WASHINGTON - Cheryl Hoffer leaves the world behind when she climbs into Breezy - her Volkswagen GTI - and drives the 31 miles of winding roads through California's Santa Cruz mountains to visit her daughter.
Like many who responded to an AP-AOL Autos poll, her car is more than a machine - and her relationship with it is intensely personal.
"I love my car, I like everything about it," said the 61-year-old nurse. Breezy has all the sporty features, and she came up with the nickname because it has a sunroof.
"My daughter lives about 31 miles away on one of the most dangerous roads to drive," said Ms. Hoffer, who loves navigating the hairpin turns. "It's wonderful."
Almost four in 10 of those polled said their car has a personality of its own. Two in 10 have a nickname for their car. Most often it is a female nickname; popular choices include variations on Betsy, Nelly, Blue and Baby.
When people talk about their strong feelings for their cars and trucks, they mention dependability, time spent maintaining them and the freedom that comes from cruising on the open road.
Women were more likely than men to attribute personal traits to their cars, more likely to give their cars a nickname and more likely to see their cars as female.
For some, the loyalty comes from being able to count on a car such as "Myrtle the Turtle," the trusty Ford Escort of Erin Von Dollen, a 24-year-old college student and bank employee from Storrs, Conn.
"It's not the best-looking car and not the fastest car, but it gets me there," she said. "The electrical system is a little funky. I think of it as temperamental. Sometimes I have to talk to it when it has problems with the cable connected to the battery."
That intense vehicle loyalty might be linked to the amount of effort an owner has put in keeping the car in good shape.
Fred Deusch, a retiree from North Providence, R.I., has restored many fine old cars. His current prize auto is a powder-blue 1933 Oldsmobile sports coupe with dark-blue fenders - "The Blue Lady."
His strong bond with cars goes back decades, when he did some drag racing and worked in the pit in stock car races. Like many people, Mr. Deusch loves to get out for a drive.
Three in 10 people polled think of their car as having a gender, with 23 percent thinking of their cars as female, compared with just 7 percent male.
Four in five of those polled said they love to drive. Young adults and older people were more likely than those 30-39 to say they enjoy driving. People who make less than $25,000 were more likely than those who make more than $75,000 to say they enjoy driving.
Also, 62 percent say they can tell something about someone's personality just by the car he or she drives, according to the poll of 1,004 adults, which was taken Dec. 19-21. The poll has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.
Andrew Persaud, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., said he can tell a lot about someone who drives a practical Toyota, a sporty BMW or an imposing Hummer.
"If they're driving a Hummer, that's because of everybody else who has one," said Mr. Persaud, who drives a Honda Accord.
For Harlene Smith, of Houston, the cars people drive tell her plenty about them.
"When I go to play bridge at the country club, people who are well off are driving Lexuses," said the 81-year-old retiree. "But they may just be putting on a good front. I drive an Oldsmobile, but it's paid for and it's mine."
OH, WHAT A FEELING!
An AP-AOL Autos poll, conducted by polling firm Ipsos, asked people how they feel about their cars.
The poll of 1,004 adults was conducted Dec. 19-21 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Here are some of the findings:
- 62 percent said they can tell some-thing about a driver's personality from his or her car.
- 37 percent said they have thought of their car having its own personality.
- Of the 30 percent who said they think of their car as either being male or female, more than three times as many - 23 percent to 7 percent - said they think of their car as female rather than male .
- Women (26 percent) were more likely than men (16 percent) to have nicknames for their cars.
- Unmarried women were more likely than men or married women to give their cars nicknames.
- 78 percent said they enjoy driving, but 20 percent consider it a bother.
- Women were more likely than men to think of their cars as female - 27 percent to 19 percent.
- 44 percent of women said they have thought their car had a personality of its own, compared with 30 percent of men.
- 55 percent of single women said they have thought their car had a personality of its own, compared with 36 percent of married women and 33 percent of single men.
- Young adults (88 percent) and seniors (83 percent) were more likely than those 30-39 (68 percent) to say they enjoy driving.
- White men (81 percent) were more likely than white women (74 percent) to say they enjoy driving.
- Those with a high school education or less were more likely to say they enjoy driving (83 percent) than college graduates (73 percent).
- Female college grads (66 percent) were less likely than other groups to say they enjoy driving.
- People who make under $25,000 (86 percent) were more likely than those who make over $75,000 (75 percent) to say they enjoy driving.
- Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of those in their 40s felt you could tell something about a driver's personality from his or her car.
- Seven in 10 of those making $75,000 or more said they can tell something about a person's personality from the car he or she drives; of those making less than $25,000, 57 percent felt that way.
- More than one-third (37 percent) said they have thought their car had a personality of its own. Those with a high school diploma or less were more likely to have thought that than those with a college degree, 41 percent to 31 percent.
- Those making less than $50,000 were more likely than those making over $75,000 to think their car has its own personality - 45 percent to 30 percent.