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Why Are Cars Symmetrical? — ‘The Why’

Welcome to the newest edition of The Why.  “Why are cars symmetrical?” you ask? Good question. (Besides, it beats answering the question: “Why do some people have to p*ss on every holiday we have?”)

It’s true. Research confirms that our automobiles are generally bilaterally symmetrical. In fact, it has generally been that way from the start. Auto designers who try anything else seemed doomed to failure.


Why are cars symmetrical?/Image: PerformanceDrive

We know that from an engineering point of view, a symmetrical design keeps things simpler.  They are traditionally trained to “keep it simple, stupid.”  When it comes to parts, they create components that are symmetrically opposite or even the same for both sides of the car.

We know today aerodynamics is a part of it to some extent. We know it has to do with aesthetics as well. Humans often will consider bilateral symmetry as a sign of beauty.

Still, cars do not have to be symmetrical. Our buildings aren’t all that way. Many man-made things aren’t. A final thought was solidified and confirmed by Jason Torchinsky.

He writes for a site called Jalopnik. He agrees: “There’s actually not much research out there addressing the why . . .” However, he has a theory that jibes with that of yours truly. It must have something to do with the human brain.

He too agrees it harkens back to “a time when we were hunters and hunted.” Basically, we see things in terms of “low-level categorizations” such as animal and vegetable.


Symmetry/Image: NextGenUpdate

Torchinsky notes: “I think the same low-level categorizations take place, translated to our artificial world. Buildings get categorized into landscape features, vertical structures like telephone poles, cell towers, and power line structures get shunted into the vegetation category, and I think cars get categorized as animals.”

He says that we put “those mobile, large moving things into the same slot that our ancestors 6000 years ago would have put a bison or rhino or something. And, as such, there are “certain basic rules we expect cars to follow.”

We certainly name our cars after animals and even use their pictures in their logos. There are/have been almost four dozen including: Jaguar, Mustang, Eagle, Pinto, Rabbit, Spider, Stingray and even Phoenix.

Torchinsky adds we might not “need our cars to look like animals, but there’s some really fundamental things we expect” and that’s why we “see faces on cars as well. Almost every vertebrate animal is bilaterally symmetrical. Both sides are the same.” Thus we expect the same of our automobiles.

This is why any obvious deviation away from this symmetry upsets us. After all, any creature that lacked asymmetry would appear to us to be injured, deformed or maybe even both. Therefore, automobiles, perceived as animals, must have that symmetry “especially in the front end, where most people read the car’s ‘face’” It looks more natural when cars are symmetrical.

Why are cars symmetrical? Now you know.

You ask the questions.  We provide the answers.

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About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.