Last time I did this very, very irregular car column, I griped about drivers. This time, I’m going to reveal what your car says about you — that is, if you own one of the 20 cars listed here. But since LA is not like the rest of the country when it comes to cars (after all, this is the place where only three colors exist (white, black, gray)), I commented twice. If you can’t find just car checks on the list, feel free to add your own car to the list. And hey, these evaluations are meant for new-car buyers (all but the last one).


Buick (any model)

Rest Of Country: You’re old. Seriously old.

Los Angeles: You’re dead.


Toyota Camry

ROC: You wanted a Buick without the panel gaps, chintzy interior, and cheap plastics.

LA: You don’t know what a Buick is, but wanted something that says “old” without huge panel gaps, chintzy interiors, and cheap plastics.


BMW 3-series

ROC:“Rich motherfucker.”

LA: “That’s all you could afford?”


Mercedes C-series (Baby Benz)

ROC: “Rich, old motherfucker.”

LA: You really wanted a Toyota Camry, but it was too cheap.


Mini Cooper

ROC: You’re trying hard to be cute.

LA: You couldn’t afford a real Bimmer.


Toyota Corolla

ROC:You drink Kroger Cola and hate cars.

LA: You drink Ralph’s Cola and don’t know where the Hell Long Beach is.


Scion tC

ROC: You want to look sporty without paying for sporty

LA: You hope that your coffee-can exhaust will make people believe you had the money not to buy a Toyota.


Acura TSX

ROC: You think you didn’t get a Euro-spec Honda Accord.

LA: You think you’re Mark Zuckerberg.


Porsche Boxster

ROC: You’re rich and bald/have big blonde hair, and you’re recently divorced.

LA: You’re not rich, but bald and just out of rehab after your 5th marriage to a TV exec went to pieces.


Porsche 911

ROC: You know good cars.

LA: You want tourists from Michigan to believe you know good cars.


Porsche Panamera

ROC: No taste.

LA: “They said it was a Porsche. It starts at $74, 410.”


Infiniti (all models)

ROC: Life is good.

LA: You don’t know there’s a world outside your Nav screen, which you’ve manipulated so you can play Medal of Honor while going down Wilshire Boulevard.


Range Rover

ROC: You live on a dirt road.

LA: You have two of these.



ROC: Maybe you also have a unicorn tattoo on your back.

LA: J. Lo ditched Marc Anthony and bought you a car.


Lamborghini (any model)

ROC: “What’s that in the ditch?”

LA: “Next time get a Bristol Fighter.”


Cadillac Escalade

ROC: Family with one child living on a dirt road.

LA: L.A. Laker.


Chevrolet Camaro

ROC: You drove the original. When you were 25. You do the math.

LA: You think you might have seen one. Once.


Hyundai Sonata

ROC: You think it looks like a Mercedes CLS four-door coupe.

LA: Your kid can’t be trusted with the Mercedes CLS.


Chrysler (any model)

ROC: “?”

LA: “???”


Ford Escort

ROC: “Loser.”

LA: “Cool. What kind of car is that? Never seen one before.”

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STEFAN KIESBYE is the author of Next Door Lived A Girl. His second novel was recently published by Tropen/Klett-Cotta Verlag in Germany; the American edition, titled Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone will be released by Viking/Penguin in 2012. Stefan lives in Los Angeles with his wife Sanaz and their dogs Dunkin and Nozomi.

107 responses to “20 Cars and What They Say About You – in LA and in the Rest of the Country”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    When I was in LA, I was fascinated by the cars, how shiny they all were…and I only saw one Subaru the entire time I was there (it had Oregon plates). In upstate NY, we all drive Subarus because we need AWD.

    I also love that you spell Hyundai wrong.

    This is great, Stefan.

  2. Don Mitchell says:

    One of everybody’s favorite TNB people has an Infiniti (or perhaps, following your Hunday lead, it should be “Infinity?).

    I especially like the Camaro bit, as in “You drove the original.” Probably that applies to Mustangs, too.

    But for the Range Rover, you forgot to add “and neither is working right now.”

    No hate for Volvo here? As in ROC = Yes, very safe you know, and LA = “You know it’s just a Ford, right?”

  3. Judy Prince says:

    Really enjoyed this, Stefan. You romped Los Angeleans pretty rigorously.

    I suppose I should find out what kind of car I drive. Nah. Too much trouble.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      are you afraid of what you’ll find?

      • Judy Prince says:

        HA! Since I ditched Marc Antony, the original, I have gone back to the perfumed barge.


        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          I admire your gravatar!!!

        • Judy Prince says:

          Thanks, Stefan, I rather like it, too. It’s an illustration I did for a friend’s poem about his cat, Vile Boris. But now that most TNB writers seem to be gravataring photos of themselves, I abandoned pore VB for a photo of me. Reason you see VB here is that I was using someone else’s computer for the comment to you. Now you’ll see me.

          Still can’t remember what kind of car I have. And it’s in the USA, but I’m in England.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          You do illustrations? That one rocks. Where can I get Vile Boris? Is it out?

        • Judy Prince says:

          I don’t know if I have the VB illustration on this computer, Stefan. Will check for you.

          So are you an illustration freak, too? Do you illustrate?

          I love Luca Dipierro’s animations for Rich Ferguson’s “We Voice Sing” (see TNB main page, bottom, You Tube vid).

          Zach Hazard Vaupen is totally awesome as well. You can see his works here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachhazardvaupen

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Thanks, Judy. I don’t illustrate, but am always hoping to work with more illustrators, on short stories and short shorts etc. Thank you for the links.

  4. Becky Palapala says:

    No pick-up trucks in L.A.?

    This is significant, I suspect, but I’m not sure exactly how.

  5. Matt says:

    Hmm…one question: I’ve given up driving entirely, and walk, bicycle, or take the public transport everywhere I go. What does Los Angeles have to say about my total lack of car ownership?

  6. dwoz says:

    “…my OTHER car is a Bucyrus-Erie Dynahoe 140…”

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      For real? I’d like to take that beast for a spin around the freeways here. Har!

      • dwoz says:

        for real!

        two yard bucket on the front, 20 ft reach arm on the back with a 24″ bucket. With the hydrostatic drive and the Detroit Diesel 350, I can scream along the fast lane in fourth gear well above 18 miles per hour.

        It’s not nearly as good in snow as you might imagine, but it has the advantage that it can simply pick itself up out of the snowbank it slides into.

        Best thing is that all the glass is intact and It’s got a smokin’ heater.

        It’s a babe magnet too.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      I have a friend in Hilo whose bumper sticker reads “My other car is a pair or boots.”

  7. Well, there’s tons of pick-ups, but they say what they say everywhere: airhauler.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      They don’t say that everywhere! Especially not here, where there’s lots of water and lots of boats.

      And near-arctic winters.

      Here, they’re just sensible.

      • Stefan Kiesbye says:

        I lived in Michigan, where there’s lots of lakes. Okay, the winters aren’t quite as arctic as in St. Paul, but I’d say 75 percent of people in pick-ups were air haulers 95 percent of the time.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Here’s the problem, though: I drive an F-150. We bought the F-150 so we could pull our boat and tote camping supplies (and so I’d have 4WD in the winter). We couldn’t afford to buy a whole other car for when we weren’t pulling the boat or toting camping supplies. So. Predicament.

          It’s an air hauler 95% of the time. But the 5% is key. I suppose people might see me, little blonde girl bouncing along in the summer and sneer and go, “air hauler.” And they’d be right. And also pretty wrong.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          I can see that ninja star glittering in your hand, so I’ll be careful what I say here. You say “we couldn’t afford to buy a whole other car.” But you do have a boat. So it’s not like the F-150 was a hand-me-down you couldn’t refuse. If you haul air 95 percent of the time, why are you so irked that people might think your an air hauler? It’s the definition of air hauler.

          • Becky Palapala says:

            Indeed both the boat and the truck were salvaged. We’re resourceful, not rich. We’re talking two vehicles other people were essentially giving away because we had the patience, expertise and ambition to make them run. We couldn’t afford to buy a whole other car. We couldn’t really afford to buy any other car. I mean, maybe if someone else had a busted car of some other type, but then that couldn’t pull the boat.

            We got both for less than the average price of either.

            The boat’s a ’78 and the upholstery is the kind of orange generally reserved for shag carpeting.


            It’s the sneer in airhauler that I object to, not the word itself. Almost no one needs a truck every minute of every day or even most days, even people who need them. I mean, if I want not to be sneered at by every twit in a compact looking for some reason to hate me as a human being because they hate my driving, I have to either get rid of the boat and get a little car or quit my office job and become a carpenter to justify driving a truck to the sneerers. Neither is particularly appealing.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I should also probably include the fact that my truck gets molested on a near-monthly basis in the garage at the Uni. where I work, so I am bitter, as I blame sneerers. Potentially hippies.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          “It’s the sneer in airhauler that I object to, not the word itself. Almost no one needs a truck every minute of every day or even most days, even people who need them. I mean, if I want not to be sneered at by every twit in a compact looking for some reason to hate me as a human being because they hate my driving.” Seems there’s a lot of sneering going on in St. Paul, on both sides of the spectrum.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          And isn’t blaming hippies against the laws of the universe?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Not if they’re molesting my truck! I love that truck.

          And I say “every twit in a compact” at least partially tongue-in-cheek.

          The ones I actually have a problem with are the low-end/older BMWs fishtailing it down I-94 in the middle of January. Don’t they know where they live? Them and their “I’d rather endanger my life and the lives everyone around me than buy a truck and look like a person who aspires to anything less than faux-intellectual quasi-hipster bourgeoisie.”

          And don’t get me started on the guy doing 50 mph in the fast lane in a vintage (read: all busted-ass-looking) Porsche.

          How are you gonna buy a Porsche and go 50 mph in the fast lane? At least as bad as hauling air.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          “How are you gonna buy a Porsche and go 50 mph in the fast lane? ” Ah, common ground there!!! (and I’ll be checking my rear-view mirror for F-150 with Minnesota plates 🙂 ).

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Really any rear wheel drive vehicle in winter in MN. It makes no sense.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Whoops. Cross-post.

          Yeah. I’ve gotten stuck behind the same guy twice in rush hour. Declared him my nemesis. Tiny car failing to do the only thing tiny cars are good for besides making U turns and parking.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          How many small cars per mile does your truck eat? Has anybody ever looked into the many highway disappearances in and around St. Paul? Porsche drivers! I’m talking about you!

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Now, now, Becky. I think what you’ve been observing is more likely driving skill-related than car-related. My ancient BMW (the ’67) was RWD and did well in the Buffalo snow. The new one (I know you excluded new ones) is dynamite, but it’s AWD.

          What I’ve learned about RWD vehicles and snow is that it isn’t so much RWD as it is the actual suspension — meaning, RWD with live axle on leaf springs on a car doesn’t do well in the snow. That combo on a truck, much better. RWD with a modern suspension, like independent rear (as all Bimmers have had since the mid-sixties) does pretty well.

          It’s all about putting the power on the ground effectively, in my experience.

          And as for hauling air, when I was in L.A. in 2008, most of the pickups that I saw were actually hauling something. I was surprised, and took note of it, because around here the air haulers rule.

          To get my own air hauling credentials in order, I’ll confess that in 1962 I had a late-forties blue Chevy 3/4 ton pickup, Utah plates. I drove it for about a year before swapping it for a ’55 Ford convertible, which in the end I sold for $100. Either one of those would probably be worth a good buck now.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          What is an ‘airhauler’?

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Somebody with an empty bed. Somebody who wants the truck for image/looks/convenience, but actually doesn’t have anything to fill the bed with. So instead they’re hauling air.

      • dwoz says:

        Becky, I know you will be horrified to learn that I also own an F-150. From 1994. Flare side. We haul stuff in it too.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          How many cars and utility vehicles do you own?

        • dwoz says:

          I am SO embarrassed to talk about all the minivans I’ve been through in the past two years.

          What it is with me, is that I acquire cars that others have lost faith in, that I believe still have a little bit of “I think I can” still in them.

          Way I figure it, if I buy a clunker for a few hundred bucks, and it lasts 6 months before catastrophic liver failure, I’m still ahead.

          Here’s my list for the last 5 years:

          15 passenger Ford F350 van;
          Toyota Camry;
          Honda Civic;
          15 passenger Dodge Grand Caravan (hit by lightning, then crunched by an oak tree. God took retribution);
          Mazda MPV minivan;
          Ford Windstar minivan;
          Pontiac transsport minivan;
          BMW 328es;
          Saab 900 convertible;
          Hyundai Elantra;
          Ford F150 pickup;
          Dynahoe backhoe;

          As I look over this list, I despair for my coolness. Wait…what coolness?

          I’ve left off the horse trailer and the camper.

          I want a cool car. I want a car that says “this guy is trying to start a dick-measuring contest and is entering this car, and he expects to win.”

          I’m considering an MGB.

          There’s three of them turning into oxide in a lot nearby, There’s probably a whole car between the three of them.

          The coolest car I ever owned was a volkswagen squareback. Half the car universe wishes it was that car. You could haul an entire band. An entire rock band. Plus a refrigerator. and it wasn’t ghey like the carmen ghia.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Dick-measuring contest. Good times. TVR Tuscan?

  8. Dana says:

    My car didn’t make the list (HA!) but what do you think a ’97 Taurus says about a person?

    (In full disclosure I should note that I’m currently looking for a new ride.)

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      ’97 Taurus? Says, “I’m currently looking for a new ride.”

      In LA it says you probably have three dead parrots and old In’n Out wrappers in your car.

      • Dana says:

        Well played sir!

        Since I got the car for free when it was just two years old and 30k on the odometer I couldn’t turn it down, but dang is it ugly. Reliable, but super ugly.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Yes, those were the Taurus’ bug-eyed years. On the upside, if you keep it another 20 years, people will like it again. It has this all-out goofery that becomes endearing later in life.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    You know, Stefan -you are the only person who makes the subject of cars enjoyable for me! Thank you!
    I love your descriptions. Even though I don’t live in the U.S, I can see how you have just nailed it perfectly.
    I’m always iffy about those people who come right out and tell you what they drive when you first meet them. I met someone recently who at our first meeting told me very proudly and loudly that he owned a Merc. I think it was meant to impress me. But having been an owner of a Merc myself and having hated the gas-guzzling piece of shit, it put me right off him.
    My best and favourite car of all time was a Peugeot 504. I just fell in love with it. The only time you ever see them now is in news footage where they can be spotted on the roadside in flames. The Peugeot – The car of choice for war zones.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Zara, and yes, any 504 beats any Merc any day. What a jerk to tell you he drove a stupid Benz. But hey, he would fit right in here 🙂

      The starnge thing about LA is that I’m kinda down with it. Yeah it’s loud and Uggz-y and full of people who can afford Ferraris without being able to find the gas pedal, but it’s a show. It’s artificial, but in it’s up-frontness less cloying than the normal keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.

      Can the U.S. import you?

      • Zara Potts says:

        I don’t know what it is about the 504 – but it inspires love in so many of its owners. I had a friend who had one during his university days. It had no reverse gear, so parking was a bastard, but he kept on driving that car until it fell apart.
        Even now, twenty or so years later he still goes into raptures about the brilliance of the 504.
        People are funny.

        I don’t know about importing me – I don’t know if they’d deem me road worthy!

        But next time I’m visiting I think we should do some car-spotting, okay?

      • Don Mitchell says:

        “Can the U.S. import you?”


        The lovely Z has emissions issues.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Well, Z — in my day, “Merc” meant “Mercury.” I’ve had to learn a new slang.

      Are we supposed to be cool and say “Benz?”

      Stefan knows.

      • Stefan Kiesbye says:

        Thanks for adding that, Don. The first time somebody used Merc (that I remember) he meant indeed a Mercury. Which is now going the way of Pontiac and Oldsmobile and Saturn. In Germany, we say Benz, but it’s pronounced “Bents” so it has a better ring. Anyway, since Mercury is going to heaven, Merc for Benz is great.

        • Zara Potts says:

          You guys don’t say Merc? Huh. That’s all they’re known as here – Mercs.

          And of course the lovely Peugeots are known as Purrrges.

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Purrrges. I love that. And no, people do say Merc. It’s just not always clear what exactly they’re referring to.

  10. Irene Zion says:


    I feel very lucky that my car is not on your list.
    I got mine because it was big enough for carting around my two big dogs and drove pretty fast cause I like to drive fast and there was a good deal on it at the time.
    It’s a Nissan Murano.
    What does that say about me?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:


      it says that you really, really like to drive fast. Of the cars that pass me (while I’m speeding) on the left, 60 percent are Nissans/Infinitis. You get prodigious power for a moderate amount of cash in a Nissan.

      It also says that if I were to live in Miami and got rid of my car, I would hide whenever I’d see a white Murano approaching.

      • Irene Zion says:

        If my dogs were in the car, you would not have to hide, because I have to make sure they are safe.

        When I am alone in my car, well, let’s just say that you had better steer clear of that white Murano.
        It would just be better that way.
        Trust me.

  11. dwoz says:

    What does a Citroen say about you?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      If you own a DS or, even better, an SM, you’re so eternally cool. ETERNALLY COOL. Latter had a Maserati engine and just looked so weirdly sexy, it was crazy. If you have an old 2CV you’re cool, but climb any hill higher than a pitcher’s mound. If you have an even older Traction Avant, the first Front wheel drive, you’re gangster cool. Everything else, hm, hum, ahem. Thing is though, if you have any Cit here in the US, it’s better than having a Mercedes SL.

    • Irene Zion says:

      As our first car, we looked at a Citroen.
      I really wanted it.
      You know why?
      Because when it hurt it’s foot, it would lift all three of its other feet so you could fix the injured foot.
      It could be that I anthropomorphize too much.
      could be….

  12. Richard Cox says:

    You kill me, Stefan. This is hilarious.

    Did you ever see that “View from Your Phone” pic I posted for you?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      I did, Richard, and it was great! But G35!?! Geez. I remember there was a Honda CRV involved too, right?

      I definitely think you should buy a Citroen SM. You should buy one for me too. I’d appreciate that. Not many left.

  13. Marni Grossman says:

    What do you make of a Prius, Stefan?

    (LA: You’re Leonardo DiCaprio.)

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Hi Marni, so good to see you. Let’s see. Prius everwhere else: You’re trying hard to be cute and make a difference at the same time. Your buying Japanese, not American, and the Midwestern neighborhood hates you for it. But thinks you’re cute.

      Prius LA: You think you can pull a Leonardo (unless you are Leonardo) but you’re caught going 105 mph in the car pool lane, and you really don’t look like Leonardo, and the old “my brakes didn’t work” doesn’t work anymore, partly because you’re just not Leonardo, and you don’t care about trees and whales and dolphins, but just want to use the car pool lane, because you don’t have a girlfriend, and the rubber doll you were using in the passenger seat has a tear and will deflate before you even make it to the freeway.

  14. Erika Rae says:

    I love this, Stefan. It’s like you’re a palm reader of cars. Yes, I realize that makes no sense. Everyone wants you to analyze them, though. So analyze me, too? Jeeps. All I drive are Jeeps. I’ve had 5 in a row. And yes, I live on a dirt road. I wouldn’t even know what to do with a sports vehicle sans the word “utility”. So what does this mean, Stefan? How many children will I have? When will I die? Will I find fulfillment in my slice of blueberry pie?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      You will always find fulfillment in blueberry pie, unless you’re allergic to blueberries, in which case, you get a bit too fulfilled and are express-mailed to Heaven.

      I do like the palm-reader analogy. If things go south with all the other crap I’m doing, I’d like to give it a shot. I’d like a turban, and a beard, and maybe purple or orange contacts.

      Jeeps. Wow, that difficult, because there are so many. If you bought a Liberty, well, then, you just got duped. They look okay, but are not okay. And since Jeep is only a glorified Chrysler, you really, really, got duped.

      The Wrangler. Was obsolete in the 40s, and that’s not my opinion but the Car Talk guys opinion, and I agree. Wranglers are only good if you have a 22-inch biceps and are riding 100-foot waves. It’s still a crappy car, but YOU make it look cool.

      Grand Cherokee. All the old ones are falling apart. What a new one says about you: You gave it a try, sucker!

      In LA, Jeeps are only cool pre-1950. If you drive one, you must live in the Valley. In Encino. And you just got rid of your Toyota Camry.

      But you, Erika, transcend my pettiness. Your Jeeps will last and bring you many thousands of miles of joy. I’m driving a Ford Escort. I know.

      • Erika Rae says:

        Jeep Cherokees. All but one. Now what?

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Stupid me, I forgot my line about those. THOSE are actually really cool. They don’t make them anymore (which is already way cooler). No, seriously, those might have not been terribly reliable either (not sure on that), but their boxiness is classy. They are the prototypical box on wheels, like a high station wagon. Treat them well, they’re not gonna come back. With those (at least if you have a massaged exhaust) you can even show up on Rodeo Drive.

        • Erika Rae says:

          Score! Swami Stefan approves! Woooohoooo! I shall celebrate with pie. Now, Cherokees are actually really reliable, though. I’m on 137,000 miles on mine, Mr. Ford Escort. ( :

        • Dana says:

          Ha! Get him Erika. My husband drives a Chrysler and it has 215,000 miles AND it gets 32 mpg. Stefan doesn’t know everything. But he is pretty funny… for an Escort driver.

        • Erika Rae says:

          Hahahaha – wow, that’s a lot of miles. Impressive. And yes, Stefan is hilarious!

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    And if it’s a 1967 Corvette Stingray?


    Or a ’76 Chevrolet Impala?


    I mean, I don’t actually own these cars.

    I just totally want to.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      The Corvette says you or your dad are multi-millionaires or had one stored when your dad was 25. The Impala says you probably belong to a Long Beach street gang. In the rest of the country, you probably worked for GM, adored their cars, until they moved operations overseas.

  16. Hella cool piece, Stetfan. Quite insightful. As for my own car, woof, I don’t even want to tell you where I fall on your list. Let’s just say that, according to you, on one hand I wanted a Buick without the panel gaps, chintzy interior, and cheap plastics, but on the other hand I wanted something that says “old” without huge panel gaps, chintzy interiors, and cheap plastics.


  17. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Swami Stefan, I think I should business cards…might be lucrative. Car Image Healer. Might become a real job in LA.

    Glad to hear your Cherokees are still going. There won’t be any new ones. There won’t be any new Escort station wagons either. And you’re only ahead of me by a meager 3,000 miles. Which I could put on to take you out for pie!

  18. jmblaine says:

    This was great, I’ve been pondering
    TNB posts that would be shorter
    & quicker to read –
    I really think this is the way to
    go in this sort of format.
    People want something
    light and fun,
    a fast read but plenty
    enough for comment fun.
    I’ve been sort of stumped but
    you came up with a grand idea.

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