DARE TO ASK: Car size matters to seniors
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do so many elderly people drive Crown Victorias or huge Buicks?
Chris, 34, female, Madisonville, Ky.
I think you have to be 100 in order to buy a Buick Century.
Andrew, Salt Lake City
My guess is it's a combo of comfort (big-boat cars are easier on old-people
joints) and the Depression-era desire to "buy American."
K., 28, female, Minneapolis
My grandpa does the same thing! For him it was the last company car he had
(back in 1979) and reminds him of his friend who passed away back about that
Vanessa, 19, Fargo, N.D.
As a member of a senior family, I can tell you our reasons for wanting a
larger vehicle: space-space-space, and comfort. When you are traveling on the
interstates at 60 to 70 mph, you have a lot more confidence in a larger vehicle.
Senior citizen, Port St. Joe
Old people only appear to drive large cars. There are several phenomena at
work: First, old people drive very slowly and, as hypothesized by Einstein and
proved by Doppler in his seminal work Aunt Tillie's Studebaker and the Reverse
Doppler Effect, slow-moving objects appear longer than fast-moving objects. For
example, orbiting Space Shuttle astronauts reported difficulty distinguishing
between the Great Wall of China and John Glenn's wife driving her Honda Civic.
In addition, old people shrink, making the car look larger.
B. Hale, 43, male, Hartford, Conn.
Well done, B. Hale. Well done. Now hand back the mike and find your seat,
please. Drinks on us.
Buicks and Crown Victorias indeed remain favorite rides of the older set.
According to J.D. Power and Associates, the average age of all buyers who bought
cars between Dec. 1 of last year and Feb. 11 of this year was 47.
Buick brand buyers? Average age 63 (yep, younger than Paul McCartney). Crown
Vic buyers? Average age 62.
Researchers at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University
of South Florida wanted to see if big cars really were big with the elderly.
Their study concluded that seniors do prefer cars with a longer wheelbase - the
distance from front to back axle.
Veteran auto writer Brock Yates, who scribed for Car and Driver magazine for
more than four decades, has no doubt why.
"It plays back into youthful memories. Plus they feel safer with that giant
bulk of steel around them. . . . And old people don't have to bend down to get
Will the environment and fuel prices change things?
"Maybe," Yates said, "but while all the greenies whine and [complain] about
things, nobody has come up with an alternative. Nobody's really altering their
"Still, the industry is moving away from big hulks toward fuel efficiency.
Those big boys are eventually going to go away."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.