Don’t Judge Me Because I Drive a Suburban.


Last weekend we bought a GMC Suburban. My husband is overjoyed. He (with his four brothers) grew up in old Suburbans and he sees them as trucks that just happen to hold people too. He’s never been a true ‘truck’ guy, but offer him any old beat up Suburban and he’d look like he’d won the lottery.

One tall teen who is finally comfortable in the car. Photo: Judy Berna

On the flip side, I never dreamed I’d ever drive something that big. I resisted even the whole minivan thing, until we had our third child and had to install that third car seat in the back seat of our Mazda 626. We knew it was time to make the plunge.

At the time, we didn’t even consider a Suburban. Minivans were much more economical and took much less gas. They were easier to maneuver into grocery store parking lot spaces and easier to reach the car seats in the back.

I have to admit I used to look down on people who drove huge trucks, including Suburbans. All I could see was the gallons of gas they ate up, when a smaller vehicle would probably do the job just as well. Aside from contractors, who pulled trailers behind their trucks, to be able to do their jobs, I didn’t see why anyone would need such a big vehicle, that obviously was doing its part to kill our ozone and eat up all our oil reserves.

Then those four kids, who used to fit so easily into car seats and boosters, started growing.

My 15 year old, next to 'used to be giant' Papa. Photo: Judy Berna

We come from tall people. My dad is 6′ 5″ tall and seems even taller because he wears cowboy boots on a daily basis. I’m 5’11”, my husband is 6’2″ (on the days he’s not feeling worn down by all the teens in our life).

Our oldest child is now taller than me. She’ll learn to appreciate her height some day, but for now just wants to find a boyfriend she doesn’t tower over. Her brother, who is a year younger, is my height, and will probably be the shortest of our bunch.

Then we have my middle son, who realized how much he’d grown this summer, when we visited his towering grandpa on our drive out to Colorado, and he walked away saying, ‘Wow…Papa used to be a giant…now I look him in the eye!” He’s not kidding. He’s only 15 and will possibly beat his grandpa in height some day soon.

Our youngest son just turned 11 and is on the path to being the tallest of the bunch. Within the next few years he will hit that preteen growth spurt and I’m predicting he’ll pass me in height before he enters high school.

So when it was time to buy a 4WD vehicle, now that we live in the mountains, we did our best to find something ‘smaller’. We narrowed our search to vehicles that came in 4WD, were under 30 thousand dollars, and had a decent third row seat. We need the extra space for our own kids, when my older two are home visiting, and also for the tall friends of the two we still have living at home.

Living in Colorado now, we expect to have some visitors. When Grammy and Grandpa come to see our new home, we’d like to be able to drive them and our kids, in the same vehicle. Which all translated to mean the third row had to actually fit a grown up comfortably.

That really narrowed the list. We seriously looked at the gas efficient Honda Pilot. It’s a really great vehicle. But it fell off the list when our 15 year old couldn’t even fit his legs in the third row seat. The same was true for the Nissan Pathfinder. Great option, no real usable third row seat for our family.

So then we moved up to Chevy Tahoes. The third row seat was comfortable. The second row seat was very comfortable. And if you got the right configuration, it could potentially hold up to nine passengers. It was bigger than I’d wanted, but the reality was, it fit our current needs. It even came in under budget, when we looked at vehicles with just a few miles on them.

Trips to the bike park - much easier! Photo: Judy Berna

Then the fateful sentence was spoken. As we test drove our eighth used Tahoe (did I mention my husband is thorough when it comes to car buying?) the salesman, sitting in the seat behind me, said, “You know, I have a few 2010 Suburbans I could sell you, for the same price as this Tahoe.”

My husband’s face lit up. The only difference between a Tahoe and a Suburban, it seems, is the cargo space in the back. It just made sense to buy the longer vehicle, if the price were the same, since we often haul around mountain bikes, BMX bikes, skis and snowboards.

So an hour later we were driving home in our new(er) Suburban. It’s worked out great so far. We’ve made trips over mountain roads, to the kids’ friends houses, that the minivan would have struggled to survive. Today we are forecast to get a foot of new snow. I don’t worry about being able to get to the grocery store. Next month, when it’s time to retrieve our college son in snowy Utah, we will be able to make the drive, no matter what the forecast, and even be able to offer to bring a few friends home with him.

I’m now behind the wheel of that same vehicle that I used to pass judgment on. But I understand more about what leads a person to drive such a vehicle. And as a ‘gas guzzler’ owner, I have to say, with the new technology in our Suburban’s engine, we actually get better gas mileage on a daily basis, than we did with our aging minivan.

Granted, it’s not a SmartCar. We won’t drive across the country on one tank of gas. But right now, this is the vehicle we need to survive our local terrain and our growing children.

I still drive our minivan, when the weather is cooperative and the route is agreeable. It will always be easier to park, especially in our small mountain town. But I’ve learned a lesson about passing judgment.  When I do drive the Suburban, and I sit at the traffic light next to my neighbor, in a Prius, I wonder if they’re thinking the same condemning thoughts that I used to harbor. But I hope they’re more open minded than I used to be, and understand that every family situation is different.

I can care about the environment and do my part to save the earth, even if I drive a Suburban.

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12 thoughts on “Don’t Judge Me Because I Drive a Suburban.

  1. Thanks for that! I just bought a full-sized sedan (Impala) as my “commuter” vehicle because commuting sometimes involves a 6’2 husband and two teens that aren’t far behind him! I’m 5’2″ (in clogs) and I received shocked looks and out-right disdain when I announced my purchase! I was tempted to point our their seemingly hypocritical moves, but thought-naww! Judgers gonna judge and Haters gonna hate, I guess. 🙂

    1. You are so right, Mickie! Good to hear I’m not the only one who feels I have to justify our family decision. Some day I’ll drive something smaller (and sportier!) but for now, my giant kids need room! 🙂

  2. I just recently broke down and bought a mini-van, after years of swearing I would never buy a “mommy vehicle.” I have 2 teen boys now, and they come with lots of large accessories, and are getting bigger and bigger, so my truck with an extended cab wasn’t cutting it anymore. Just do what I did and “geek up” your new vehicle as much as you can! I put Doctor Who stickers all over my mini-van, and named it the TARDIS. Let folks know you aren’t the average soccer mom!

    1. I have a fear of owning a minivan. Always have. My boyfriend wants one mostly for travel to conventions. He’s also got a plan to trick it out to look like a TNG shuttle pod. You know, if I’ve got to drive a minivan, at least it’ll express who I am.

  3. We are looking at going to a Tahoe or Yukon or Expedition when our boys get bigger. It the same issue you mentioned. It would be nice to be able to fit eight people in it comfortably. the Saturn Vue we have now works but we can’t take anyone else with us.
    I live in Wyoming and we head to the mountains with four wheelers and a camper and we need a vehicle that can pull the toys with us.

  4. We have a Pilot, since my kids are younger, they and their friends fit in that 3rd row of seats with little-to-no problem. We did a VERY thorough search that ended up with the Pilot back in October 2009, complete with a spreadsheet and weighted score process that helped us narrow down to the Pilot, Highlander and (of all things) the Ford Flex. These 3 vehicles had cargo space behind the 3rd row of seats.

    To make up for the gas-guzzliness of our Pilot, my husband commutes with a 2006 Prius. 🙂

  5. You mentioned Utah, Judy, so perhaps you know that many Mormon families (including my own) have a long history of station wagons, minivans, and Suburbans for the reasons you stated: it’s what holds a family comfortably.

    Cimmy and I aren’t driving any of those presently, mostly because we are that poor. I am 6’1″ and over 300#, but I still shoehorn myself into our Honda Civic, because that’s what we can afford to maintain (and even then, we have a lot of help). It was pretty freaky when I had my back operated on a few years ago, though, because I had to comply with physical therapy orders entering the car or risk breaking some screws in my spine. Everyone understands I’d be much more comfortable in a truck-based vehicle, but… no $$$.

  6. Ah, this reminds of when my boys were in elementary school and had a teacher tell them that no one should be allowed to drive a big truck / SUV. My brows just about shot up through my hairline. We have a blended family that at the time counted 6 kids. A big vehicle meant we took only one vehicle instead of 3. My thought at the teacher “yo, #$%^, do the math!”

    Now that we are all a little older, there are 7 kids and 3 grandkids so even with big vehicles we still have to have more than one when we all get together.

    Some people just don’t get it. And really, folks driving a Suburban generally have really good reasons. It’s the 4-seater monstrous Hummers I don’t get (unless of course it’s military grade and you really are carrying all that ordinance).

  7. Oh, i will be in the same boat soon. I don’t care if my kids are squished, or we have to use a bike rack because we can’t put bikes inside our little Saturn. We are a one car family and I always was proud of that.

    But now my daughter is the drummer in my band. We ONCE did a gig by driving to the place with her drumset, then driving back to the house and getting my two guitars and entire PA system. I swore NEVER AGAIN. Can you imagine fitting a drumset into a small 1999 Saturn? It was ridiculous.

    Since then we’ve borrowed my friend’s minivan for our gigs. But that just can’t continue (my friend is fine with it, but really…) So, we’re looking at minivans, trucks, anything with enough cargo space to hold drums, guitars, PA and the bandmembers!

    Nobody should judge.

  8. It’s amazing the instant judgements people will make about Suburbans. I can’t number the glares that we have gotten tooling around our very green conscious college town, and pulling into rest stops on vacation.

    Once they notice that every row is full they generally look embarrassed, but sometimes it gets wearying. You do get tired of pointing out that you can make ONE trip for everyone, use ONE car instead of running two or more to one event and fit the cargo. Or being the one who can car-pool extra kids to help out!

    It doesn’t seem like people calculate the people miles that you’re saving, just the perceived cost of the one large vehicle. It also seems that they don’t realize people with a large family and suburban generally are taking some time to plan some efficiency into their driving to help burn a little less gas, because those 30-35 gallon tanks don’t refill themselves!

    Kudos to the rest of you! It’s nice to find out my family is not alone.

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