Grover's Guide to Auto Buying:

What Not To Buy


I believe that the manifest purpose and destiny of the information revolution is to ensure that I never again have to leave my home to go to work. However a few years ago, due to a particularly retrograde development called a firewall, I was forced to actually move my physical self to a different location merely to work on a computer that did not substantially differ from other computers except in as far as it belonged to an organization actually willing to pay me for poking around on it.

To accomplish this unpleasant chore, I shoveled the accumulated sediment off the elderly little Honda that I called my own, and puttered out onto the Great American Freeway.

To my astonishment and consternation, I found the Great American Freeway packed with a mysterious collage of four-wheel drive expedition vehicles, small buses, and farm trucks. Upon my arrival in the Great American Workplace, I conducted a series of interviews and discovered that the drivers of expedition vehicles never drove off pavement, the drivers of the small buses accepted no fares, and the drivers of the farm trucks hauled no manure.

No, it was clear that the Great American Freeway had, in my absence, been inficted with some strange mania which caused otherwise perfectly rational human beings to purchase absurdly inappropriate vehicles.

Odd though all this is, you should not imagine that it is the oddness alone to which I object. On the contrary, though myself a perfectly normal person, I consider myself a great admirer of oddness. No, there are sound reasons why these BDVs (Big Dumb Vehicles) should not allowed to so proliferate on our roads:

  1. They are all gas guzzlers. Driving them in excess hastens the inevitable exhaustion of our planet's limited supply of petroleum. Since petroleum is vital for the production of plastic, this threatens the supply of such vital plastic-dependent products as frisbees, compact discs, Uni-ball micro pens, in-line skates, velcro, Velveeta cheese, and computers. In short, they are a threat to everything that is fine in modern civilization.

  2. They misallocate danger. As a general principle, I believe people should bear the consequences of their own foolhardiness. Motorcycles, for example, are commonly considered dangerous, where as, in actual fact, they endanger almost exclusively those who freely choose to ride them. That's fine. Ideal even. But these Big Dumb Vehicles now clogging the roads are primarily dangerous not to those who own them, but to whatever innocent bystanders fail to wrap themselves in similarly excessive steel armor. Thus, they are fundamentally immoral.

  3. They induce stupidity. Possibly because of the sense of personal safety these vehicles engender, people driving them seem to lose all common sense awareness of other vehicles on the road. Our survey suggests that 83.4% of all curses, obscene gestures, and irate car-phone calls generated on the Great American Freeway are directed at drivers of one of these types of vehicles.

  4. They interfere with visibility. Drivers of normal cars can't see anything because of the large numbers of hulking Big Dumb Vehicles clotting the roads. This is compounded by the stupidity phenomenon. Every time I'm trying to make a right turn at a red light, and I creep my car forward a bit to be able to see past a bloated vehicle in the lane beside me, the driver of that vehicle always creeps forward too, evidently worried that I might be getting ahead.
In spite of these dramatic flaws, I do not call for a total ban on BDVs. They each have their appropriate roles. However, it is clearly necessary to articulate some basic guidelines on who shall and shall not purchase such vehicles.

Draft Qualifications for Vehicle Ownership

The following criteria have been proposed for ownership of certain over-popular classes of vehicles. These should not be considered final, but should be obeyed slavishly until final regulations have been released.

Sports Utility Vehicles

You may purchase a sports utility vehicle if and only if you fall in one of the following categories:
  1. Your driveway is unpaved, is at least a quarter mile long, and either floods at least 6 inches deep at least once a year, or has a grade in excess of 15 degrees.
  2. You wear out at least 3 full sets of good quality tires per year. (If this does not happen to you, you are driving mostly on pavement and don't need an SUV.)
  3. In your neighborhood, it is generally considered prudent to carry at least one of the following in your trunk for at least three months of the year:
    • Five gallons of drinking water.
    • A fully fueled kerosene heater.
    • A portable winch.
    • An inflatable life raft.
  4. You are a forest ranger, a tribal policeman, or a dope smuggler.
  5. You are a geologist, anthropologist, or biologist and do field work at least five weeks out of the year.
If you see one of the other types of BDV on the highway, there is a non-trivial chance that the driver has some sensible justification for driving it. With SUV's, it is almost certain that the driver is just someone suffering from weird delusions. There aren't many people who actually need the things, and most of those (a) can't afford one, and (b) don't drive on highways much.


You may purchase a minivan if and only if you fall in one of the following categories:
  1. You have at least three boisterous children or four placid ones.
  2. You, or someone you regularly drive for, are confined to a wheelchair.
  3. You are responsible for transporting a team of football, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, or lacrosse players to at least twelve games a year, at least half of which are more than 50 miles away. (Track teams don't qualify - they can walk.)
  4. You are siamese quintuplets.
Actually, we are tempted to ban minivans completely. Station wagons are almost as good for moving a crowd and don't clog the roads so badly. But we have decided to be merciful.

The number of children criterion is currently under review. Having become a parent myself, I have discovered the child seat problem. Kids take up a lot more space than they did when I was one. My baby may be only 20 inches long, but once in her car seat, she takes up more back seat space than a linebacker. So we may need to allow minivans to parents of three non-boisterous children, if more than one is in a car seat.

Please note that VW microbuses are not considered minivans under the terms of these regulations. We are not yet fully convinced that VW microbuses can even be considered vehicles in any meaningful sense of the word.

Pickup Trucks

All people qualifying to purchase Sports Utility Vehicles may also purchase pickup trucks, if they so desire. You may also purchase a pickup truck if you fall in one of the following categories:
  1. You own or work on a farm and expect to fill the back with manure (or at least hay bales) at least once a year.
  2. You are a professional construction worker, roofer, pool cleaner, exterminator, stone mason, gardener, tree surgeon, or driveway resurfacer. The name of your company should be painted on the doors of your truck, along with at least one witty slogan.
  3. You regularly haul a fifth-wheel type trailer - no, scratch that. As long as I'm banning things, I think I'll ban those too.
  4. You maintain a still in the mountains, your sponse is a close relative, or you plan to keep the truck up on cinder blocks.
  5. You promise to loan it to absolutely anyone who ever asks you if they can borrow it to move their sofa.
Please understand that we refer here only to real pickup trucks, not those little toy pickup trucks produced mostly by the Japanese. Anybody impoverished enough or confused enough to want a little toy pickup truck has my permission and sympathy.

Also note that nobody who keeps a cap on the back of a pickup truck should be driving a pickup truck. Buy a station wagon. Real pickup drivers find a cap is only in the way.

If you plan ever to wash your car, or you even care what color it is, you do not qualify to own a pickup truck.

Sports Cars

Several correspondents have suggested that the purchase of sports cars also be restricted.

I disagree.

There are two kinds of sports cars. Most sports cars are actually normal cars with extra styling and marketing slathered on. These are fake sports cars. If your only car is a sports car, it is almost certainly a fake sports car.

Real sports cars spend essentially none of their lives actually driving on the road. They are either in your garage being shielded from the rain/snow/sun/dampness (at least one of which prevails at any given time in most climates), or they are in your mechanic's garage being repaired. Since real sports cars are never actually on the roads, they are not a problem for society in general (as opposed to their owners in particular), and so need no restrictions placed on them.

Frequently Asked Stupid Questions

  • I like being high over the other traffic. Can't I have a sports utility vehicle?

    Absolutely not. If everybody with ego problems were allowed to keep buying taller vehicles than everyone else, then before we knew it our Great American Freeways would look like those monster truck rallies they advertise on TV.

    However, if you like, you have our permission to walk on stilts.

  • Some times I move lots of stuff. Can't I have a pickup truck?

    Like what do you move?

  • Um, last year I helped by brother-in-law move. Isn't that good enough?

    Tell your brother-in-law to rent a truck if he ever moves again.

  • I'm not a very good driver. Can't I have a mini-van so I will be safer?

    No. If you're a bad driver you should either get driving lessons or get a moped. Either option is cheaper than a mini-van, and either way you are unlikely to kill anyone else.

  • I don't want the mini-van to protect me from my dopey driving, but to protect the family members who often ride with me.

    You know you're a lousy driver and you still transport your kids around? Don't tempt me to publish "Grover's Guide to Who Shall Have Children."

  • Who gave you the right to decide what other people should drive?

    I'm acting under direct authorization from George W. Bush, Former Attorney General Janet Reno, The World Bank, Oliver North, the Re-United Brethren of the Seventh Illuminated Goat, Steven Wozniak, the Virgin Mary, la Cosa Nostra, Reverend Moon, Elvis, Islamic Jihad, the Denver Federation of Armenian Barbers, Danforth Quayle, and the South Dakota Potatoe Institute.

    Also my mom.

  • Isn't this a democratic country?

    When you drive a mini-van, you raise yourself up, while obstructing the lines-of-sight of thousands of other drivers. What makes you think that is an affirmation of democracy?

  • I mean, isn't this a capitalistic country?

    Democratic first. Sensible second. Capitalistic third. Get in line.

  • What right have you got to deny me the extra safety afforded by my Big Dumb Vehicle?

    Every right in the world.

    It is true that larger, heavier vehicles generally do a better job of protecting their occupants in crashes. There are two reasons for this: size and weight. Larger-sized vehicles, if they are well designed, can have longer crumple zones. If you run into a bridge embankment, a long crumple zone means the passenger compartment decelerates less abruptly, so passengers are less likely to be hurt. If you are in crash between two cars, the crumple zone in your car reduces the deceleration experienced by the passengers of both cars. This is a good thing. Cars well engineered for safety help everyone.

    But none of these vehicles are well engineered for safety. Not being cars, they are exempt from car safety requirements. They tend to have minimal crumple zones. Studies show that being hit by a light truck is signifcantly more likely to cause death than being hit by a car, even if the weights are equal. Any added safety that light trucks confer on their drivers is purely because they are heavier than other cars on the road. Being heavy doesn't help you much if you hit a bridge embankment, but it does help if you hit a lighter car. By the laws of physics, the lighter car will decelerate faster than the heavier car, so the occupants of the lighter car will likely suffer greater injuries.

    Note that many insurance companies, including All-State, now recognize this fact and charge BDV drivers lower medical premiums (because they are less likely to be injured) and higher liability premiums (because they are more likely to injure other drivers).

    Thus, whatever added safety you gain from driving a Big Dumb Vehicle, is 100% at the expense of other people in smaller cars, namely me. So yes, I bloody well do have a right to object! If you want to be safe, there are lots of well engineered mid-sized cars that are at least as safe as any BDV, and do not achieve that safety by spilling the blood of other commuters. Get one.

  • What if I ignore your rules and buy what I like?

    Just try it and see what you get re-incarnated as.

  • Do you really think this campaign of yours will work?

    No. In fact, I think the next great fad to strike the Great American Highway will be private citizens driving transit buses. Buses put you high enough so that you can see over SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. They guzzle even more gas than these other vehicles. Lots of cities have traffic signs all over that say things like "no left turn except buses." Many places have special parking spots reserved for buses. Country music stars and deadheads have been doing it for years. I expect all the neo-yuppies will be driving buses next year. It's the next illogical step.

Last Update: Wed Aug 5 21:04:03 EDT 1998