An 18th birthday is a momentous occasion. We often can hardly wait to be deemed adults by all of society, to be independent and responsible for ourselves and our lives. We can’t wait to get ID cards, to be able to vote, to pay taxes (just kidding), and to have our first legal drink (note the word “legal”, we know a lot of you had one way earlier than 18). We also look forward to getting a driver’s license. Some of us couldn’t care less about all the other things that come with turning 18. When we finally get our licenses, we feel like we’ve won the lottery. Yes, we know that there’s a whole host of you who could drive before you turned 18 and “borrowed” your parents’ cars every now and then. The number of juvenile car thieves is staggering, especially among the male demographic. If only your parents knew. But we won’t name names.

There’s an allure and mystique around cars that’s special. The automobile is one of the highest points and proudest symbols of human endeavour. There are few inventions more impactful or greater than the automobile. It came along and changed the world in perhaps more ways than we might even recognise. It shows the extent of human development through the years: from a steam-powered torture device lookalike in the 18th century to the technological and engineering marvels we have today, the automobile keeps getting better and continues to show just how far the envelopes of engineering and technology can be pushed.

The relationships we have with cars are as varied as we are. Some people couldn’t care less what they drive. To them a car is a tool for getting them around, nothing more. Others worship cars as if they were deities. Still others find cars to be a nuisance and figure the world would be better off without them. But we all (at least those of us who have had the privilege of seeing and experiencing them) have a relationship with cars. It is for this very reason, whether you like them or not, whether you’re apathetic about them or adore them, that cars are more than just transportation devices. They are more than a body and some machinery attached to four wheels.

Think back to your earliest memory of a car.

What do you remember when you think of that car? Or when you see one just like it driving down the road? If you’re like me, that car becomes a time-machine. It takes you back to the times you had with that car – the school drop-offs and pickups, the fights with your friends and siblings over who got to sit in the front seat, and the time it ran out of fuel at the very beginning of a road trip, and you had to refuel it with fuel carried from the petrol station in a plastic shopping bag.

It takes you back to the trips you had in it and the places you went to – the cross-country road trips where you slept in the car in the middle of nowhere, the trips upcountry to your grandparents’ home with all the cousins in one car annoying the adults in the front seats, and the impromptu road trips at one in the morning with your friends, going nowhere in particular.

It takes you back to the people you were with and the things you did and experienced – the ten flat tyres on that trip to Samburu in Northern Kenya, the kind and generous soul who filled your car’s tank after you met them for dinner, and the man who didn’t flinch as he told a story of him averaging 240 km/h for hours on the German autobahn. It becomes a treasure trove of memories, and this goes for any car you’ve had the pleasure or displeasure of travelling in.

Cars give a sense of occasion to things.

Think of the cars used for weddings, especially those that carry the happy (hopefully) couple, or hearses at funerals, or even school buses. Cars may add special meaning to things as well. There is a famous man for whom the Porsche 928 is special because it allowed him to travel to see his ailing father in time to say goodbye. There is another man, less famous, whose Toyota Corolla has taken him across nearly the length and breadth of his country in service to people. It has covered over 400,000 kilometres of land in the African tropics and gone over and above what it was designed for. It’s done all that has been asked of it, and then some. When people see that car, especially those for whom its owner has had an impact on their lives, they see more than an old Toyota. They see consistency, loyalty, selflessness, and generosity. They see in it what devotion to service is, what giving to and working for something bigger than oneself looks like.

Cars are sometimes a reflection of human traits and character. They can say a lot about us. They say so in the ones we choose and drive. The young lady with the white VW Polo probably cares more about fuel efficiency and saving costs than status and appearance, especially since she’s only driving her car around town. They say so in our attitudes to them. The man who won’t own a Toyota because he deems it a car for people who are basic could maybe use a slight blow to his ego. They say so in our desires for them. The young man who just scored a promotion at work and still keeps working 80-hour weeks just so he can earn enough to buy the Mercedes A45 AMG may place an inordinate value on material possessions. They say so in our pride in them. The lady in the house next door is proud of her Range Rover.

It is a result of her hard work and sacrifice, a reward for her efforts.

Cars also influence how we interact with each other, how we judge each other. There are three men who have a show on Amazon Prime called The Grand Tour. They go by the names James, Richard, and Jeremy. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. In the last episode of the third season, they eulogise the Ford Mondeo, a car which they all took a liking to. But before they did, they talked about the Ford Cortina, a decidedly cool car that began life in the 1960s. Jeremy and James talked about how when they were young their fathers came home with new Ford Cortinas and how in awe of the cars they were. They spoke of the effect the cars had on them and how cool the cars made their fathers because they owned and drove them. Richard, on the other hand, had a different experience. His father came home with an Austin Allegro estate, and Richard was mortified. The car embarrassed him, and perhaps made him think a little less of his father. The segment was probably exaggerated, but it still gave a solid representation of people and their relationships with cars.

Cars also add something else to their relationships with us. They are an access point to one of the most important things to us:


A car gives you the ability to go nearly anywhere, whenever you’d like and however you’d like. You could go fast or slow, you could take a shortcut or go the long way round, you could even change your destination halfway through. Cars can also give us some freedom and respite from the rigours of life. They allow us to take long drives to clear our heads or have some time alone with our thoughts. They allow us to exercise our competitive spirits, with races and shows that provide a happy and welcome distraction to all that can be stressful in the world. And sometimes, more simply, they allow us to do things like dictate when we’re going home from the party we attended without having to wait on a ride.

Cars come in different shapes and forms, as we do. They satisfy different things for different people. There are those for whom power is never enough. There are those who need just enough. There are those who love size and space and there are those who prefer the deftness and maneuverability of being small. There are those who like to throw their weight around and be seen and heard. There are those who would rather fly under the radar. There are those who are practical and just need something to do what it’s supposed to do, everything else be damned. There are those who desire luxury and comfort. There are those who do the bare minimum to get by, those who do all that’s required of them and those who are passionate, obsessive, and go above and beyond what’s needed. There’s a character on four wheels that’ll suit each one.

One of those aforementioned famous men talks of Charles Babbage, a man known as the father of computers, and how he talked about the unerring certainty of machinery. He points out that when something is unerring, it is indeed a machine. But he goes on to explain why cars are much more than that, because they have faults and make mistakes, and how through that we’re able to develop relationships with them.

We may not all like cars, but most of us surely have relationships with them, even if an affable one. There is definitely more to them than just metal, rubber, and plastic, and thank God for that.