Buyer's Remorse For Downsizing Car Owners

Posted on November 7, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reports that many consumers who got rid of their SUVs and traded down to a smaller car are regretting the choice. They don't regret the purchase at the gas pump, but after years of driving a big car they miss the space.

This year's record-high fuel prices drove some consumers to switch to smaller vehicles. Now, as fuel prices have pulled back, many are rediscovering some of the reasons they bought big cars and sport-utility vehicles in the first place.

Perhaps the biggest draw for large vehicles: comfort. Having wide, soft seats to accommodate the ever-growing American physique and space to stash briefcases, totes and handbags has changed from a luxury feature to one drivers take for granted. And as people spend more time in their vehicles, they have come to crave the sense of safety, privacy and insulation that come with larger vehicles.

Sometimes what seems like a small downgrade can lead to big regrets. Blake Schomas traded his 2002 Chevrolet Suburban, an SUV with room for eight, for a relatively fuel-efficient Chrysler Pacifica. The Pacifica is big, but it carries two fewer passengers than the Suburban and cannot tow as much.

"I kind of regret the decision to get rid of the Suburban, which had a lot to do with the price of fuel," says Mr. Schomas, a marketing manager in Hudson, Wis. While his Pacifica's fuel economy beats the old truck's by as much as 40%, the new vehicle seems downright small compared with the Suburban. The big problem is that its third-row seat takes up what would otherwise be room for cargo. "We have two kids, and if one of them wants to bring a friend, our storage space is reduced to nothing," says Mr. Schomas. It also lacks the bigger truck's "family room" comfort, he says.

The families that have three or more children seem to be having the most trouble adjusting to smaller cars, especially if the children still use car seats. They take up a lot of room. Even though gas has come down recently, it's unlikely that the trend towards smaller cars is going to stop. And that will mean making adjustments. One growth area is luxury hybrids for consumers who are changing to a hybrid in an effort to help save the environment. The Prius can be upgraded to have leather seats and BMW is coming out with a hybrid. That certainly won't have crank windows (which is another surprise for downsizing car owners), that's for sure.