All across the nation, SUV Sally's and Sam's are cussing at the pumps. They're watching the readout with mounting horror: $80, $100, $120+ per fill up. The automotive source of this pain of portly plenitude is has become the pink elephant of the American lifestyle. And it's true: SUVs suck. Not just gas. Depreciation, insurance and street cred. And so, the "Livin' Large" folks of the Oil War Era are giving up their SUVs en masse. Which brings us to a simple question. Should you?
The first thing you should consider is whether anyone wants your SUV. Really. That's not a misprint. The purveyors of maximum mass, maximum profit vehicles have been overproducing these beasts for nearly a decade. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyondissan, Audi, Porsche, Saab and even granola-happy Subaru joined the fray of seemingly endless profit and demand. And now we have the Mother of All Gluts. On EBay, you'll find a 2006, 23k-mile Ford Explorer Limited ($33k new, at least in theory). The owner's asking $23k. Good luck with that; there isn't a single bid on the vehicle. Not one.
We hear reports that some dealers won't take your SUV in trade. Period. Of course, everything sells at a price. So take four good pictures of your vehicle. Write a glorious soliloquy of its qualities. Price it according to the completed items section on EBay. Put ads on Craigslist and Autotrader. Once you get two serious inquiries on your vehicle that don't involve low-balling, you'll see how bad things really are. And they are very bad indeed. And getting worse.
OK, so, you sell X. You buy Y. The cost to trade is pretty easy to determine (if hard to stomach). The hard part: take into account all the other costs that go into the equation. Depreciation (again), insurance, maintenance, even the ungainly pitfall that is financing are part of the wallet-draining process. These "hidden costs" determine the real cost of escaping your Escape.
A buyer of a Mercedes 320 CDI may love to brag about their outstanding fuel economy– until they start paying for the outstandingly expensive blue urea fluid that can only be had at the dealer. Likewise, a friend of mine absolutely adored his Jetta Diesel– until the dealer billed him over $1300 for 'regular maintenance.' One call to a dealer (or independent shop), a quick visit to an enthusiast's site can add an awful lot of wisdom to your final decision.
When it comes to car buying, knowledge is more important than imagination or instinct.
Along the same lines, you have to be honest with yourself, and God forbid, your spouse. Would either of you really feel comfortable making a leap from Canyonero to Cobalt? Safety, interior quality, and dare I say it, the pleasures of driving these money-suckers should be given weighty consideration over the course of weeks.
In my experiences, folks who drive Suburbans rarely fit in Fits. But they can be more than fine in a Camry hybrid or Malibu. By the same token, drivers who own and enjoy a compact SUV may be perfectly happy in a compact car. My wife went from Volvo wagons and minivans into a Honda Fit without any regrets. However the Scion xB and xD were rolling Edsels in her eyes. We all have our likes and dislikes. Be true to them.
Finally don't be sold on being sold; $2.99 gas, free maintenance programs and lifetime warranties may be a dream come true. But the car behind the fine print 'bling' may be a rolling shit can. When you drive away from the lot, the car will determine the quality of your "ownership experience." If you decide to buy used, it will be the prior owner. And if you keep what you have, it will be your own driving style and maintenance regimen that will likely have the most impact on your satisfaction.
It's true. In these days of $4 gas, many of us have been able to achieve fuel economy figures which exceed the EPA ratings by anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, just by changing the way we drive. Learn to coast. Keep the rpm's low. Pay attention to the traffic. Turn that cell phone off and make driving a 'mileage' game. Hypermiling– within reason– can put dollars back in your pocket and add years to your SUVs life.
In an SUV buyer's market, it's best not to sell an SUV. So how long before the market recovers? At best, two years. At worst, never. If it galls you that you're now an SUV owner for life, don't panic. Drive less. Drive more sensibly. And relax. It still beats walking.