So there I am, driving the family down for our last beach trip of the summer of 2012 in our reasonably fuel efficient 2004 Hyundai Sonata. With gas again pushing four dollars a gallon and still rising, I’m thinking maybe, hopefully, this will be the year when the great American road is traveled by Americans coming to their financial senses. I’m hoping to see a predominance of Toyota Priuses and Corollas, Chevy Volts and Cruzes, and, for the larger families, perhaps a Toyota RAV4.
Man, was I disappointed. Shocked might be the better word. What I saw instead crowding the highway was an endless convoy of fuel-guzzling SUVs and incredibly huge, full-sized, extended cab trucks. I watched Ford Explorers and Expeditions, Chevy Tahoes, GMC Yukons, and Nissan Armadas cruising down the fast lane. I saw tons of Honda Pilots, a gigantic Lexus, a Mitsubishi Endeavor, a couple of Infiniti QXs, bunches of Toyota Highlanders and, my favorite, the gargantuan Toyota Sequoia. The most frequently seen vehicle was the full sized, extended cab pickup, things like the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. It was almost as if the traveling public was more concerned about showing off the size of their – vehicles – than anything else.
Just to confirm how oblivious to fuel efficiency everyone was, almost every one of the oversized vehicles that I saw was blowing by me in the fast lane at a speed of 80+ miles per hour, meaning the drivers could forget all about those already imaginative EPA 20 mpg highway estimates. A surprising number of the SUVs and trucks were occupied by only one or two persons.
As I watched this convoy of oversized vehicles trucking around, I found myself asking, “What on earth is going on here?” Do we not realize that the heavy fuel consumed by vehicles of this size only increases demand and raises the pump price that we already hate? Have we forgotten that 375,000 Americans are losing their jobs each week and that the owners of any one of these $50,000.00 vehicles could, heaven forbid, be next?
As I thought about it, I realized that many of these vehicle owners have probably convinced themselves that they truly need these SUVs and huge trucks; that four wheel drive is somehow needed for summertime Interstate driving; that it would be abusive to require two children to sit in the rear seat of a Hyundai Sonata without television screens facing them.
In all seriousness, if you are one of these persons who believe that a large SUV or truck is truly needed for family purposes, I offer a helpful exercise. It’s wonderfully simple. Turn the clock back in your mind to your childhood. Hopefully, you can think back to the 1970s or ‘80s, if not earlier. When you do, remember the family vacations that you took in that basic, chrome-bumpered sedan or station wagon. Did you ever feel that you were suffering? Were you ever denied the enjoyment of the trip because you did not have an entire row of seats to yourself and a foot of clearance between your head and the ceiling? Did it cause you grief to watch your dad fasten suitcases to the luggage rack instead of pile them inside the cabin? I’m confident the answer to each question is “no.”
There is, you see, a huge difference between a need and a luxury. It’s true that we have made some advances in transportation technology that, while not truly necessary, make solid economic sense to purchase anyway. In the case of cars, air conditioning and cruise control are two examples. These options, of course, are just as available on a Chevy Malibu as a Chevy Suburban.
SUVs and large pickups simply have no place in practical frugal living. I realize there are additional justifications offered by their proponents. I’ll take those on later this week.