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August 16, 2009

News & Features

My car, myself: Our cars say a lot about us -- even if it's not the obvious message

Special to NWautos

My car, myself

Cari Sulcer and her boyfriend Ken Unterseher both drive cars that suit them fine -- even if they seem a little off on the surface. (Charles Sulcer)

First, a bit of background: I was approached to write this story because people are often surprised to learn that I drive a pick-up. You see, I'm kind of girly. I write about shopping and fashion, I love pretty shoes, my favorite color is pink and I'm stone-cold terrified of spiders.

But there's more to me than that. I target shoot and go four-wheeling with my boyfriend, my preferred footwear is a pair of cowboy boots and I love spending time with my dogs. Learn those facts and suddenly the dirty truck with the smudged windows and the Hella off-road lights makes perfect sense.

If you've met someone whose car, at first glance, seems like a mismatch, don't laugh too hard. Once you get to know such a person, you may find more of a connection than you originally thought, says psychologist Glen B. Earl.

"Cars are an extension of who we are, and hence say something about our personality," he says. "The reality is, if there was no desire to demonstrate our own unique personality, we would all drive mono-colored midsize cars that are two years old -- shown by research to be the best car value."

Ken Unterseher

Ken Unterseher, a weapons training specialist, says his Mini Cooper reflects his personality. (Charles Sulcer)

Take, for example, Ballard resident Ken Unterseher, a 34-year-old weapons training specialist and personal trainer. He grew up in Montana and served two tours of duty in Iraq. If that's all you knew about him, what car would you bet on? A weathered Land Cruiser with a gun rack?

Bad bet. Unterseher drives a 2005 Mini Cooper S, silver with black racing stripes and rally lights. And while to a stranger the car might seem like a contradiction, Unterseher says it suits him perfectly.

"It's definitely a reflection of my personality," he says. "It's spunky, agile and unique."

Unterseher takes some flak for driving the sporty little car, but he says he wouldn't change a thing. "I'm a trend setter rather than a follower, and at the time [I bought the car], very few people were sportin' the Mini," he says. "Basically, I'm comfortable enough with myself that I happily drive a cute car."

Read up
  • Want to learn more about the connection between your car and your personality? Check out Jay Lamm's tongue-in-cheek read, "You Are What You Drive: What Your Car Says About You," $20 at

Then there's Unterseher's girlfriend. Cari Sulcer, 35, is a fashionable realtor who loves to read, cook and entertain. You might expect her to dart around town in a sexy European sedan and, for years, that's what she did. But she recently launched a residential staging business and, as it took off, it became clear that a roomier ride was called for.

"I needed a large-enough car to haul around furniture," she says of her 2004 Nissan Pathfinder. "I've certainly never pictured myself driving a sport utility vehicle. It isn't at all luxurious, but truly, I chose this car purely for its functionality and not because it reflects my personal taste."

So she bade farewell to her heated leather seats, iPod jack and back-up sensors, but made one concession to style: "It's opalescent white," she says, "the most feminine color I could find."


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