Nurture or Nitrous?

Megan Benoit
by Megan Benoit
nurture or nitrous

Most of the guys I know have 93 octane racing through their veins. But I’ve also met more than a few women who have a need for speed, who lust after the fast and the furious, who live from one clichéd car movie moment to the next. So is a pistonhead born or made? Is it nurture or nitrous? While there’s no doubt that high testosterone levels help create (if not prolong the lifespan of) an automotive enthusiast, there’s more to motor mania than what you’re packing in your genes.

Trust me: deep down, most women are car enthusiasts. Like any teenage boy, they start off excited about the intoxicating freedom of driving and scan their automotosphere for the chariot best suited to fleeing the nest and impressing the rest. They may not talk about horsepower and torque, but they “get it.”

And then they grow to dislike cars, if only because the cars they drive are so fundamentally unlikeable. The minivan, the family sedan, the average domestic transplant-– these are the daily drivers of the women I know. Is it any wonder they loathe all things automotive? And yet they buy these vehicles, time and time again.

I suppose nurture has a lot to do with it– if only because your parents’ car buying habits influence yours. My family progressed from one average family car to another, bequeathing unto me a series of slow, po-faced monstrosities. This parade of putrefaction repressed my natural auto-enthusiast tendencies.

As it would. Every minute you spend in a car you hate deepens your dislike for vehicles in general. And so, after years of grinding boredom, the heart and soul of the downtrodden enthusiast becomes bitter and cynical. Early pistonhead passion goes poof.

What the closet enthusiast needs is encouragement-– an excuse to let loose their inner hoon.

Encouragement best comes from the purchase of a new, dynamically superior vehicle. This prospect holds a particular dread for women. Being the practical side of the species, we would rather put up with a car we hate than shell out money for another one that could be just as bad or worse offers more driving pleasure. This is where you– the enthusiast — must intervene.

First, gauge your subject’s heart. Is there an enthusiast somewhere in there, or a true car hater? If you launch the car at a stoplight, is her squealing louder than the tires? Better yet, on a closed course (i.e. abandoned mall parking lot), encourage her to try mucking about with her vanillamobile.

Tell her you want to see what her “fabulous” car can “really do,” or pretend it has something to do with safety. Get her to accelerate, corner, panic stop. Set up tasks (“see if you can stop this barge from 60 in 7 seconds”) and give her lots of praise. If you catch a secret smile, thanks, you’re claiming a soul for

Next, teach her how to drive a manual. This needs to be done before she needs a new vehicle; if she’s in a hurry, she won’t consider it. And unless you’re hankering for a Jersey Divorce, let a third party provide spousal instruction.

Then, become her personal shopper. Women are usually interested in practical, reliable and fun (looking, not driving). Find the cars that add ‘fast’ to the mix and plant her behind the wheel. She’ll know what to do from there.

If she wants an automatic, pull out all the stops. “Oh, the manual gets better gas mileage.” “A clutch is cheaper to replace than a transmission.” “The automatic won’t let you get as much out of the engine as a manual will.” Don’t forget – money and practicality.

It’s entirely possible she’ll still fixate on a dud. She loves it because it’s “cute” or the right color or because it’s been her lifelong fantasy to drive a red Mustang. Try not to vomit in front of her or, worse, pull rank.

If possible, guide her to take a step up in the model range. The Mustang GT. A Volkswagen GTI instead of a Rabbit. Alternatively, find something similar in a different make. That red Corolla is a great car, but how about a nice red Honda Civic Si instead? Don’t be afraid to pull out economy, reliability or safety data to try to sway her mind.

And don’t fret. She may not buy what you think is the best car, but at least you’ve raised the whole "fun" issue. Baby steps are better than none at all. Before you know it, you'll have a mutual interest that brings you closer together as a couple and, more importantly, another set a wheels to thrash. Viva la evolution!

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  • Evohappy9 Evohappy9 on Mar 31, 2007

    Speaking as a man I completely disagree that auto enthusiast leanings are the result of "nurturing". My father is a motorhead and my childhood was filled with nothing but NASCAR and drag driving (I refuse to call it racing) both of which I absolutely despised considering them activities for unfit, pinguid, functionally illiterate hillbillies. I truly hated cars and driving. When I was 26 I saw a video of Walther Rohrl in Group B rally - it was a revelation!!! Driving that equally reqired mental and physical agility coupled with fantastic nerve! Worlds were opened to me in that moment. My enduring passion for felonious speeds and high speed agressive maneuvering on serpentine country roads was formed instantaneously. There was no "nurturing" or instruction involved. My point is simply that owning a quasi-sports car means nothing. The level of enthusiam is determined by how far one will go to cultivate their ability to maneuver at speed. I have come across many people with fast cars and very, very, very few with the nerve to drive them. Those people are posers.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Oct 09, 2007

    Don't let the stereotypes blind you: I am a 37 yr old big guy (usually with a beard) and drive a '97 white VW Cabrio (camel interior/black cloth top that I installed myself). Great little car that is a hoot to drive. Not the fastest car nor the best handling (though damn good) but plenty of all the right stuff and frugal to drive. My wife likes it too but it is my daily driver. She drives a '99 CR-V only b/c it has four doors. We're moving towards two smallish hatchback cars with something larger for the weekend trips. Think GTI and Mini with a Eurovan on standby. Isn't it funny how most of the enthusiast commentors on this website are driving imports? Not as many domestic driver's cars or not as many noticed by TTAC readers. My wife is frugal and practical first because our budget requires it. She isn't a hard driver but her enthusiasm is there. Her vision is poor-ish so she won't take chances but she is patient when I do (sans children in the backseat). We've got a '65 Beetle (2.0L Type IV motor) and a '78 VW camper (2.7L Corvair implant) and she's eager to help work on them when we can. When we were first married I had a nasty hand injury and she rebuilt the van's engine for us... I knew I got a good one! As for the SUV vs Minivan for a growing family: you NEED neither. Our CR-V has been great for 147K miles and a good fit. We also put two kids in car seats in the back of the Cabrio and make 2 hour trips on the interstate comfortably with plenty of overnight bags. Leave the full sized stroller at home please! Umbrella stroller only need apply. The only hit against the Cabrio is putting the youngest in his seat. With the top up it is an awkward manuver but consider that on a trip you do this manuver only occasionally. Maybe 4 times a day. A sightseeing trip would not be comfortable with all of the in and out to see stuff unless the top was down... Once the kids are able to climb into their seat (our older child) its not a problem. The CR-V has been wonderful allowing us to carry the four of us plus some luggage and our dog in the wayback on her bed. Once a year or so we'll have enough stuff (holidays) that I wish we had a larger vehicle (kids, dog, luggage, and gifts). During the summer we just load the bicycles on our open 5x8 ft utility trailer (instant pickup truck). I want to build a small wooden closed top trailer for distance/wet weather travelling which will keep everything dry and safe. I could buy such a thing but I want to build one... We DON'T want to drive a thirsty monster 365 days a year and need the extra space 5 times a year. A reader commented about aggresive female drivers in the largest SUVs. I more often notice the empty and largest SUVs - that is Excursions carrying one small female. She likely dropped off a couple of kids but even in the school pickup line I seldom see more than two kids getting out of these behemoths. Ideally we would have a 30 mpg Eurovan turbo diesel but our ^&*#% government and it's &*#^@ lobbyists want to keep us in monster domestic SUVs. I've considered buying a gas Eurovan and putting an imported Canadian sourced VW diesel into it. We're done with SUVs. I grew up riding in them (S-10 Blazer/70's Landcruiser) and owned one now and we really want sporty wagons or hatchbacks or convertibles. Interestingly all of the best candidates for us are used imports. I won't give the domestics any of my money until the mangement and the UAW stop mismanaging their companies b/c I feel we'll get a substandard vehicle after the beancounters strip out quality to meet a lower build cost/average price point b/c of their higher management/labor/legacy costs. Lastly most of the women I know are normal drivers who never took the opportunity to drive at the limits of their cars. The ones I know can drive fast but with little understanding of what to do if something goes wrong. Driver's Ed would help. Parking lot/backroad hoonery would help... Drifting through curves, near limit braking, understeer/oversteer, etc. What has been typical of former girlfriends (not my wife) has been girls with very poor driving habits b/c no one tried (or maybe they wouldn't listen) to teach them how to drive well. One girlfriend would accelerate to 5mph above the speedlimit in her 80's Civic and then coast to 5 mph under the speed limit. Then repeat a thousand times. Note that these were not smooth transitions either. I had visions of new CV joints and transmissions. Would NOT take any suggestions or criticisms positively. It was junk at 130K miles. Not a girl I could afford to keep for long. Another just let her vehicle fall apart around her. Dirty. Rusty. Noises. The truck I mean... Another would just go from gear to gear with zero finese. Went through clutches and U-joints often. Never avoided holes in the road either. Junk in 80K miles. In every case I saw traits about the car ownership that also showed through to their personal life as a whole - or I wanted to...

  • Analoggrotto Engine shuts down just like the dad-bod Patagonia outdoor clad driver's libido.
  • Legacygt Great review. I've only driven one Wilderness model (an Outback provided as a dealer loaner) and I found the handling a little sloppy on-pavement. It's good to hear they managed to give the Crosstrek the Wilderness treatment without hurting the on-pavement experience.And this is the first time I've read a review that dared to criticize Star Tex seats. I find the material interesting and low maintenance and fairly comfortable but I totally agree that it rates very poorly for breathability. It's so bad that I think Subaru should offer it with some sort of ventilated option. 5 minutes on a hot day and you're sitting in a pool of sweat.
  • Analoggrotto Too bad they don't sell Kia Telluride, the greatest selling vehicle in it's class over the pond in the UK who burned Washington DC down but that's ok.
  • Analoggrotto Kia Telluride never faced such problems and now offers a superior offroad trim for those times where soccerdad needs to go get the white claws from costco.
  • Zerofoo There's a joke here somewhere about Tim's used car recommendations, Tassos, and death traps.