even start to feel like part of the family.  

Where Ilsa is concerned, I can honestly say I have been going through the grieving process. I have felt anger (more like white-hot rage). I’ve bargained (what if I had just gone a different way?). I’ve cried. I’ve regretted not driving her in sport mode more. At first, I even refused to look for a new car, which I count as denial. If you can relate, awesome. If you can’t, that’s okay. Just give the car enthusiast in your life a hug when it happens to them. 

Saying goodbye to a beloved car is rough. It just is. We all have our quirks. Mine happens to be naming my cars and developing an emotional attachment to them. I blame my dad for making me this way. Fortunately, I’ll always have memories with Ilsa and the Blue Bubble – and, of course, my dad.

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Cindy is a life-long car enthusiast who began writing about cars in 2001 for As a kid, she... More about Cindy Stagg