(to the tune of A-B-C by the Jackson Five, apologies in advance)
M-P-G…it’s low on my S-U-V…but don’t say that you’re better than me, unless you regular-ly, commute bi-ped-al-ly while hugging a tree!
I read a story recently about a television commercial that equated driving an SUV with supporting terrorism. The ads are using the same idea as the the ones about drugs supporting terrorism (I actually sort of agree with the drug ads). The logic is that a) SUV’s are less fuel effecient, so b) SUV drivers buy more gas, and c) most gas comes from Middle-Eastern oil, so d) the dollars we spend on gasoline support Arab terrorism. I drive an SUV. A big old four wheel drive Ford Expedition. It gets about 13 miles to the gallon during my regular commute. I would prefer that it were more fuel efficient, but fuel efficiency was just one of my selection criteria.
My first selection criteria was the safety of my family. The Expedition outweighs the majority of personal vehicles on the road, which means that it transfers more energy than it absorbs if there is a collision. If you’re unsure about the physics of that, think of an 18 wheeler colliding with a VW Bug and think about which would sustain the most damage. This means that in most accidents the occupants of my vehicle would have a slightly higher survival rate. Also, I sit way up high while driving, giving me very good visibility of the traffic around me. This provides slightly better odds of not getting into an accident in the first place. I live in Houston, which is prone to flooding, so the four wheel drive provides slightly better capabilities of slogging through racing water in order to escape danger. Also, the high ground clearance provides the ability to handle higher water without the engine dying. Also, being such a big vehicle means that people are more likely to be able to see me, and thus not run into me, if avoidable. And, while Fords are not nearly as reliable as some other cars, the Expedition is a reasonably reliable vehicle, according to Consumer Reports, so there’s a slightly lower chance of being stranded compared to some other makes/models.
Now, none of this guarantees anything, but it’s all about playing the odds. I have stacked the deck in favor of me and the occupants of my vehicle (usually my family) being more likely to avoid an accident, and to survive an accident if it occurs, than someone in a smaller, lighter, lower vehicle.
The second most important factor in selecting the Expedition was personal comfort. I’m 6′ 5″ and not small and I fit perfectly in an Expedition. I fit okay in my wife’s Toyota Tundra pickup, but am a bit cramped and not comfortable on longer drives. We have done a bit of vehicle shopping over the years, and the list of vehicles that I am comfortable in is very short. And that’s comfortable as in physical comfort and not being cramped, not comfortable from a how-do-others-perceive-me-because-this-is-what-I-drive perspective. I care very little about any status conveyed by my vehicle.
The third decision factor was convenience. We have two big old dogs, and they fit perfectly in the back when we take them places. Plus the Expedition is great for hauling around a bunch of folks, picking up groceries, lugging home bounty from Home Depot, etc.
The Real Cost
So, I get 13 MPG. Let’s compare that to the mileage of a fairly standard vehicle, let’s say a 6 cylinder Honda Accord sedan, shall we? According to EPA estimates, the Honda Accord EX V-6 gets 21 MPG in city driving. So, compared to this fairly standard vehicle, I get eight fewer miles per gallon. I drive about 10,000 miles per year, so that works out to about 293 more gallons of gas over the course of a year. That’s less than one gallon a day. That’s not insignificant, but let’s get the whole story.
The Whole Story
I live less than five miles from my place of work. That is not an accident. We pay a premium to live where we do (close to downtown). If we moved to the suburbs we could get an equivalent residence for about half what we paid. Also, if we lived in a suburban school district, we wouldn’t have to pay private school tuition because the public schools are safer/better than the inner-city schools. So we pay a big monetary cost to live close to our places of employment. We also love that living in town means we’re closer to movies, shopping, arts, nightlife, dining, etc. We live where we live because it’s worth it to us. One of the side-effects of this choice is that we have a very short commute. My commute is less than 10 miles total each day. Less than 5 miles each way. And I’m not sitting in any bumper-to-bumper traffic, either. I toodle right along the whole way. Compare that with the average commute and it more than makes up for the one gallon a day. So, why do most people have a longer commute than I do? Because they chose to live in the suburbs because a) it’s safer and/or b) it’s cheaper and/or c) it’s more convenient and/or d) they’re more comfortable in a suburban environment.
So, for their convenience, comfort, safety, and lifestyle ($$), suburbanites use much more fuel than I do. Where is the hue and cry to eliminate suburbs? Where is the demonization of suburbanites? Can you imagine the laughability of claiming that living in the suburbs equates to supporting terrorism?
The Real Solution(s)
The real solution is for each of us to do what we can to conserve fuel, and for the government to force the hand of automakers to create better engines. I would gladly pay a reasonable premium for a more fuel efficient vehicle that met my needs, but there isn’t one. And don’t even get me started on how government and industry should be working together to move away from internal combustion engines altogether (and into the Age of Hydrogen).
And before you ask me to sacrifice my safety, comfort, and convenience by buying a smaller vehicle, you must first be willing to sacrifice your safety, comfort, and convenience by moving in from the suburbs. Or by carpooling. Or by riding the bus. Or by telecommuting. Or by buying the smallest, most fuel-efficient econobox that you can squeeze into. Or by leaving for work earlier to avoid sitting in traffic. Or leaving for home later to avoid sitting in traffic. Are you doing those things? If so, then you are setting a great example. And I think I am, too, by spending my hard-earned dollars to live close enough to my job so that I don’t burn excess fuel commuting. Feel free to send me a thank you card.
Otherwise I suggest you park your car and start doing your daily commute on your high horse, because he seems to be raring to go.