Many driver handbooks proclaim that “driving is a privilege, not a right”. In much the same way owning a car is a privilege that comes with a price. Whether it’s a monthly lease payment or the occasional hefty repair, parking and gas, insurance, licensing, registration … a car requires money to keep itself moving. Many of us want to get the most bang for our buck, but figuring out an optimal dollar-per-mile formula turns out to be a bit tricky if not impossible. Even if such a formula existed, would everyone heed its results?
Like it or not, believe it or not, a vehicle purchase is a largely emotional decision. Even relying on mundane sources of information like tedious reviews in the local paper doesn’t guarantee a more informed or bias-free decision. Worse yet, people will twist or cherry-pick facts in order to support their point of view and the conclusion they’ve already arrived at. And I can say all of this with confidence because I recently drove the most adequate car ever.
Finding a Ride
A few weeks ago I needed a set of wheels that would take me several hours north of the city to a rural part of Ontario. I was traveling for work so didn’t feel the need to tack on nearly 2,000 km to my Infiniti’s aging carcass. Plus, the cost of a rental would be covered anyways. One important note is that, despite the penchant for this province to receive a fair bit of snow every year, there are no laws mandating the use of snow tires like you find in neighbouring Quebec. As such no major rental car companies bother outfitting their cars with season-appropriate footwear. That sucks, because I definitely had no intention of making this journey with an ill-equipped car.
Fortunately an app called Turo exists. It’s like Airbnb for cars and allows owners to rent out their personal rides. Sometimes it’s cheaper than a rental company, sometimes it’s just more convenient. I, however, was most interested in the search filter that allowed me to only look at listings with snow tires. The proximity of my trip (3 days until departure) meant my options were quite limited. In the end I picked something that was not far away from me and relatively new: a 2015 Toyota Corolla.
The Refrigerator of Cars
I know the Corolla is often described as an appliance rather than a car. “It’s great for people who don’t care about driving”, or “it’s boring and has no fun qualities”. Whatever. I just needed something to get me from A to B without breaking down on a road with poor cell reception. Off I went.
Not only did the Corolla go from A to B – and back to A again – without any fuss, it actually proved itself to be a very decent automobile. It’s not a powerful car but ate up highway miles while returning some impressive MPGs. It’s not a luxurious car but was comfortable and had decent materials on all touch surfaces. Heated seats kept me warm, LED lights kept the road illuminated, and I never clamoured for power delivery to all 4 wheels.
I didn’t have any major complaints, either. The sound system under-performed and Toyota’s ongoing vendetta against Android Auto and Apple CarPlay meant I missed out on a few nice-to-have features. Oh well – not the end of the world. A shoddy window tint job meant the rear film was already peeling. I’ll lay the blame for that on the owner, not the car.
(Note: Toyota has begun loosening its grip on their archaic technology restrictions. However, as of 2020, not all models support Android Auto.)
Anyways this post was never intended to be an in-depth Corolla review. I’ll simply summarize by saying this: the Corolla is a perfectly adequate car. It is a very logical automotive purchase that will tick all the proverbial boxes for the majority of the population. That’s the Corolla’s purpose and its essence: sensible, reliable, no fuss, and with few frills. Even though Toyota has sold an average of 287,000 Corollas per year since 2000 in the US alone, that still only accounts for less than 2% of all annual vehicle sales (please consult the handy pie chart I created below)! So, what is everyone else driving?
The Corolla has some frenemies, a list which includes vaunted names such as Civic, Elantra, Sentra, and Mazda3. All of these cars start at around the same price, deliver roughly the same amount of power, and are very evenly matched in many other categories. Yet, you would think that one of these models has an edge over its competition that makes it the most logical car to buy. As such, one car should effortlessly outsell the rest.
But that’s not really the case. Sales figures crown the Honda Civic as the victor but only by a small margin over the Corolla. In 2017 they were split by just 3%, so the sales numbers aren’t enough to decisively pick the ‘best’ car. Why is that?
Have you ever heard someone talk way too generally about car companies and the countries they’re from? It’s a very uninformed way of discussing cars and I’ve marked it as a cliche we no longer need to hear. However, humans are impressionable and we develop deep-rooted opinions often based on hearsay. That’s what superstitions are, after all.
Let’s say your uncle bought a Toyota a long time ago and it gave him problems. He loved to bring up its faults at any opportunity, and as a kid you soaked it all in. Without any context you were conditioned to associate Toyotas with words such as “unreliable”, “rustbucket”, and “m!@#$% f*@&%!$* p!#@% of s#!%”. Now, when you are responsible for making your own car-purchasing decisions, you can’t help but snub the marque. In your mind the case of Toyota v. Honda is already decided before the opening arguments or any evidence is presented. This thinking isn’t just unfair to the Corolla but potentially robs you of a viable contender in your car search.
It isn’t always possible to trace such predispositions back to clear events. Maybe you heard a rumour in passing, maybe you saw a commercial you happened to like. Perhaps you have an annoying neighbour and simply don’t want to own the same car as them.
The worst manifestation of all the above is when opinions become facts, and certain facts are prioritized over others. Your uncle’s woes may have been exaggerated, or perhaps he just bought a really cheap car with documented problems. Is his experience any more valid than the millions of people who experience no issues with their Toyotas? The answer is “no”, but information like this is ever-present in our minds, and emotions are going to creep into our logic.
Is there anything you can do?
Not Always a Bad Thing
Is there anything you should do? If absolutely all of our decisions were 100% logical the world would be quite boring. “Variety is the spice of life” and, personally, I’m happy to see more than just achromatic econoboxes on the road. Kudos to the person driving their muscle car in the winter. Props to whoever daily drives their rare exotic. A questionable thumbs up to the slammed Miata attempting to navigate pothole-laden city streets.
I realize I’m sending mixed messages here: allow yourself to be emotional, but don’t let emotions get in the way. I guess it boils down to how you plan on using your powers: for good or for evil? If you continue to perpetuate your uncle’s bad experience with his Toyota you might miss out on a decent car. If you set your sights on a grey market import from overseas you might end up with your own maddening tales to pass onto a niece or nephew.
At the end of the day you have to take this admonition in stride. Try to be cognizant of what goes on in your head and employ simple techniques – such as making a pros & cons list – to help yourself make the right decision. Knowledge and an open mind will prevent ignorance and stifled decision-making.