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Paradise By the Dashboard Light

The Americans’ love affairs with their cars

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It should’ve been obvious when she came sneaking into the house in the wee hours of the morning. Maybe you should’ve noticed when the ribbon-clad packages in her front seat never were delivered to you. But the sure sign of your spouse’s sultry love affair should’ve been when you caught her in the garage whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

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OK, OK, calm down. We’re not talking about some guy she met at your son’s basketball practice. We’re talking about her car.

According to Progressive Insurance, Americans have always had a love affair with their cars.

But now Progressive has numbers that might make you wonder whether an innocent crush has turned into obsession. According to a nationwide survey on Progressive Auto Insurance’s Web site, 78 percent of the 657 respondents say they love their car.

In fact, 37 percent say they love it enough to name it. Even scarier, 38 percent admitted to carrying around a picture of their car.

OK, maybe we’ve all nicknamed a car at one time or another and maybe we’ve even tried to sweet-talk it into starting on a cold winter’s day, but what about carrying on a full-blown conversation with it? The majority of respondents — 63 percent — say they actually converse with their car. Have we gone too far? Are our cars slowly taking the place of our nation’s bartenders — famous for lending an ear? Out with bars, in with cars? What’s going on around here?

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Respondents to the survey were also twice as likely to report their car more important to them than their house. And while it might come as little or no surprise that 21 percent said they love their car more than their mother-in-law, 12 percent actually claimed to love their car more than anything — more than their job, their kids and their spouse. (I wish this 12 percent lots of luck. If their spouses ever find out how they answered the question, they’ll likely end up entangled in an messy divorce battle, lose their house and end up living in their car. Let’s see how much they love it then.)

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But there’s more. When given the choice of buying one item, respondents are more than two times as likely to have their car detailed (34 percent) than they are to buy expensive perfume or cologne for their significant other (15 percent). The No. 1 answer from men when asked what they’d do with an extra $500 was "buy something for my car." The No. 1 response from women was "buy something for my spouse or significant other." Proof positive that — despite what some people would like us all to think — men and women are different. (A bold statement, I know, but I can get away with it because, well … I’m a woman.)

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If all that’s not enough, then here’s the kicker: Nearly half of the respondents said they consider their vehicle a real-life member of their family.

It all makes sense … I guess. After all, oil is thicker than blood.

Writer Cheryl McMullen is associate editor of BodyShop Business.

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