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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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
- Five gallons of drinking water.
- A fully fueled kerosene heater.
- A portable winch.
- An inflatable life raft.
You are a forest ranger, a tribal policeman, or a dope smuggler.
You are a geologist, anthropologist, or biologist and do field work
at least five weeks out of the year.
You may purchase a minivan if and only if you fall in one of
the following categories:
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.
You have at least three boisterous children or four placid ones.
You, or someone you regularly drive for,
are confined to a wheelchair.
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.)
You are siamese quintuplets.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
You maintain a still in the mountains, your sponse is a close relative,
or you plan to keep the truck up on cinder blocks.
You promise to loan it to absolutely anyone who ever asks you if they
can borrow it to move their sofa.
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.
Several correspondents have suggested that the purchase of sports cars
also be restricted.
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?
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,
the Re-United Brethren of the Seventh Illuminated Goat,
the Virgin Mary,
la Cosa Nostra,
the Denver Federation of Armenian Barbers,
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
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
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
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
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.
Wed Aug 5 21:04:03 EDT 1998