4WD and SUVs
Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) have a much longer list of hazards than they do of benefits. This is the reason why it comes as quite a shock to many that the popularity of the SUV has absolutely soared since the early 1990s. The average SUV consumes around twice as much gas as a normal sized car does, making it much more wasteful and expensive to own an SUV than it is to own a number of other cars. This is not to mention the fact that SUVs come with designer price tags in the first place (car makers depend greatly on the sales of their SUVs because of the large profit margin). Regulations on the average miles per gallon that apply to regular cars do not apply to SUVs due to specific loopholes in legislation; this goes for emissions as well. SUVs emit large quantities of such things as carbon dioxide, which is helping to deplete our ozone layer and contributing to global warming, and sulfur dioxide which damages the respiratory systems of human beings causing thousands of pollution-related deaths each year. Finally, SUVs are dangerous vehicles. Their high center of gravity, along with the fact that most are built on truck frames, makes them much more prone to roll over than most other cars, especially when driven like a regular sized car. And when they roll over, they become heavy, metal death traps because their safety features are designed mainly for crashes, and not for roll-overs. People who are not aware of how easy it is to topple one of these monsters will overload tires, and overload their vehicles making it much easier for the car not just to flip over, but for the tires to blow out. Adding speed to this recipe only makes disaster all the more likely. So then why do people buy sport utility vehicles?
Considering how dangerous SUVs have proved to be on the road, why would any family ever buy one to transport their children from place to place? Ironically, the very reason why these vehicles are unsafe is why they project an image of safety for many consumers. SUVs are built higher off the ground than most other cars, in order to allow for "off-roading" on rough terrain. This is what makes the center of gravity much higher, and therefore much more prone to rolling over. Seeing as how a greater number of city dwellers and suburbanites own SUVs than anyone else, and that the vast majority of SUV owners never actually intend to take their vehicles beyond any paved road or parking area, this feature is somewhat unnecessary. People like this feature regardless of how they intend to drive their vehicle. When questioned, drivers have shown that they like the feeling of being higher up than other cars around them: it helps them to see more of the road, and it also makes them feel safer because they get a feeling of security being above rather than below other cars. In a crash, being above the other car means it is more likely that people in the other car will get hurt, and you will stay safe, but this does not keep a person any safer in the case of a rollover, which is that much more likely to happen in an SUV.
A large family might be even more inclined to buy an SUV because of its loading space. The only problem with this, is that the vehicle might have space for a family of five with all of their luggage and ski equipment, but it also has a safe-load limit. When the weight of the safe-load limit is exceeded, combined with driving too fast, SUVs have been known to topple over with much more ease than usual. Which brings us to the four-wheel drive feature. Four-wheel drive is only necessary for one thing: off-road driving. This one thing can be limited to the use of the military, and in some cases scientists. Otherwise, no one should ever have any reason to bring a vehicle into a rocky, or watery, or highly vegetative area. When in one of these areas it is quite likely that only one or two wheels at any given time might be touching the ground, or touching a solid part of ground as opposed to muddy, sandy, or wet. In this case, it is good to have four-wheel drive so as not to get stuck. City and suburban drivers do not buy four-wheel drive vehicles for this purpose, often they buy them for winter use. A really common misconception of four-wheel drive SUVs is that they actually handle better in snow and ice than 2-wheel drive regular sized cars do. This is not true; in fact a four-wheel drive SUV is, in most cases, likely to do worse in these conditions than the average sized car. [Editor's note: most observers do think that 4WD improves traction in snow and patchy ice, although the disadvantages of SUVs probably outweigh the advantages of 4WD for most drivers.] Mainly this is due to weight. The weight of an SUV makes it harder to get it moving than a smaller car, which will make it more prone to skids, but more importantly, it makes for atrocious braking. SUVs have longer braking distances than smaller cars do to begin with. A combination of weight, ice, and snow makes braking in an SUV a game of luck rather than a given.
What about all of the other people who own SUVs, not taking safety into account? One thing that is quite apparent when sitting down and going for a ride on the parkway in an SUV, especially one of the larger ones, is that you are in for an extremely comfy, relaxing ride. There is a good view of the road and surrounding area, a CD changer, leather seats, air conditioning or seat warmers, sometimes even small televisions on the back of the headrests. Rolling up to dinner in one of these may get you a better table than if you roll up in an economical, hardly wasteful Honda Civic. What this tells us is that people are not just buying SUVs because they are comfortable, but they are also buying them because it makes them feel more powerful in today's world. People gain power socially when they are seen driving one of these monsters, and they are always seen. People buy SUVs to gain power and dominate over nature.
Advertisements for SUVs always show a pristine, untouched landscape vacant of any other human activity. SUVs have no place in these pictures, nor can they often even get to these places in real life; however, the advertisements make people believe that they can in fact conquer nature in their automobile. Being able to tame an untamed landscape makes people with inferiority complexes feel superior, but so does hiking into the same landscape successfully without damaging its surroundings.
The consumer's belief in the SUV's reliability and power is based almost completely on an illusion. If advertisers told the truth about the safety and ability of their SUVs then they would not sell, and car companies need these to sell because they rely on the unusually large profits. People buy SUVs because they feel safe, or because they can be more aggressive on the road, or in nature, and feel powerful socially or otherwise. The advent and popularity of the SUV can therefore tell us a great deal about consumers: that they are greatly misinformed or uninformed, and for the most part, quite insecure.