Social Question

bongo's avatar

Why do people drive SUVs?

Asked by bongo (4297points) May 9th, 2010

I understand that its nice to have a big car but it is really worth the extra cost both to running the car and to the environment? There are loads of fuel efficient people carriers around for people who have families of 5+, my father has one and they are very comfortable and spacious. why bother with an SUV? surely they are much more expensive, difficult to park and now are they banned from some city centres in the US? I just want to know what makes people still buy them? Is it down to liking the look and feeling safe in a car whilst putting other road users and pedestrians at greater risk?
I understand when people need 4 wheel drives eg. when they own lots of land and need to access points off road, but surely the majority of people in the US do not take their SUVs off road? please correct me if I am wrong here.

Also would you still buy one if you knew that if all the sports utility vehicles in the US were replaced by cars with fuel efficiency equal to the European average, the emissions savings would be sufficient to supply electricity to an extra 1.6 billion people (that is more than the population of China)?

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31 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

My god, what are you talking about? They don’t give a shit about the environment. Few people do. (but I hear ya).

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

In my case, it’s because I have to haul all sorts of shit all over the USA.

Seek's avatar

I personally would prefer a smaller car, but my husband pretty much demands an SUV, out of concern for my safety and that of our son. Which I can understand, as a majority of the autos on the road in our area are big, and the jackasses in F350s with oversized tires and lift kits drive like they’re in the Demolition Derby.

kevbo's avatar

I’ve come to the conclusion (after a couple of years’ worth of consideration) that this issue and those of similar scale are simply not worth worrying about beyond one’s own personal choice and aesthetic. Parents are always going to want the most protective feeling car for their kids, jackholes are always going to want Hummers and monster trucks, and there’s a tangle of industries with worldwide influence that want to keep the flow of oil unchecked. IMHO, it’s better to just have compassion for everyone who feels they need these vehicles to satisfy their respective psychologies.

Despite being a relatively green person who would just as well not own a car, I’ve owned two SUVs and driven them like crazy. The first was the cheapest car I could find quickly, and I ended up commuting 190 miles nearly every other weekend for a year and a half to see my long distance girlfriend. The second (a compact SUV that gets middling gas mileage) I picked after a harrowing drive along a snow and ice packed stretch of I-70 west of Denver. I decided I wanted full-time 4WD but have probably made use of it only a handful of times since. Nevertheless, I bought it for that reason and because the reliability ratings were through the roof. So for the next 8–10 years (or whatever), I’ll be getting 23–24 mpg.

Here’s the thing. We can easily make cars that get 95 mpg (Google the “aerocivic.”) in fact, some cars made 60 or 70 years ago got as good or better gas mileage as many “efficient” models today. So what does that really say about the balance of control between the producers of vehicles and consumers? What about the choices and collusions of cities and the auto industry to prioritize the automobile over mass transit and sprawl over density? IMHO, all of that adds up to a lot more opportunity for change than hating on people who drive SUVs.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@kevbo No one’s hating on people who drive SUVs – the judgment is made, sure but it’s not one of hatred and is certainly (by any means) not my only judgment in relationship to people’s choices and the environment and is not at all the only thing I do (it doesn’t even count, really) as an environmentalist to help the environment.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I own one (I guess an old Dodge Power Wagon is considered an SUV), but only drive it when necessary. Blizzards are a serious thing in this part of the world. My normal transport is a diesel car that gets at least 35 mpg.

kevbo's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir, that comment wasn’t directed at you and I only meant it colloquially. Just trying to make a point minutes before I have to leave for work. Sorry if it felt like it was directed at you or gave you short shrift. I guess I was responding more to the OP’s hand wringing and angst.

bongo's avatar

I completely understand the bad weather scenario, and I’m not against all SUVs per say, I just feel that there are many other options available to people who do drive them. Such as transporting large amounts of equipment: most middle sized vans will get higher mileage/gallon than an SUV and so if they are used purely for transport of goods surely a van would be cheaper and you can get into the city centres? Also people carriers can provide huge amounts of space with most having all the back seats fold down to provide large amounts of storage space, my father drives a Vauxhall Zafira, which he uses as a van most of the time karting large amounts of sound equipment in the back. When empty I think he can get about 45miles to the gallon in the thing and it is a big car.
Also by driving them in communities with large amounts of children, surely you are just as bad as everyone else putting other children at risk? I do understand you want to protect your own children but there are many other extremely safe cars with low emissions. Have you thought about researching the many other options available? or is this basically just want it available in the US with not many other cars around anymore? (I live in the UK and there isnt that many SUVs around, the cost of petrol for one thing prevents people from affording them—as far as I can see UK pertol prices are approximately 3x the US average)
I dont want to be offending anyone with an SUV, i just want to know if you realise the implications and the huge numbers of alternatives available?

Oh and im only really bringing this up because I am reading lots of scientific papers regarding climate change for an exam I have coming up and I wanted to know what drove people to needing SUVs when there are lower emission, cheaper options available

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@kevbo oh I know it wasn’t directed at me but I do hear that kind of stuff a lot and I think you’re right – there are better things to do with our time but just wanted to mention that just because we question people’s purchases doesn’t mean that’s all we do

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@bongo People don’t want to be talked at – there is no use in it. People have to care to find out more on their own. I know, as a vegan, that telling people their food choices directly impact negatively the environment and animals and their health and that of their children falls on deaf ears because they have to ‘get it’ themselves and then begin to care. You can give all the statistics and facts in the world but all you’ll hear in response is something about YOU and how YOU are not doing xyz and why are YOU telling someone how to live and all that good stuff I call denial. People who care about the environment make choices all the time and draw the line at different points and already know their cars make an impact.

john65pennington's avatar

Nothing personal against suvs, other than their headlights. i drive a Toyota Solara. it sits really low to the ground. while on the interstate, an suv can come up behind my car and completely blind me, because suvs sit higher off the road. suv designing engineers apparently forgot about this safety issue, when they built them. suvs are safe for families with children. most, guzzle too much gasoline, especially Hummers at 8 mpg.

deni's avatar

no idea. unless you need to haul stuff a lot (in which case wouldn’t a truck be better?) or you have 8 kids, i dont see a reason. they are terrible on gas. they are obnoxiously large and must be hard to park. probably the same reason people drive huge trucks but never use the bed for anything? like everyone who lives in the town i grew up in. because trucks are “manly”, bro!

gtreyger's avatar

Because they are available and we can.

Seaofclouds's avatar

We have a Dodge Durango for the space and 4 wheel drive. We have moved with it twice. The Durango can pull a decent load behind it and has plenty of space inside for our growing family. My husband also feels safer with me being in the Durango. Before the Durango, I had a 1999 Ford Escort. I got hit by another car (think it was a Honda) and ended up being out of work for almost 3 months because of the injuries from the accident.

Zaku's avatar

Lack of aesthetic sense combined with fear of being in a small car during an accident, and/or trend-following, advertising hypnosis, and/or listening to salespeople.

DominicX's avatar

There are six people in my family, so the SUV my mom had when I was younger was for that purpose. I don’t know exactly why she chose it over a van; I know she did have a van at one point, but when I was growing up, it was the SUV that I was brought to school in most of the time. Of course, when hybrid SUVs became available, that’s what my mom bought and she still has it. It gets essentially twice as many miles to the gallon as her old one did, so that’s not too bad. It gets better mileage than my Audi.

MissAusten's avatar

We have an SUV, and have owned two others (plus a minivan) in the past several years. I’d rather drive something smaller, but with three kids and my husband’s business (he often needs to cart around ladders, large rolls of canvas, gallons of paint, sprayers, etc.) it just doesn’t make sense.

Also, child safety laws pertaining to automobiles might vary between the US and the UK. They certainly vary here from state to state. My two boys, age 5 and 6, still need to sit in booster seats in the car. The seats take up more room that just a kid’s rear, so even cars that can seat three passengers in the back seat don’t quite have enough room for two booster seats plus a third child. Our daughter is 11, and while it isn’t a law that she still sit only in the back seat, children under 12 are strongly encouraged to not use the front passenger seat because they can be killed by airbags. It’s extremely difficult to have a big family in a small car and still follow child safety regulations, at least in the state of Connecticut. Kids here have to be 6 years old and weigh 60 pounds and be tall enough for the shoulder belt to fit properly before they can legally ride without a booster seat.

We’re aware of the lower gas mileage and extra cost in owning an SUV. Like I said, I’d rather drive a car. When we finally get a second vehicle, it will probably be a car. Not a small car, or the kids wouldn’t fit, but at least something smaller than an SUV! My husband, however, will probably still keep the SUV. He’ll use it for his business and it gives us something with more room when we go on a longer trip with the kids.

Seek's avatar


Good point about the booster seats. I have a smaller car that I am currently driving until I can get the SUV legal again (long story), and with my one son’s car seat in the center (the safest part of the vehicle), I can’t fit another person in the backseat comfortably. Forget it if I have to pick up one of my husband’s workmates on the way to the job – we’re lucky if the door will close all the way.

In Florida, the newest laws state the kids have to be 4’11” tall before they can ride without a booster seat. I can hardly believe that law. I wouldn’t have been exempt until my junior year of high school.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I do and I use it to haul my boat and a work trailor.
I would rather be in a larger car than a 2 door-“speck” that can be annihilated on the road by anything bigger than a breadbox.

perspicacious's avatar

It’s never really occurred to me to concern myself with what other people drive, and why they make that decision.

YARNLADY's avatar

Clear proof that too many people are easily influenced by successful advertising.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I don’t drive one and I doubt many people really need them. I suspect their popularity is starting to wane. I see cross-over vehicles (not unlike) stationwagons coming back into favour for families with kids and too much gear to haul.

mattbrowne's avatar

Healthy form: rugged country with dirt roads and lots of snow

Pathetic form: urban areas with tarmaced roads

ASHLEYBEE's avatar

People buy them to impress others. It’s a Jones’s thing. I think they look clunky and fat…Just like their drivers. Who really needs to 4 wheel everyday to get home? Not me. AWD Mercedes sedans can get the job done for a much cheaper annual gas price (not to mention SUVS are very pricy as well- Ugly Tahoes are even ridiculously priced!) COME on people…Get sexier cars with shape besides a rectangle. Most have plenty of room as well. Many sedans nowadays offer what you need and actually let us breathe….Assholes. And I’m tired of hearing the SUV drivers say “my children this, my children that..We need the room” Well you know what? Unless your willing to fork out the bucks for your Hybrid Tahoe..Shut the fuck up. Your ruining your children’s AIR! And all because your neighbors bought one…Shame, shame. AND BY THE WAY… I can’t see around you gay ass Hybrid Tahoe either so second guess that one too. Jerks. Buy a real car.

Seek's avatar

Hey, if you want to buy me a Mercedes to replace my used (2 wheel drive) Rodeo, I’ll take it. On second thought, don’t. I don’t want to pay the insurance premiums.

DominicX's avatar


Sedans are not going to fit six people, no matter what you do, asshat.

gtreyger's avatar


I’ll drive an SUV because I want to drive an SUV. And you can call me an asshole and a jerk and a whatever other terms you want. When you’ll grow up, you’ll realize that in the adult world it is all about mind over matter. I don’t mind, and you don’t matter! Welcome to Fluther. Learn proper grammar and learn to respect others.

MissAusten's avatar

@ASHLEYBEE I like how you used a sweeping generalization there. There probably are some people who buy SUVs for those reasons, but lumping everyone who has an SUV into that category is just silly. We have valid reasons for having an SUV. I’d like to see the small car that can carry ladders, scaffolding, rolls of canvas several feet long, huge tubs of paint gallons, and large sample boards.

And until you have to ferry around multiple children who, by law, must be in booster seats, don’t pass judgment on parents who say they need room for the kids. I’d be perfectly happy to not drive an SUV, but at the very least we need a car roomy enough to fit two booster seats plus one more butt in the back seat.

YARNLADY's avatar

@MissAusten I agree with you, but we have managed to avoid an SUV, while still getting all the room we need though our Astro, Aerostar, Safari, Caravan, and Uplander. All our minivans have been roomy enough and ‘strong’ enough for us.

MissAusten's avatar

@YARNLADY Is a minivan that much better than an SUV, environmentally speaking?

YARNLADY's avatar

@MissAusten The gas mileage is much better, and the parts, i.e. tires, frames, amount of overall materials to manufacture, etc are more ecologically sound.

Edit: I forgot to add that they actually cause a lot less damage to the environment, including excessive road damage, SUV’s eat up the roads like trucks.

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