Is school gate car envy really raising it’s ugly head... again?

Research from on family cars has thrown up some interesting findings, writes Ailin Quinlan
Is school gate car envy really raising it’s ugly head... again?

CHOOSING THE FAMILY CAR: More than 80% of mothers are key decision makers in car purchases. Picture: Stock

AS a college student, I spent a never-to-be-forgotten summer working in an upscale department store in a Boston suburb. It was a memorable summer for a number of reasons, but one of them was how, on a daily basis, I never failed to be amazed by how much stuff well-heeled eager-to-please American parents were buying for the kids that accompanied them. And by how unimpressed those bored-looking children appeared to be by all of these purchases on their account; purchases which quite literally would have made my eyes spin with delight when I was their age.

Of course, I was coming from a big Irish family with one bread-winner, reared at a time when this little Atlantic island was frozen in the teeth of the terrible 1980s recession. That sort of shopping behaviour has migrated to Ireland now, alas, and the sight of young Irish parents eagerly trying to please bored Irish children who already have so much stuff they can barely summon the enthusiasm or the energy to say thank you, is de rigueur.

Why all of this came to mind when I was reading a new survey on the Irish family car and who buys it, I don’t know but it’s one of the reasons I like studies and surveys; they tend to throw up really interesting stuff about daily life, and jog long-forgotten memories. In terms of interest, I wasn’t let down by these latest findings, which emerged from an investigation by the website with SsangYong into who buys the family car — (apparently it’s usually the woman who is the main purchaser these days.) And that’s progress of a kind because I have heard the other side of it, through the experience of women of previous generations. One woman always had to ask her husband’s permission to use ‘his’ family car. Another was never, ever encouraged to drive the family car, and so, never did, even though she was well able to drive. Ye Gods! Thank God things are changing fast. In fact, more than 80% of mums in the 1,000-plus mothers surveyed for the newly released study, said they were the key decision-makers in car purchases and had the final say when it came to choosing the family car. So that’s all good (though there could be a downside in the fact that possibly one big reason why today’s mums get to have the final say in the family car might just be because they’re the ones who get stuck with most of the drudge work in terms of drop-offs and collections for children’s school, sports and birthday events.)

An interesting thing thrown up by the study was the distinct feeling I got that the Celtic Tiger Boom-mindset seems to be raising its sleekly groomed, self-consciously superior head again. Apparently school-gate envy is the new phenomenon, with the school car-park often becoming a “showroom” for the most popular family cars, since many parents now have no choice but to drive their children to school. Great if you happen to be driving a top-of-the-range BMW with all the trimmings — but what, if like me, you’re not?

During the dearly departed boom, we noticed our children were suddenly asking to be dropped a short walk from their sports sessions, rather than being driven straight to the training grounds. At the time we were very preoccupied with two relatively substantial building projects to do with the house — well substantial to us anyway — which were swallowing up every spare penny we had. The two ageing, but fully functional, family cars were the least of our priorities. So initially, we didn’t quite understand what was going on behind all this sudden enthusiasm for the extra bit of exercise. The penny finally dropped one summer evening, when my daughter, then about eight or nine, asked faux-casually, “how come our cars are never the same as the year?”

The big question is, are your kids asking you to stop a quarter of a mile from the school gate? Secondly — and this really made me smile — these days, according to a comment in the survey, an attractive car appeals to modern mums “as an extension of their personality.” This fascinated me — do modern young mums, really view their car as an “extension” of their personality, and if so, does that mean that to be a better person you have to have a better class of car? And what does that say about people who drive old bangers?

Personally I’ve always preferred to see myself as an E-Type jaguar sort of girl, but since I’ve spent most of my life driving Toyotas, and, latterly, a Skoda, eh what does that say about my personality?

Another issue which came out of all this research is actually something you’d think car manufacturers would have put their heads together to address long ago because, apparently, it’s a common complaint received by How come mothers can’t fit three kids in the back seat of the car if one or more of them is in an infant car seat? Now seriously. How hard could that be to resolve? At the end of the day, practicality was the overall name of the game for mothers who took part in this study. Being able to fit child car seats and have extra room for multiple sports bags and gear alongside a buggy in a car which is economical to drive, has a long warranty, a maximum number of airbags and keyless entry, is what really matters. So yippee, the recession might be over but we haven’t, as a nation, lost the run of ourselves again. Yet.

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