The American Love Affair with the Automobile

There is no getting around it.  We Americans love our autos.  In California you are what you drive, or so it seemed to me when I first moved there.  I still drive a 1998 Honda Civic that has over 175,000 miles showing on the odometer.  I really don’t care to drive something fancy.  I like the reliability of Honda, thank you very much.  But when I first moved to Southern California in 2000, one of my friends said that I should consider driving something much cooler and sexier than a Honda Civic.  She really meant it.  So you see, friends, driving means a lot to us in America.  We would just as soon drive around the corner as walk.  And since we spend so much time in our cars, we like to look good driving.

A late 1990s model compact car won’t earn any head-turning quotient points.

Here’s an interesting article to read about the American love affair with the automobile from CBS Sunday Morning.  I did not realize that FDR deserves more credit than President Dwight Eisenhower when it comes to our interstate system.  FDR had the vision and Eisenhower put it all in place by the mid-1950s.  We’ve never looked back since, that is, unless we are looking back in our rear view mirrors on the open road.

I’ve driven across the southern United States at least twenty times in the last twelve years.  When I first moved to California in February 2000, I drove from New Hampshire.  No big deal.  I stopped at mom and dad’s place in Birmingham, Alabama after picking up Interstate 20 in South Carolina.  Interstate 20 connects directly to Interstate 10 in western Texas and you take it all the way to California.  The other route is Interstate 40, the freeway that follows the old Route 66.  If you ever go to America and have the time, take the open road.  You’ll meet a lot of people, see a lot of land, and enjoy some great sunsets.

What’s the biggest problem with the American love for the automobile?


14 thoughts on “The American Love Affair with the Automobile

  1. Cars have destroyed communities and made life more difficult for people too poor to afford a car and its upkeep. Now it means having an inability to use decent, well-maintained public transportation or going anywhere on foot in many places in the USA. It is also horrible for the environment. I really loathe the worship of cars.

  2. I think there are two major problems with this. One is even in your post before you mentioned that the majority of Americans are overweight. If people are going to drive even just to get to the corner store down the street, they’re not getting sufficient exercise. This will not only cause people to be overweight, but there’s going to be serious health issues among the people.

    Another problems is the high teenage accident rates. People in the US like to turn heads with their cars, and this applies to teenagers as well. When I attended high school in the US, literally EVERYONE drove. And the whole idea of looking cool & sexy is to drive fast and reckless. Often there was news that teenagers were getting into accidents on a daily basis.

    I think it’s neat that people like to drive cars, but it’s important to learn the negative effects from it.

  3. Compared to the people in the states, a lot of Japanese people do not have cars. One reason is that the transportation system is more convenient than riding a car. Plus it is really expensive to keep a car in Japan: parking lots, highway fees, etc. Therefore just having any car in Japan is considered a status. However in America, people need cars to move around so everyone has cars. Therefore focusing on a brand gives them status.

  4. As many have already stated, I also think that the Americans love their cars because they use it so frequently. They can get a driver’s license at the age of 16, and so young people able to drive is the same as being cool. In addition, owning their own car at a young age is even cooler and eventually leads to status. I dreamed of driving my car to school instead of riding the school bus, or picking up my friends to go to the mall. Therefore, using public transportation like buses and trains is an action that would negatively affect their status. Also, since the vast land in the States makes it inevitable to drive cars, everybody does. Consequently, people feel the need to buy better cars in order to stand out, which is why they love their car so much.

  5. The biggest problem I think is nonexistence of safety check systems under the law. In my experience in the US, car owners are responsible for maintaining cars by themselves to keep their cars safe. However, I doubt every owner is constantly taking care of his car. I had seen many cars get stuck on the highway in the US. By contrast, there is a safety check system under the law in Japan. Car owners in Japan need to take costly safety checks every 2 years so they can get permission to drive legally.

    By the way, I like driving cars on the wide roads of variety of landscape in the US. Actually, I enjoyed myself doing a road trip from Seattle to LA. I dropped by many local towns that didn’t appear in guide books. I will not be able to experience such a great trip in Japan due to the heavy traffic, narrow roads, and highway toll. Also, it’s so irritating to come across traffic lights every 30 seconds in this small country.

  6. I don’t have any images that American people ride the bicycle or scooter. In Japan more and more people seem to worry about global warming and wasting money if they use automobiles. I think the reason why American people love the automobiles is because of the highways. They easily go to anywhere they want, and I heard that since the highways have been in use, people don’t see the beautiful sights or visit the local areas like before. I prefer the local palaces and use local roads so I feel it is mottainai to me.

  7. I think this article is very interesting! As I lived in London I never knew much about what Americans liked, but come to think of it, I remember how in American films you would see men showing off their cars to girls. And the cooler the car is, the more popular the men are!

  8. I can understand how people depend on automobiles to get around as there are no other alternatives such as trains or buses as we have here in Japan. Owning your own car is a typical thing in the U.S., and so it is not unusual to own 3 or 4 cars per family and get your driver’s license once you have reached sweet sixteen. There may be trains and buses running in some urban cities, but I have never used them in the U.S. I was usually told that it is nothing like that used in Japan where everyone uses it and that those that use the bus in the U.S. are usually those that cannot afford to buy their own car. America probably became this way since, without a car, one cannot get around and so it is a necessity. Not being able to afford something essential to living a normal life means something.

  9. I think Japanese used to love autos like Americans, and autos show the status of that person. Actually, some people still love cars and believe that they show their status as well. However, autos have become less popular these days in Japan. This may because we do not use cars that often because of trains and buses. Also since the economic situation in Japan became bad, people have less interest in cars. For these reasons, autos became less popular in Japan.

  10. I believe one’s possessions are a great symbol of their social status in America. And it is not just cars that express themselves. I have not lived in California, but when I lived in Kentucky during elementary and middle school, having the latest and coolest shoes showed our status. You had to have the coolest and latest, or you’ll be seen as an uncool, not-fun-to-hang-out-with person.

    I think the love of cars is like the thing about shoes as well. In America, having a car is one big status of yourself, and having the coolest and latest is another. If you just had a car, boys would be “cool.”

  11. The problem with cars is that they seem to be like houses. In addition, people in America often use cars. So they
    tend to rely on cars. If another new vehicle is born, it will be difficult to market.

  12. After I read this article, I wondered why this trend exists in America, and found there are mainly two reasons for it. One of them is a vastness of nation’s land. Since America is a broad country from east to west and north to south, mechanical transportation is necessary for Americans to go around. There are many types of mechanical transportation such as a train, airplane and ship, but in terms of flexibility, the automobile is the best tool to go wherever you like.

    Moreover, what brings American to love their cars is the standard of age restriction for getting a car license. While you have to be 20 to get a car license in Japan, almost all states in the United States allow people to get one if you are 16. As you can see above, automobile is a vital tool for Americans to live life.

  13. Americans’ love for automobiles is indeed problematic with necessary petroleum fuels and resulting effects on global warming and resources. At the same time, I also understand how difficult it would be to detach themselves from the machines. Since the country is so huge as to take an hour on foot just to go to the nearest supermarket from your house if you live in a rural area, trains will not be able to cover all the destination demands with only one station in one district. Even if mass production of stations happens to succeed over its problems of cost and time, the idea of trains will never capsize the myth of automobiles, at least while Henry Ford is remembered as a “American Dreamer” that went from rags to riches. In addition, with wide roads and no pedestrians, driving freeways provides an easy way to help manage stress (Or, so I hear from my friends who have lived or are still living in America. How envious!). A possible solution I can think of at the moment is to spread hybrid cars or electromobiles. Perhaps Honda’s local manufacturing of hybrid cars from this April will contribute to it.

  14. From my opinion from living in California, I think that this phenomenon comes from the idea of the “American Dream,” and the automobile was one way of expressing your status in the society. That idea was widely recognized and it spread about the states fairly quickly by the usefulness of the transportation it could provide. That phenomenon made up the uniqueness of a car-centered society, where you could easily access any place without any major problems on the way. The car you drove also symbolized your personality quite well, taking the fact of what kind of use that you were planning to do with the particular car.

    The only drawback that this phenomenon puts forth towards the people is the fact that this rather useful means for transportation also emits a vast amount of CO2, leading to a major factor of global warming. Another drawback is that the US needs to supply a sustainable priced quantity of fuel to the market. This is quite important, taking the fact that the high priced fuel in the market right now is somewhat affecting President Obama on his oncoming presidential election, mainly due to the bad foreign relationship with Iran right now.

    By taking these factors into accord, I think that cars serve the role of showing how America should be in a good way, but its drawbacks are quite important, so they should be thought about more carefully in detail.

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