|Americans love their automobiles so much that they converse with them, name them, adorn them with trinkets, and involve them in some of life's most significant and personal moments. A survey among 1,000 U.S. car owners by the International Carwash Association found that a vast majority of respondents - 84 percent - feel affection or emotion for their cars, equaling an estimated 116 million smitten drivers*.
A snapshot of America's "car love" habits:
- 90 percent of all car owners sing in their cars.
- 60 percent hold conversations with their cars.
- 50 percent of car owners have kissed or "made out" in their cars.
- 27 percent have made love in their cars.
- 27 percent give their cars "pet" names.
- 20 percent hold meetings in their cars.
- 10 percent got engaged in a car, or knew someone else who did.
Yet the poll, conducted to better understand people's relationships with their cars compared with their habits caring for them, found that neglect - as in any relationship - can result in decay.
Although 62 percent of car owners believe car appearance is essential, 53 percent of car owners wash their cars less than once a month - and 16 percent never wash their cars. This translates into 73 million grimy automobiles among all 138 million registered vehicles in the United States. Even worse: 61 percent of respondents admitted to leaving garbage in their cars, and 27 percent say their car stinks, or used to, because of it.
"It's ironic: People say they feel car love, but they don't practice it by keeping their cars clean," observed Courtney Caldwell, founder and publisher of American Woman Road & Travel and a leading authority on all things auto. "A number of environmental car culprits - bird droppings, acid rain and salt, for example - can harm your car's finish in just a couple days. If you're not washing your car professionally at least once or twice a month, you're risking damage."
Nearly $24 billion a year is spent battling automobile corrosion damage, a cost absorbed by consumers in three ways: Funding auto manufacturer efforts to research corrosion-resistant paints and coatings, fixing damage caused by road or sea salt, or corrosion-related depreciation of cars. According to auto trade-in experts such as Kelley Blue Book, cars in excellent mechanical condition and appearance can be valued as much as $1,500 higher than those in good or fair condition.
"One in four car owners believe that a dirty car reflects poorly on a person," said Mark Thorsby, executive director of the ICA. "Aside from the satisfaction professional car washes provide from an image perspective - since, after all, most people care about how they portray themselves - many of us forget that professional washes and details actually save us money in the long run by protecting the investment we've made in our cars. In addition, they are much better for the environment than at-home washes, which can use twice as much water and pollute local lakes, rivers and streams."
Other highlights from the International Carwash Association Car Love survey:
- 38 percent have had their car play a significant role in a wedding ceremony or honeymoon, or knew someone else who did.
- 36 percent decorate the interior with trinkets such as fuzzy dice, steering wheel covers, etc.
- 34 percent made a life decision in their cars.
- 26 percent were told they were loved for the first time in a car, or knew someone else who was.
- 22 percent displayed pictures of their cars.
- 19 percent "hang out" on their car rooftop.
- 9 percent conceived a child in a car, or knew someone else who did.
- 4 percent have celebrated their car's birthday and/or anniversary.
- 4 percent have been named after a car (or knew someone else who had).