4WD angst

A small part of me laughed at the photo for this: Green.tv shopping channel launching ‘March 07’. Reminds me of the ‘Pajero’ naming issue – ‘Pajero’ apparently means ‘wanker’ in Spanish.

But then I thought: at least it’s dirty – maybe they actually used it off-road.

Which reminded me of a little jibe I’ve been using when I see a pristine clean 4WD in an urban setting: “Get it dirty or get rid of it…”. I don’t have an issue with 4WDs per se – if they’re used appropriately, I’m less opposed. But I find it hard to believe they are appropriate in urban settings most of the time.

Maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age?

  • Yes I used to think that way pre children. It’s more that your not old enough yet not that your cranky ๐Ÿ˜‰ … 3 kids, bikes, boogie boards, a tent, esky and grocery bags of food 8hrs up the pacific highway to a campsite is hard work in anything other than a 4wd. The consumer demand like all product is driven out of solution fulfillment so it’s hard to hold it against someone for buying something that solves their problems. The moral reasons for not doing it are justified yes I agree. To me it really is the governments fault in many ways for not making the cost differential significant enough by pricing in the footprint generated by using these vehicles through effective legislation and deterrents. Until the hybrid Lexus gets here as an example I think it’s still the only way to get a more fuel efficient vehicle for that size, diesel 4wd that is. The people mover solution just doesnt work unless you are just a taxi service for kids. We get about 600-700kms for AU$80. Bring on the penalties and bring on the green fuels to my servo but don’t reduce the vehicle sizes or I’ll have to strap my kids to the roof.

  • I’m interested then – why and SUV and why not a station wagon or sedan?

    You mentioned camping in your list – means you use your 4WD. I swear I see Mercedes and BMW 4WDs that have, and never will, see a dirt road, let alone the sort of use you mention.

    My dad has a 4WD – he uses it on his block, towing trailers, towing boats, moving heavy equipment. It gets used for it’s intended purpose. What I don’t get is how they are so different to station wagons? It strikes me that they would have more space than even a 4WD/SUV – and would do 90% of what you mentioned above.

    I’m genuinely interested – that’s not having a go.

    Just trying to understand the incentives that make so many people in inner-city surrounds think they need a 4WD.

    I’m with you 100% on the solution, BTW ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I agree if you are buying a 4wd vehicle for one or two people and you don’t have kids a 4wd is simply self serving and/or an image thing.

    You mentioned Mercedes and BMW. Brand shouldnt really come into the arguement. Some people buy for ego and some buy for engineering, I’m the later. I bought a BMW cause it literally is sheer driving pleasure and my total cost of ownership is far lower than buying a commodore when i factor fuel efficiency, depreciation and service costs. I’d argue that people that buy the quality brand vehicles have them last longer, will spend a lot less on fuel and therefore have a net lower total cost of ownership in a financial and environmental sense. that said the gap is narrowing rapidly. We bought a nissan pathfinder on this basis. the differential in driveability, function and efficiency isn’t there to justify the price differences.

    Our reasons in order of significance:
    1. Seat capacity – Most 4wd owners will agree it is the ability to have two/three extra seats so that you can take you kids friends with you when you go away or when you pick up other kids from school.
    2. When the two extra seats are in use you still have boot space for two prams. This is very important. We tried station wagons and light SUVs like Ford Territory and Subaru Outback and none of them can do this.
    3. Saftey – “ride-over”. this is where the lower vehcile will go under the higher one in an impact. you are more likely to survive a crash with a truck or another car in a 4wd than in a sedan/wagon. Some statistics say otherwise but there skewed in my view because more people in the country or on holidays have 4wd’s where most of the fatal accidents are. I make no apologies here for being selfish for my kids sake btw. That said we didnt buy a bullbar because of what impact it has on pedestrians even though it adds to accident safety for passengers in the car. I dont know the stats but we guessed one passenger save would probably cost 10 pedestrian lives.
    (as an aside a low vehicle is just as likely or more likely to kill a pedestrian because of the fold impact on a person standing. i.e. hits the knees and then the body wraps around the bonet on a low car and thus the head hits at a high velocity. The higher vehicle hits pedestrians mid body so the head doesnt impact the bonet as fast as it travels less distance before impact during the fold of the body)
    4. boot bay space can take kids bikes standing on trainer wheels not to mention fit prams, portacots etc, i.e. no need to get bike rack. you can fit things like furniture in them. which you buy and sell a lot of as kids grow up and have diferent needs. e.g. school desks, beds, shelves etc.

    So none of these reasons related to holidays. I think you’ll find this is the reason the people mover/4wd market is booming in suburbia.

    Without a doubt many ego driven people buy BMW X5’s that don’t really need them but a lot also buy them for a reason such as those listed above, but also because they like the label and they like the quality of a well engineered vehicle so basically i dont judge them anymore because i dont know why they own them.

    Hope that helps ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Thanks Marc – it’s really useful to hear your perspective and reasoning… You mentioned that a van wasn’t practical – just wondering why not?

  • Stigma definitely came in to it when comparing people mover to 4wd. We felt if we were buying a people mover we were in a destiny never to see our great southern land, go mountain biking etc. Other than this main reasons in order are: 1. you cant lower the back seats dead flat. Thers lots of reasons why this is important. 2. towing and power for travel with big loads. 3. dirt roads for holidays 4. safety – you are very close to the back of the vehicle in front of you in a people mover as they usually have a short bonet and mid placed engine.

    i think this is a really good area to cover btw. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I agree – thanks again Marc. One of the cool things about blogging is that you learn and grow – this conversation has definitely changed my perspective from “4WDs suck” to “why do people choose 4WDs”. I’ll see if I can convince the bods at work to cover this in our new sustainability blog (eventually).

  • As an impending father to be and a performance car nut I can see both sides of this argument. Marc certainly makes some valid points for his choice of a large 4WD (Pleeease stop with the SUV references, we are NOT Americans…yet!) and as long as you are using the vehicle for it’s intended purpose on a regular basis then I don’t have much of an issue with that. But we must all agree there are way too many ‘Toorak Tractors’ on the roads and the motivations behind the purchase of these types of vehicles are often questionable.

    Marc’s point on safety is valid from the point of might is right and you would always want to be in the larger vehicle in an impact (no getting around physics) but where does that thinking stop? As there are so many 4WD vehicles out there now, do we all go out and purchase Hummers, or maybe a Mack truck? Let’s see your puny X5 after it meets my bulldog…

    I will pull Marc up on the issue of the bullbar though. All modern cars are designed for impact absorbsion in an accident, with each section from the front bumper backwards gradually becoming more rigid to decrease the deceleration rate and absorb energy. When a very rigid object (bullbar) is added to the front of the system it compromises the whole design as the bullbar will immediately transfer the energy it receives back to the other components instead of doing it’s part and absorbing energy. So it is not an occupant safety enhancer.

    And let us not mention the extra weight it places ahead of the front wheels, compromising steering function and further decreasing a 4WDs already low ability for crash avoidance. Don’t forget all that extra bulk that could potentially save you when you get into an accident is also working against you when you are trying to brake and avoid the crash in the first place… Bullbars certainly have their place – anyone doing serious bush or country driving would consider them essential, especially when encountering small marsupials at high speed, but as with the overall sentiment of this thread, you need to weigh up the benefits versus the drawbacks.

    My view (at this stage of life anyway) is I could not enjoy driving any vehicle that is so dynamically compromised (and I have driven X5s, Cayennes, Rangies…) on a day to day basis. When I need to get off the beaten track – and let’s be honest, how often does ANYONE living in a major urban area really get to use these vehicles as they were designed on a regular (say more than once every couple of months) basis? – I will happily hire the appropriate vehicle for my needs and go back to using the appropriate vehicle for my normal driving.

    Then there’s the conversation about family size and population growth…

  • Thanks I got my info from Land Transport New Zealand who cite occupants in the vehicle with a bullbar being safer than those in the vehicle they hit without one. RTA stats show 4WD’s, Utes and Vans cause 15% of pedestrian fatalities and are 25% of the vehicles on the road. Sedans cause 66% of fatalities. So on percentage basis theres virtually no difference. you could argue 4wds are better, maybe there drivers are more responsible? i don’t know.

    BTW, we were american from the second world war you just dont want to beleive it yet! I thought all the people that don’t watch our american TV, eat their food and drink their softdrinks got a reminder a few years ago when we joined the “bush” dance in Iraq.

    This doesn’t mean I agree with any of the above. I’m against the war, I like many americans and dont like bullbars for the record. ๐Ÿ™‚

    whats a “bulldog” btw?

    p.s. re: population growth, there’s 3 billion people up north engaging in an industrial revolution making all of this a little irrelvant right now in the holistic human survival arguement. i think the easter islanders argued about their Gods while they chopped their last tree down.

  • Thanks for your comments guys. I think this is actually the most-commented post on my blog ever ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t usually get a lot of discussion, so I’m glad we’re having this one…

    John – just FTR, Marc decided /not/ to get the bullbar. The stats and background you both give are very interesting – I think Ang was trying to track down some info from her dad about this kinda thing too. Not sure if she’s managed to get what she was after yet (?)

    Re: SUV vs. 4WD – I grew up knowing our family Nissan Patrol as a 4WD and was pretty annoyed when the SUV moniker started to be used. I long thought that it was a term used for smaller 4WD vehicles – i.e. RAV4s vs. Pajeros. But it doesn’t seem that’s the case. I was wondering if anyone knows what the difference is (if there is a difference at all?)

    I think we are following a trend in cars towards bigger vehicles that is aligned with the trend in the US. However, I think our love of “big cars” – the Commodores and Falcons – is probably the biggest issue in terms of climate change and the rest of it.

    But I have seen a massive increase in the number of 4WDs around Stanmore and Newtown over the past few years – and I remember reading that it’s one of the fastest growing car segments. All at the same time that I think societally we’re not doing as much camping and “off the beaten track” driving as we used to.

    It’s a worrying trend for me from two perspectives – the climate perspective (but I think 4WDs are simply replacing big family cars, so this is probably less an issue overall), but also safety. As a new driver, I find being stuck behind (or even in front) of a 4WD in city traffic is not only frustrating but dangerous. My vision of road conditions and what’s up ahead is greatly diminished.

    P.S. let’s keep out of the population growth discussion for the moment eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰ I know a guy at work that would love to get involved in that argument – but it’s off-topic for this post if that’s cool with y’all…

  • “whats a รขโ‚ฌล“bulldogรขโ‚ฌ? btw?”

    …reference to the mascot on the front of a Mack truck

    “John – just FTR, Marc decided /not/ to get the bullbar.”

    Got that, but further in that paragraph he commented that it added to passenger safety in the vehicle so I was highlighting this misconception. I have since read the Land Transport NZ info as referenced by Marc (factsheet 22) and they are highly critical of bullbars as a general safety enhancement, echoing my sentiments as only being of advantage in a rural setting.

    SUV – Sport Utility Vehicle… Let’s break that down into our cultural references:

    Sport – Either using a vehicle for racing (!) or hunting/fishing applications and anyone who has done any serious off-road work wouldn’t dare take any of these kinds of vehicles any further than the NRMA/RACQ etc. could reach them!

    Utility – Mate, to me a ute is NOTHING like a Prado/Pajero/Murano/Territory etc. Try putting a tonne of bricks in the back of your Range Rover.

    Vehicle – OK, so 1 out of 3.

    In that light an SUV should be a HSV Maloo or a FPV Pursuit.

    Grant, your point about reduced vision when around 4WDs is one of the main reasons I believe many people buy these higher riding vehicles as opposed to a station wagon/people mover – the high driving position gives them a feeling of a commanding view and being more in control.

    The environmental aspect for me is a moot point when it comes to any vehicles that are powered by anything apart from naturally occurring electricity or hydrogen produced using sustainable sources. Hybrids are just a way for the car companies (and celebreties…) to look like they give a shit about the environment, but they are still horribly inefficient and produce harmful emissions.

    My main beef with 4WDs being used as urban runabouts is from a physics point of view. I just see the extra size and weight compromising dynamics, active safety, and efficiency. I enjoy driving a beautifully engineered performance vehicle and would rather trust the vehicle’s ability to help me avoid an accident rather than help me survive it better. It would be interesting to see how much higher survival rates are in 5 star NCAP rated 4WDs versus sedan based passenger vehicles of a similar rating.

    One of the other points that bugs me about cars in general at the moment (although 4WDs are more guilty of this than most other types) is the trend for them to get heavier with each new generation. I realise that people are demanding more room and better safety but I believe the car manufacturers are taking the easy/cheap way out and just using a bigger hammer to fix the issue. With all the advanced materials available today, it would not be that difficult to retain the structural features while reducing weight which yields better fuel economy and performance – something for nothing! Subaru managed to do this recently with the Liberty in making it a bigger vehicle, keeping the cost the same and actually reducing weight. Not that it was heavily publicised, but I believe this kind of thinking is the only way we will move the game forward.

  • Heh – thanks for the entertaining breakdown of SUV ๐Ÿ™‚

    I agree about the hybrids not being very efficient, but I do think they are an important first step in folks getting used to the idea of electric vehicles. If hybrids move to high-efficiency diesel for the combustion engine, even better.

    But the more I read, esp. sites like the Tesla Motors blog, the more I’ve come to the conclusion electric-powered vehicles are the way forward. Hydrogen still seems like just a pipe dream – just a way of manufacturers to say “look, we’re doing something” while not really changing anything at all.

    Even if the technological hurdles of hydrogen power are overcome, it still takes an enormous amount of energy to create the hydrogen in the first place. Much more than it would take to charge a battery to the same capacity. So I’m not a big fan of it…

    I saw a 4WD out the front of the office today, on big beefed up wheels that would be useless in rough terrain. I really should have taken a photo of it. Now – this was an extreme example (to be sure) but it’s so obviously not to be used for any legitimate purpose (not even those Marc outlined in his initial response)… Sigh…

  • Without a degree in road safety or persuasion, I submit my $5 worth of comments:

    Re: pedestrian safety generally – I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility – heck, even the little so called ‘death trap’ hatches are adopting European styling with a high bonnet and interior to reduce pedestrian impact.

    Re: SUV vs 4WD terminology – there is no official vehicle category called SUV in Australia. Yes, SUV is an annoying American term which describes those pretty Rodeos but is not exclusively 4WD as it refers mainly to passenger oriented vehicles.

    Re: why people choose 4WDs over other vehicles because of required space – I say what’s wrong with the combi? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Re: ‘you are more likely to survive a crash with a truck or another car in a 4wd than in a sedan/wagon’. Can’t help but think this is creating a class system on the roads (survival of the biggest) Here’s how my situation would read ‘I am more likely to survive a crash with a motorbike or a cyclist in my small car than in a…’ Mmm…

Comments are closed.