Blog Master G

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Think Twice Before Buying an SUV

Thursday, January 9th, 2003 · 13 Comments

In an excellent article on Salon called Road Outrage, Arianna Huffington succinctly presents how the government and American automakers are in bed preventing SUV mileage from getting any better and rewarding people to buy the biggest road hogs available. This is the part that angers me the most:

    Of course, Washington continues to do its part by holding SUVs to lower fuel-efficiency and air-pollution standards than passenger cars. Our politicians have even refused to close a deeply misguided tax loophole that rewards buyers of extra-large — and extra-wasteful — SUVs with extra-large tax breaks.

    Think of that: At a time when our leaders should be touting the importance of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, the people being given a financial incentive to purchase a new vehicle are those buying fuel-chugging SUVs.

    “I was surprised,” said Karl Wizinsky, a healthcare consultant from Michigan who just bought a giant Ford Excursion even though he admits he doesn’t really need it, “that a $32,000 credit on a $47,000 purchase was available in the first year. I mean, it is a substantial credit.” Yes, it is. And it’s created a substantial — and artificial — demand.

Then you have folks like Dave Pell, who argues in today’s NextDraft newsletter (see Vehicular Terrorism?) that he “needs” an SUV for the leg room, the cat of all things, and, of course, the typical Bay Area resident’s excuse: The trip to Tahoe. He also takes a snapshot of some SUV mileage stats vs. those of some luxury vehicles. Good point there, Dave, but sorry, I don’t buy the legroom/cat/Tahoe excuse.

In the spirit of presenting you and others who may think you “need” an SUV with alternatives, I’ve prepared a quick snapshot (based on data from that compares the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s interior dimensions and fuel efficiency with that of two wagons: the Subaru Impreza WRX (which I happen to own) and the Volvo V70. As you’ll see, you can get nearly as much head, hip, shoulder, and luggage room in a wagon and save at least 8 miles per gallon over that which you’d get in the Cherokee. That 8 miles per gallon may not seem significant, but it’s a start. The difference could certainly be more and I believe there’s a long way to go on that front.

But consider this: That extra 8 miles per gallon amounts to a loss of 8,528 yearly miles and wasted fuel and oil that’s polluting the environment, contributing to the expansion of that giant hole in the ozone layer, and making it harder for us all to breathe (8 MPG X Cherokee’s 20.5-gallon-capacity tank X conservative estimate of 52 refills over course of a year). Considering the average driver’s commute time keeps going up (currently at 25.5 minutes per day), I think it’s safe to say that the average driver fills up at least twice per week. If that’s the case, double that yearly mileage loss to 17,056 — all due to driving an SUV over a wagon. Considering there’s a mere 19.5 gallons of fuel produced from a single barrel of oil, that’s an extra 847.67 barrels of oil that 1 Cherokee driver consumes per year more than the driver of a more fuel-efficient wagon.

SUVs vs. Wagons (Interior Dimensions & Fuel Efficiency)

And to address your points about legroom, cat capacity, and Tahoe-going excuses, Dave, please consider this:

1) I am 6 feet tall and have no problem with legroom in my WRX. My brother and several of my friends are 6-foot-5 and ride comfortably in my car.
2) I have 2 dogs weighing a total of 100 pounds. They fit comfortably in the “way back” of my WRX. That’s surely more pet that your cat.
3) I have all-wheel drive in my WRX. I don’t need chains. I’m an avid skier and go to Tahoe often. My turbo-charged 4-cylinder propels me with ease past every other truck, SUV, minivan, and sports car trekking up the hill to Tahoe. I also have better handling in the snow, ice, and sleet.

That said, I will concede to SUVs in one area: ground clearance. But how often do you drive over boulders in San Francisco or a 3-foot snow bank in Tahoe?

Of course, by virtue of living in America, we’re all guilty in one way or another of contributing to the world’s pollution problems. I considered buying a hybrid last year, but instead opted for the WRX because it better meets my wants (AWD, speed, dog capacity). But at least I’m not consuming an additional 847.67 barrels of oil this year — like the guy in that Cherokee who’s putting fuel on Bush’s fire for why we “need” to drill for oil in Alaska.

Please think twice before buying an SUV. Future generations will thank you.

Tags: rants

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter A_nderson // Jan 9, 2003 at 3:24 pm

    Right on, Gabe! Great eloquence and rage. I was just watching Arianna Huffington on TV this morning addressing the subject. YOU are more articulate! And you didn’t mention SEX once, so this will get wide readership!!! Next — take on Hummers, like the Tibruon housewife who drives her kids around in one — never know when a Tiburon terrorist will be hiding in the bushes to try to pierce the bullet-proof tires!!!!


  • 2 gabe // Jan 9, 2003 at 3:28 pm

    You never know when you might need to do battle in Marin. After all, it’s filled with scary white people and Stupid White Men, the scariest of ’em all.

  • 3 Jen // Jan 9, 2003 at 3:58 pm

    well put, G. although as much as i despise bush, his phony war, and thinly veiled excuses for drilling for oil in alaska… we can also thank the clinton administration for the ridiculous number of gas guzzling vehicles on the road today. in most accounts i’ve read, the number of SUVs and ‘light trucks’ doubled in the 90s, surpassing the number of cars by ’97 (for the first time in history). clinton refused multiple times to sign legislation that would have forced automakers to comply with higher fuel efficiency standards on these vehicles in the first place. i’m voting green from now on.

  • 4 gabe // Jan 9, 2003 at 4:01 pm

    Yup, I’m with you on that one, J! Reading Stupid White Men and thinking about these issues has made me want to vote Green from now on, too.

  • 5 Blaine // Jan 9, 2003 at 6:26 pm

    Well said article. I think more people believe this way, they are just afraid to speak out. The auto industry is the biggest in the country. Them and our “great” democrocacy just want more oil, and more war!

    I hate politics. Decisions should be made on their merits, not on how much some industy pays to have thier side win.

  • 6 gabe // Jan 9, 2003 at 6:51 pm

    I sure hope you’re right, Blaine — that more people DO think about these things. Let’s hope that this new SUV/terrorism campaign gets people talking — and over their fears of expressing how they feel.

    It’s sad but true that this country is run by the rich. Government officials and their big business cronies are committing crimes every day while innocent people sit on death row…but that’s a different story.

  • 7 MA // Jan 14, 2003 at 9:39 am

    This is great, thank you for this article. I don’t know why more people aren’t catching on to this idea…. Right ON!!

  • 8 gabe // Apr 1, 2003 at 1:26 pm

    Since a Google search for buying an suv now yields this entry as the #1 result, I thought I’d include another great resource about why buying an SUV is bad and irresponsible:

    Bumper Mentality, A review of Keith Bradsher’s High and Mighty: SUVs by Stephanie Mencimer.

    Here’s the book High and Mighty on Amazon:

  • 9 Jimmy // Jun 27, 2003 at 5:50 pm

    You are wrong. An SUV is a much better vehicle. When buying a used vehicle a foreign car is not a wise choice. Any intelligent person knows that foreign car parts a MUCH more expensive. I love my 4X4 blazer in the Michigan winters. Since I am also in a wheelchair, I need the extra room that your flawed quick snapshot statistics miss; the 3X in Luggage Capacity for the SUV. IN ADDITION, have you looked at the fact that you compared a manual transmission with a automatic! Since you are obviously not a mechanical person let me tell you that there is a HUGE difference. If you look at the JEEP Cherokee 4L manual transmission, it is considerably closer at City 18 mpg Hwy 24 mpg. Oh and not to mention the 6/10 emissions rating that your little Impreza does not get. Looks like that you need to do a little more research before you start bashing something that is of considerably higher value!!

  • 10 Marlen // Aug 13, 2003 at 10:14 am

    For my next car, I’ll be purchasing an SUV. I don’t disagree with anything you said. Agree with all of it really. Yet I am going to do it anyway. Here is my explanation: the laws of physics can not be denied.

    I live in the burbs, where everyone drives an SUV. As I am no stranger to being in a car destroyed by others reckless driving, I have a fear of cars in general. I hate being in them. To this day, I have a superstition about falling asleep in a car. I won’t do it because of the time I woke up outside of one.

    Now, a regular car that gets in a semi-serious accident with another car can get really messed up. However, a regular car that gets tagged by an SUV in the same way is going to be destroyed. Since everyone out here in the sticks drives an SUV, how can I afford not to? SUVs are not only bigger, compounding their impact force with their mass – but they are also higher off the ground, making their impact range on a normal car exceptionally more dangerous for the regular car driver (almost head level instead of leg level). Maybe you can find stats to the contrary about SUV road safety, but these basic facts can not be gotten around.

    I would love to take the “high road” and say – “Hey wait, these are uneconomical, pro-polution vehicles AND they make the roads unsafe for other drivers. I’ll never buy one.” Makes sense for an activist. But I am not an activist. I know that the people out here will always be driving these things and it pretty much forces my hand. I just can’t feel safe in smaller cars. I worry about my wife on the roads all the time. Selfish? Maybe. Realistic? Definitely. Get SUVs banned from the roads and I’ll applaud. Until then, I’ll be buying one.

  • 11 Jason // Aug 17, 2003 at 3:53 pm

    I am looking to buy a new vehicle in the coming months and I’m steering towards something with 4 wheel drive and lots of cargo space. That usually points to an SUV. My wife is all for the SUV..a Pathfinder, 4Runner, Explorer..something along those lines. There are two concerns I have with SUVs: the dreaded roll-over problem and their dreadful fuel economy. I do a lot of driving so gas mileage is a big issue for me. The last comment seems to make a lot of sense, but I’ve seen plenty of reports about the crashworthiness of SUVs. Apparently, they aren’t much safer than cars, unless you are in something like an Excursion or a Escalade. The perceived safety of SUVs is very appealing to buyers, however, it is a false sense of security. I may opt for one of the smaller SUVs like a Mazda Tribute or Ford Escape, maybe a Santa Fe or CR-V. That Subaru is looking kinda tempting as well.

  • 12 Michele // Dec 11, 2003 at 1:03 pm

    When I bought my new car it was a really tough to decide where to get information and where to buy the car online. I wanted to buy it online, because I think car dealerships put too much pressure on buyers. I decided to try out a few different sites. First I tried buying used cars or SUVs at because a friend has told me about them. I also compared them to AutoTrader, KBB,, and some other sites. KBB had some great info, but so did and CarsDirect. had great car reviews and the free car prices were really helpful. CarsDirect was also helpful, but I found the site annoying to use. I ended up buying a new truck from

  • 13 Robert // Apr 14, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    Selfish. That’s all I have to say. People who drive S.U.V.’s are selfish. You need a car which fits your wheelchair in? Take the bus. The laws of physics can’t be denied? How about the fact that it would take twice the force for a car twice the mass to stop. In other words, breaking distance is greately increased making it more often than not, more dangerous. As far as your BS manual/automatic explanation Jimmy, that is totally relative. It is true that most cars do get better gas mileage when they have manual transmissions, but it also depends on how you drive and what kind of car. Some cars with automatic transmissions get better mileage than their manual alternatives. Do not give me the cargo-room excuse. How many of you haul huge amounts of whatever on a daily basis? How many of you take 5+ people with you when you drive? How many of you drive offroad? Give me a break. You’re selfish and quit making excuses for it.