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Straightening Out the Misunderstandings About the SUV

I drive a Buick.

Yes, I’m quite aware that the stereotype places me in Senior Citizen range.  But I’m 51.

The Buick I drive is a ’04 Rainier.  Yes, the dreaded and much maligned SUV is my main ride. “Why would you drive an SUV?” a friend recently intoned as we sat around the lunch counter.  “You’re never going to take the thing off road.” The comment showed me just how far out of touch this guy was with the reality of the thing, so I decided to educate the man on the spot.

“First off”, I said wearily, “The thing is an ALL wheel drive, not a FOUR Wheel drive. The difference is that All-Wheel , while it’ll off road pretty well,(And I’ve done it)  isn’t designed for off-road performance, really. Rather, it’s for cornering and for wet weather and winter traction. In short, it’s designed for the roads I drive on around here.” (Talking about Western NY state)

“Cornering? In an SUV?” my friend asked dripping incredulity.  “That’s right”, I said, calmly. ” Cornering. Between the All Wheel Drive and the air ride suspension, it handles better than any stock econobox on the road.”

“OK”, he allowed, let’s say that’s the case. “Then why the SUV at all?” And why a  Buick?

“Simple,” I replied. “I may as well be comfortable. The Buick has that one covered. Secondly, I have a family. My wife and I are both 6 footers, and we have two boys. Do the math. Oh… And a dog. On the face of it, we’re not going to fit us and our stuff into a Prius.  And, I tow a 5000lb camper.  You simply can’t do that with a smaller rig. For example, the largest vehicle Honda makes… the Ridgeline, can’t tow my trailer, and yet it gets the same gas mileage, while developing far less power.”

“What? It’s an SUV… those things swill gas like no tomorrow….(Pause) …what kind of mileage can it get, anyway?”

“Oh, about 22 on the open road, give or take a headwind.”

“Huh? What have you got in that thing, anyway?” my friend asked suspiciously.

04 Rainier like mine, courtesy FAMILYCAR.COM [1]

04 Rainier like mine, (More or less) courtesy FAMILYCAR.COM

“A straight 6″, I said. ” 4.3 liters, 290 horsepower, 275 ft lbs of torque. Dual Overhead cam, direct injection, and I’ve done a few mods on my own… better intake and exhaust, mostly.  ”

My friend sat quietly for a moment. Finally, “That’s more horsepower than my old Pony car used to have, and I didn’t get gas mileage numbers anywhere near that!”  “True”, I said.  ” Less displacement, too, I’ll bet. But that’s how the technology has improved.”

“Why not one of those four door pickups for towing then?”

“Simple; The gas mileage isn’t as good, and this fits in my driveway better. ” Plus, the rig we got has heated leather inside, all the toys and tricks you’d expect to find on a Buick, And it was cheaper to begin with”

“Hmm.” he said. “Well, yeah, I guess it’s not a Hummer, huh?”

“Let me tell you something.  The H3 has a smaller engine than my rig does, and it gets about the same milage:.”

“Say what?”

“Yep. Kinda makes you think twice about all those SUV stereotypes we’ve been fed, eh?”

I offered him a ride in the thing, an offer he’s not taken me up on yet. But I could see the conversation had opened his eyes to a few things about SUV’s.

Suddenly, a light went on in his eyes. “Yeah, but what kinda mileage do you get when you’re pulling that trailer?”

“About 10 or 12 mpg”

“Yikes! How can you afford that?”

Well, simple. Last year, I took the family to western Ohio for a vacation, our around Cedar Point in Sandusky. You know the place?” He nodded.

“Now,  A campsite… even one with full hookups at the peak of the season, will never cost more than around $40 a night. I generallly go for the ones running $25 or $30 might. So, let’s add the costs up.”

” Now…From my front door to the campsite we hooked up with is 380 miles. Let’s assume we’re getting 10MPG the whole way… that’s way low, on what we usually get, but let’s keep it there for round numbers. Easier to figure. With me so far?” He nodded again.

“OK, that means we’re at 64 gallons of gas for the round trip.  Again, let’s keep the numbers round and say $4 even per gallon.  That comes out, give or take, $250 dollars for fuel. ”

“Ouch!” he said.

“Yes”, I replied… but have you ever tried to fly anywhere with a family of four for $250?”


“Now,” I said, “add to that the costs of hotels, and restaurants. Every meal ends up being around $50.”

Bit's rig all set for the road [2]

Bit's rig all set for the road

“What do you do for meals in the trailer?” he asked, starting to show some interest in the logic.

“The trailer has a full galley,” I said. “Full stove, microwave, fridge… even a grill if you’re in the mood for it.  We bring food from home. In other words, we eat what we’d be eating at home anyway.  Far healthier than road food and cheaper, too. We figured it out once and it amounts to $125 to $150 per day and that’s more than enough savings to cover the fuel expense… particularly if you’re staying for a few days…. even at today’s fuel prices.” Add in the cost of a campsite vs the cost of a hotel and it’s a no brainer.

“What about the cost of the trailer? ”

“We paid $10,000 for it. We’ve had it for 6 years, and plan to keep it a few more.  We figure when it comes trade-in time, we’ll get around $5000 for it. We pay about $80 per year on state tags, and I do all my own maintainence. Biggest expense is tires and I’ve not bought those yet. ” So, about $500/year is what we figure so far.

“How long can you use it per year?”

“Usually, April or May to late October. We’ve even camped in November, though that’s rare. It’s got central heat and an air conditioner.”


“OK, you’ve convinced me it’s a cheap way to vacation. But you have to drive the tow rig the rest of the year!”

“That’s true” I said, “And you’re right, it costs me more than the average Econo-box. But… see… That’s the beauty of this thing; It runs rings around just about every car out there in the snow, and a lot of the trucks, too, since I don’t have to switch in and out of 4 wheel drive mode.  And it’s a Buick, so it’s got a bit of class about it.”

My friend was called away at that point. But, the conversation illustrated rather clearly to me just how misinformed people can be about SUV’s and their drivers. They do tend to make a rather handy target for politicians who want to be seen as being on the correct side of the ‘global warming’ scam, but when the facts come out, the objections kind of slip away.

Except of course for the eco-crazies. But, as with JIhadists… and I think the comparison particularly apt, here,  since when has anyone ever been able to reason with insanity?

What brings me to write all of this? Well, an article this morning by Terry Box [3] of the Dallas Morning News. In that article, Box goes to some significant lengths to describe why he loves a high performance automobile.

…the truth is, at 57, I still delight in turning the key in my ’07 Mustang Shelby GT and feeling the thunder as its 4.6-liter V-8 engine explodes into life. I relish pointing it toward what little open road is left in this part of Texas and engaging in occasional immature outbursts of, shall we say, joyful exuberance. I revel in its sounds and its power and its mechanical sensations. And I accept its excesses.

No.  I suggest that he doesn’t merely accept those excesses. He revels in them, as do I. I’ve had more than one flat-out performance car in my lifetime. most recently, I had an 86 Firebird.  That was an interesting car.  It had a 231 in.³ V-6 in the, that was so small you could stand quite literally between the engine and the radiator without hitting either.  While it was running.  Even then, the Enviro-nuts not understanding that the thing develped less horsepower than did their Honda,  were trying to make moral judgments based on their misconception that I had a huge 455 V8 under the hood.  You see, it’s all about perception for these people…. as if it was their business in the first place.. the reality of it was that that car was kind of like driving an MG.  You had to stay on the gearbox all the time to keep the engine revved up for you wouldn’t get anywhere at all.  The front end was so light though that the thing handled beautifully under just about every situation except of course for snow. But it fulfilled a lot of my expectations about a sports car, as Box describes it.

I love the sound of a salty engine echoing through big stainless-steel exhausts. I appreciate tight, precise steering and brakes strong enough to slow time. Throw in great handling, blazing straight-line performance and a dash of style, and you have sculpture that springs to life with the twist of a key.

And yet lots of people these days see cars as mere appliances that can be re-jiggered with an electric motor or a fuel cell and sent puttering down the road like some jazzed-up can-opener on wheels. Pardon my French, but that’s a bunch of donkey dust. No appliance sounds like a ’67 427 Corvette or a new Ferrari F430 or a Hemi-powered ’32 Ford hot rod.

What worries me most is the rush to blame all environmental — and many societal — ills on cars. Come on, people. Lighten up.

Cars define our lives, transporting us to work, school, grocery stores, banks, malls, furtive trysts, whatever. They’re “pretty much a part of us,” says David Lewis, a professor at the University of Michigan who teaches a course on the global auto industry. “It’s pretty hard to imagine a world without them.”

Which, of course, is precisely why the left is trying so desperately to control them. Let’s be honest here; this has never been about the environment.  It’s about control. And cars and trucks are the perfect target for such people because so central are they  to our society, that if you control them you control our society.  It’s really that simple.

They envelop us in slick metal containers that supposedly say a lot about who we are. My Mustang shouts, “Short skinny guy over 50, seeking validation and maybe a couple of inches of height from a white muscle car with silver skunk stripes.” Baptists and senior citizens, meanwhile, drive Buicks. Republicans prefer two trucks in the driveway: an SUV for Mom to use as a soccer bus and a big $40,000 pickup for Dad’s power trips. Democrats favor anything nerdy in gray or white, and plaster their battered back bumpers with pious political stickers.

Who cares whether any of those stereotypes are true? Cars ‘r us. I know some people in Dallas who opt to live in sun-baked one-bedroom apartments that slump along roaring freeways so that they can spend $800 or $900 a month on a new Corvette or a 3-series BMW or a black C-class Mercedes-Benz.

Yet the constant harangue over our modes of transportation here in the United States, leads under-informed people to belief that somehow my little Rainier is an overindulgence, and extravagance, all of course because it’s a threat to our environment, yada, yada, yada.

Like Terry Box, I find myself increasingly annoyed at having the entirety of the world’s problems laid squarely on what it is I happen to have in my driveway. more annoying still, is the idea that the majority of those placing such blame on my little truck, are themselves driving less fuel-efficient, or more extravagant automobiles.  Or, I else, in masochistic fashion shoehorn themselves into vehicles with less steel in them than any thimble in my wife’s sewing kit.

At the end of the day, the truth of the matter is that I drive what I drive because it works for me, not because it’s politically correct.  As a matter of fact if it happens to be politically incorrect so much the better.

I’d like someone to explain to me how it is that Al Gore, who lives in a house that takes more energy in a week than my living quarters do in a year can tell me what is more environmentally feasible, sustainable, or morally, or politically correct.  While I have no tolerance whatever for the enviro-whackjobs, like Gore, I do have a certain level of tolerance for those like my friend who are simply parroting what they are told, but clearly don’t understand it. I have to tell you, in all honesty though, that tolerance is waning.  My accepting these mule fritters because I’m being polite, is coming to an end, and in looking around me I suspect that my tolerance is not the only tolerance that is waning on such matters.  I’m telling you, dear reader, there is about to be a political backlash in this country the likes of which has not been seen since the Reagan revolution.

Frankly, I won’t be sorry to see it happen.

Don Surber has more [4]