Car News: Fat Cars

A weekly look at all that sucks in the automotive world, plus some good bits


A familiar scene – cars so wide two-way streets are reduced to one vehicle at a time

A number of automobile journalists have been writing of late about how cars are getting bigger, not just taller, but wider. Michael Heseltine’s rag, ‘Autocar’, recently resurrected the theme. As ever, the writer missed the obvious and named the usual suspects. I stopped buying that rag years ago. For the uninitiated, Autocar is a weekly magazine for fast car enthusiasts that has an annoying tendency to quote right-wing think tanks in its articles and forget to advise readers of the political bent of the source they quote.

The tale journalists tell of our cars getting bigger usually fall into two categories. The first is we’ve got fatter, our butts in particular. Our arses have expanded out of all reasonable proportions. The second is new safety regulations demand bigger cars. They forget roads are not getting any wider.

The former claim is true, we have grown taller and overweight, seats made bigger to accommodate our derrier. (So have cinema seats for the same reason.) As I never tire of reminding readers, I own two very old 3-door RAV4’s, the first and the second derivative. I’ve removed the rear seats from the oldest to make it more practical, a mini van. This earliest version has narrow squabs that push the metal frame into my backside, uncomfortable on long journeys. The ‘cutest SUV in the world’ according to an aghast Texan who came upon my Japanese import 1996 RAV4, does have benefits, being narrow and a very short car, great for parking in our crowded cities.

The later one is has a generous girth. It has a much wider stance and consequently feels safer taking bends at speed. A lot longer makes it difficult to park and avoid scrapes.


Some vehicles are stupendously unfit for our cities

The claim of safety regulation causing cars to bloat doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s a nonsense when you look at how compact is a Smart car packed with modern safety devices in addition to encased in a metal safety shell.

Guess what, a lot of safety laws come from EU regulations which the UK accepted. Implied in Brit journalist’s moaning about regulations making car design bland and uniform is a criticism of EU. Thankfully, if car makers want to sell their wares abroad they must comply with EU regulations, and as most ‘British’ makers are foreign owned there should be no diminution of regulation laws protecting driver and passenger.

For a company to refresh a car’s design, repackage it with the latest gadgets, it has to have a ‘better than last’ selling gimmick. Think of washing powder which acquired a magical ‘blue’ whitener to help aid greater sales. It worked, the increased sales, that is, not necessarily cleaner sheets.

Invariably the car sales line is the one of which we are all familiar – the new model has more space than the last. Well, of course a car will have more space than the one before if it is bigger! But did it have to get bigger to achieve more space? The latest model of the popular Range Rover Evoque has reversed the trend. It is not any bigger than the last, but by clever redesign offers a little more interior space than before.

Safety regulations, such as heavy bars hidden in doors to lessen side impact, crumple zones and the demand for increased interior space and comfort, now mean that cars are bigger than they ever have been. And bigger means heavier. A shame attractive aspects such as pop-up headlights got nixed by strict safety standards, but I can see why bonnet mascots got the boot. There are deathly projectiles to pedestrians. Rolls-Royce managed to save their mascot by designing it to drop inside the radiator nose.

Big cars make them far less agile and pleasant to drive than small, lightweight cars. Step into an MX5 sportscar from an everyday saloon and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The little roadster can dart this way and that at fingertip control of the steering wheel, while large, heavy cars needs a lot of grappling with the steering. And there less of a margin of error driving a big car if you get into trouble.

Not until you see a car next to its ancestor do you realise just how bloated modern cars have become. To illustrate the difference in one model, here is the first and most recent best selling car, the VW Golf, the photograph conflated to show comparison girth.


Old and new VW Golf. The VW Polo is now bigger than that original Golf!

This brings me to parking bay sizes, a hobbyhorse of mine. They have not kept up with the increase in car sizes. Pass a line of them nose to the pavement and you’ll find you have to swerve around one sticking its rump out beyond all the others. It might well be a worky’s Toyota double-cabin Hilux, a vehicle he can haul his kids in to school – the interior as luxurious as any saloon – and a bag of gravel plus his tools in the load area.

In the United Kingdom, the recommended standard Parking bay size is 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) wide by 4.8 metres (16 ft) long. Recently there has been some controversy about most spaces being far too small to fit modern cars, which have grown significantly since bay size standards were set decades ago.

The term ‘one space’ used in the UK standards regulations refers to standing area only and the recommended minimum dimensions for a car space. The term ‘commercial vehicle space’ used in the standards refers to the standing area required for the general type of commercial vehicle. Shopping centre car parks stick to the smallest space, except for disabled drivers. They are give half-a-metre extra either side of their vehicle for wheelchair access. Unless a nose to tail coach area, the rest of us are completely ignored.

  • Car: 2.4 metres x 4.8 metres
  • Light Vans: 2.4 metres x 5.5 metres
  • Rigid Vehicles: 3.5 metres x 14.0 metres
  • Articulated Vehicles: 3.5 metres x 18.5 metres
  • Coaches (60 seats): 3.5 metres x 14.0 metres

How many times have you been boxed in by inconsiderate drivers, so badly you cannot squeeze between cars let alone open your car door. You drive home with dings and dents not there when you arrived at the store.

Poor bay sizes together with being ignored ends with this kind of situation:


Try being the driver on the far right hoping to enter his vehicle

And I haven’t touched upon the greatly increased size of our double decker buses. They are now monstrous, 10 wheeled behemoths negotiating a tight bend, and in Edinburgh, some must be warned off narrow road routes!


Carpet Man

The carpet in my oldest car finally gave up pretending it was a carpet, the stuff you get with your car I call belly button fluff. To my surprise and disappointment no dealership in Edinburgh, and no coach trimmer who fits bespoke leather seats, will fit new, better non-standard carpets. I finally discovered one man who would, the classic craftsman working from his garden shed, Alan Gibson in Musselburgh. He tore out the crap carpet, stuck down sound deafening, added foam padding and then a new black Wilton carpet. He suggests noise deafening material for the doors and over the wheel arches to make the car as quiet as a Bentley, and the door not sound tinny when slammed shut. Alan did a great job at a reasonable cost, materials and all, and in two days. What a difference in cabin quietness! No more engine noise or tyre hum. I’m happy to give out his phone number if any reader is in dire need of a new carpet or sound deadening.

Car sales slump

The crash in car sales continues unabated. The Brexit economy is showing the greatest signs of strain on dealers for seven years facing a continued decline in car sales as the service sector struggles to grow with Brexit looming. According to the latest snapshot from the beleaguered UK motor industry, car sales dropped for the fifth consecutive month in July. New car registrations fell by 4.1% to 157,198, the weakest sales in July since 2012, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders report. And they advise worse to come. We shall see badly capitalised dealers going out of business soon.

Volvo recall

Is your Volvo among the group below? More than 500,000 Volvo cars are being recalled worldwide, 70,000 in the UK, because of a fire risk in the engine. The manufacturer said a plastic part in the engine has, in rare cases, been liable to melt and deform, resulting in a possible engine fire. Affected models have four-cylinder diesel engines and are 2014-2019 versions of the following cars: S80, S60, V70, XC70, S60 Cross Country, V60, XC60, V60 Cross Country, S90, V90, V90 Cross Country, XC90, V40 and V40 Cross Country. A Volvo spokesperson said there had only been only “a few” fires to date, with no reports of injuries. Aye, right. If you’ve not received notification from your dealer, call them right away. (Would a bicycle spokeperson be called ‘spokes’ person? Just asking.)

Happy motoring!



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3 Responses to Car News: Fat Cars

  1. John Menzies says:

    Good Morning, Just read your article, good reading as always. I was wondering if you could forward Alan’s phone number, the drivers footwell carpet in my taxis is seriously worn and is needing replaced. Keep up the good work!

    Regards John Menzies


  2. Grouse Beater says:

    John, will the Taxi servicing garage just off the Airport Road do carpet replacement? If not, it’s 07703.181816.

  3. Dodgems, Gb; the bane of my life as a bus driver, particularly as ‘abandonment’ is the new ‘parking’ on most residential bus routes round here.
    Our town buses here are primarily 11.5m single deckers of three basic types.
    Many of the routes are like a timed obstacle course requiring very precise judgement when turning and even trying to make straight progress.
    Far too many motorists though fail to comprehend the fact that a large and long wheelbased vehicle requires much more room than their car (even a bloated Range Rover dodgem) and they will continue past you as you turn, hoping to squeeze past your rear end, putting their paintwork at risk of losing a coat or two!
    Admittedly this is as much an issue borne of 40 years of Tory ‘me first at all costs’ thinking as it is with ‘car obesity’! 😉

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