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Auto Therapy

Status-obsessed dad wants a new ride Add to ...

My wife and I recently bought a new Ford SUV. We work in different areas of the city. She drives the SUV because she takes our kid to daycare. I'm stuck driving the car she had when I married her. It runs fine but I'm at the point in my career where I want to drive something that reflects my success. My wife says we have other priorities but she's not the one driving a ten-year-old Neon. How can we resolve this?

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-Living in the Statusphere

It sounds like you've got a case of something that could turn into full-blown status anxiety.

What shapes us - who we are, or what we own? If your job requires a status vehicle, your employer should pay for it. And besides, are you a lemming, or an independent spirit? Your car gets you from A to B safely. Who needs to be impressed? Those who aren't can always buy you a new car if it bothers them that much.

A new car is a want, not a need. It would be a different story if your Neon was a lemon. But no matter how you try to justify it, a vehicle that's paid for and running well is always a cheaper option than buying a new car.

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How important is image to you? As you say, you're doing well. But so is B.C.'s Lieutenant Governor and former Provincial Court judge. When he's not being chauffeured in an official car, the Honourable Steven Point has been known to don a ball cap and drive a 1977 GMC pick-up truck.

I don't know your financial situation, but 94 per cent of automobile sales in the U.S. are on a lease or instalment plan. How much debt are you willing to take on to pull out of the company car-park in style at the end of the day? I don't need to remind you that a vehicle is a depreciating asset, not an investment. Drive one off the lot and around the block, and then try selling it. You'll soon realize the price you paid for image.

Does David Suzuki drive a Suzuki? I couldn't tell you. He's not known for the car he drives (or perhaps, doesn't drive). Since we're on the topic of the environment -- where do cars go when they die? In the end, many are turned into rebar. Anyone who has sent a car to the scrapyard knows you're lucky to get more than two-figures for it. Think about that next time you envy the neighbour's car.

In the 60s, Volkswagen ads promoting the Beetle also advocated the simple life. "Live below your means" was one of their popular slogans. Other VW ads purported that "... a lot of people buy a big flashy car just to save face. Try putting that in the bank." Maybe it's time to embrace those values.

It all comes down to what you're willing to sacrifice. Your wife is right about prioritizing. Vehicle image vs. quality of life, vacations and retirement savings - it's a balancing act. Maybe you can easily afford another car. But for many, buying a new car means they'll have to cut back to one vacation every two years, or forego holidays altogether.

In Status Anxiety, author Alain de Botton points out that we don't understand the psychology of satisfaction. Also, our expectations for our lives have grown exponentially in the democratic age. We're surprised that being richer doesn't make us happy and secure. In comparison to our medieval ancestors we're extremely wealthy, yet we're not content. Instead we compare ourselves to friends, relatives and colleagues - and in your case, those who drive big sexy cars.

There are expensive solutions to your problem. You can buy the same car as your wife, and then be equal. Or, if you want to live high on the hog and not completely break the bank, many car companies have certified pre-owned programs. Audi, for example, offers gently used luxury cars with a full warranty at a fraction of the original price. For less expensive solutions, have you considered taking transit, or car pooling?

If that fails, learn to share. Maybe you could try swapping with your wife. Switching cars might be just what your marriage needs.

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