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What Would You Drive?

A report came out last night that tells us everything we ever wanted to know about who drives what in the Washington region.

Much of the report is what you'd expect: people in the inner suburbs have less and smaller cars than people in the outer suburbs, for instance. But it's still kind of fascinating to get a rundown of what we drive.

First, the big numbers: There are 3.3 million cars in the Washington region, 1.6 million in Maryland, 1.5 million in Virginia and 250,000 in the District. Of those, 2 million are passenger cars and station wagons, 1.2 million are SUVs and 160,000 or so are commercial trucks.

Think Virginia, and especially HOV, is overrun with hybrids? Well, you're right. There are 11,843 hybrids in the D.C. area and 8,280 of them are in Virginia. And these aren't a bunch of crunchy liberals in Arlington. These are primarily folks in the outer suburbs who are presumably using hybrids to drive in HOV without any passengers. The highest concentration of hybrids is in Prince William County, where there are 14.8 hybrids per 1,000 households. Loudoun comes next, followed by Fairfax.

The information is a snapshot of vehicle identification numbers taken as of last July by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Hybrid ownership was likely to have shot up since then because of the HOV incentive and high gas prices.

Find a rundown of the report here, under the Presentations section of the agenda.

As for me, my wife and I share a 1998 Honda Civic hatchback. It's awesome in the city, where we live, because you can park it most anywhere. But it can be a real drag on long trips. It's also always dirty, which I blame entirely on my wife.

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 17, 2006; 10:24 AM ET
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I would drive a hybrid since I'm in stop-and-go traffic from Alexandria to Tyson's everyday. I've heard they get better city driving milage. I'm reverse HOV on 66 so that doesn't matter.

Posted by: MD | May 17, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

No car here, and I wouldn't have it any other way! I live in Penn Quarter and can walk to work.

I do need to rely on the kindness of friends with cars for trips to Target and the like, though.

Posted by: PQ | May 17, 2006 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how accurate the DC car-counting stats actually are; people in this city are notorious for not registering their cars here. I understand ongressional staff living in town are exempt from DC vehicle registration, mysteriously, though they use the same roads, signals, and police that other city residents use.

Posted by: USt.Dweller | May 17, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I've been a hybrid owner for 4 days. I picked up my Toyota Prius Saturday. I bought it for many reasons: Good gas mileage, low emissions, hatchback versatility, high-tech gadgets. HOV was important to me, but it was way down on my list.

I commute about 26 miles each way from Centreville to DC.

Posted by: Eric Wassyng | May 17, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I drive a Saturn sedan with my wife from Frederick to DC and back, I get 40MPG. Too many SUV's, 30% is horrific, in the A.M. typically single drivers also! Does anybody still wonder any more why gas is $3/gal and al Qaeda, the Taliban and Hamas still exist?

Oil! Oil! Oil!

Posted by: D~ | May 17, 2006 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Well you definitely have the life PQ. You ought to check into Zipcar or Flexcar for those trips to Target. They're good services and you could give your friends a break.

I think the D.C. stats are pretty close to accurate. I get your point about out of state registrations, but when you're talking about a region of 6 million people, a couple hundred, or even thousand, oddities don't really amount to much.

So how is the new hybrid, Eric??!! Don't keep us on the edge of our seats.

One final thing: My wife would like to say that the mess in our car is directly linked to my old shoes. She's wrong, of course, but this is what she'd like to say.

Posted by: Steven Ginsberg | May 17, 2006 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I bought a 4Runner because I got sick of replacing my camry's tires, and getting the wheels realigned every 6-8 months from driving through DC. The trip from Arlington to Georgetown hospital was like a war zone. 3 years later I'm on my original alignment, and tires, while on my camry at three years I was on my second set of tires, and 4th alignment. Considering I've lost like 3-4mpg, I think the switch is well worth it.

Oh and stop knocking SUV's. My SUV gets better milage than many sedans do, and I burn through fewer tires, and because I'm aware of the limitations on my car (rolling, etc.) I take turns slower and drive safer than most of the sedan driving maniac people i see shooting around.

Yell at the tail-gaters instead! They use more gas with their constant braking and accelerating to maintain that 3' off your bumper at 60mph, and cause accidents and stress, and save themselves NO time.


Posted by: ljb | May 17, 2006 2:21 PM | Report abuse

That's a ridiculous reason to drive an SUV in DC. I've lived and worked here since 1991 and never had a problem with either of the two low-slung sedans tires or alignment. While there are some rough patches, Arlington to Georgetown is not that bad. SUVs are designed for off-road use, running on dirt, loose gravel, deep snow (maybe 1 day a year here?), and they incur a huge efficiency penalty for all that extra weight and height they carry. One third of the people in this area do not need an SUV, and maybe 1% of them will be used as designed.

Posted by: Ted | May 17, 2006 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Oh and stop knocking SUV's. My SUV gets better milage than many sedans do, and I burn through fewer tires, and because I'm aware of the limitations on my car (rolling, etc.) I take turns slower and drive safer than most of the sedan driving maniac people i see shooting around.

It's always the other guys car that's the problem, right? On average, SUV's use much more gas than sedans, and beat up the road. Please think before you purchase your next vehicle.

Posted by: dowhat? | May 17, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I own two Priuses, but I take bus and METRO to work every day, and ride my bike (~17 miles) from Chevy Chase to a federal government job along the Anacostia waterfront. Our hybrid purchases had nothing to do with HOV, and everything to do with reducing the carbon footprint. As for the new SUV owner - yup, your new ride does get better gas mileage than lots of the old vehicles out there, but potholes don't really constitute sufficient reason, if you'd really 'fess up

Posted by: We'll have two | May 17, 2006 2:55 PM | Report abuse

When fuel first reached $3.00 a gallon last year, I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class and got a motorcylce endorsement.

I ride HOV everyday its not raining or insanely freezing, its 45-50 miles per gallon, and I can park it almost anywhere.

Posted by: Motorcycle - the next generation hybrid | May 17, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I would love to drive a hybrid, but I can't afford the $25K sticker price. I drive cars as fuel efficient as I can afford. I would NEVER own an SUV unless I needed to offroad and somehow in 35 years of life, I have never done off-road travelling. If I could afford an SUV, I could afford a hybrid. I currently own a 2004 Toyota matrix which I bought used in Jan. with 16K miles on it. My husband and I only own one car, I take the metro to work and he takes the car to school (George Mason) because public transport would take an 1 1/2 to 2 hours each way. I would love to see more public transport, bus only lanes, more metro rail throughout Northern Virginia, but no one wants to pay for it, eventually (like with getting metro rail to Dulles) we end up paying for it and we pay more for not doing it right the first time.

Posted by: Meg | May 17, 2006 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and how about making affordable housing near workplaces so those of us who don't make six figures can afford to live close enough to public transportation so that we don't *have* to drive.

Posted by: Meg | May 17, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

SUVs also contribute to the traffic problem. Can't see over or around them so you hit your brakes more frequently. Guy behind you hits his brakes and so on, and you've just created a pocket of slow traffic. I really think that if we'd institute a rule with no SUVs or Minivans in the left lane of an interstate/state highway or main route during rush hours, they could play bumper cars with each other and the rest of us would be okay.

Posted by: Riiiight. | May 17, 2006 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I drive an Acura TL as my primary car. I had an Accord that I loved, but got rear-ended really hard and the damage exceeded the value of the car. I was less concerned about fuel economy than about reliability and comfort for when I travel, and the TL scores well on both fronts. I have the 6-speed manual and the car pulls 30 mpg on the highway, which is pretty good for a 3.2-litre 270-hp V-6. City mileage isn't outstanding, but as I say, that was not my priority.

My other car is an RX-7 convertible purchased used from a friend solely for fun purposes. Not at all a practical purchase, and the rotary engine doesn't get great mileage to begin with (couple that with the fact that it's hard not to want to go fast in an RX-7), but since I only drive it once or twice a week, I don't care. It's a fun car and that's what mattered.

I have a question for the gentleman who said he rides a motorcycle, if he's reading this. How do other drivers treat you? The idea of a motorcycle has crossed my mind from time to time, but I find that the drivers around here are rude enough in a car that I'd be more than a bit concerned about safety on a motorcycle.

Posted by: Rich | May 17, 2006 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm fully sympathetic with your feelings about driving on city streets. I do it all the time and sometimes you do feel like you're bounding through the Rockies. But I have to say I just don't get that you had to realign your tires and get new ones that often. My civic has endured city streets for 8 years now and I can't remember realigning them more than once. Basically as often as anyone else. I also don't follow how the SUV makes anything easier. The cheapest 4Runner runs about $9,000 more than the cheapest Camry (and 2,000 more than the most expensive Camry.) Wouldn't the Camry save you money even if you realigned it every several months?

Please don't everyone read this as SUV bashing. I'm just questioning the reasoning of this one post. I don't quite get it and am interested in hearing more.

Posted by: Steven Ginsberg | May 17, 2006 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I have a Saturn Vue which gets 25 city/30 highway (better than advertised). I hate having an SUV but my old car didn't fit a carseat in the backseat. This was $17000 used with 13K miles on it, so it's comparable to other cars. It also can fit the car seat and stroller and pack-n-play and suitcases when we drive up to visit my parents.

Posted by: SUV owner | May 17, 2006 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Interesting logic D~ .... I am not aware of oil fields in the Gaza or Afghanistan.


Posted by: KS | May 17, 2006 5:21 PM | Report abuse

We cut our gas consumption 75% in the last two months. I just changed jobs from one where I commuted from Fairfax to Columbia, MD to one where I work at home. And we just bought a Prius hybrid for my wife to commute from Fairfax to Germantown MD instead of the acura TSX. Now that should count as doing our part to reduce gas demand.

Posted by: Rob C | May 19, 2006 8:38 AM | Report abuse

"SUVs are designed for off-road use, running on dirt, loose gravel, deep snow"

OK. I hate gas guzzlers as much as most of ya. Although technically they call my subaru forestor an SUV, it's more of a station wagon, and gets 27mpg - and I take the MARC train to work now that its $3/gal.

But, back to my original point. Don't give those yuppie soccor mom cars so much glory as to say they were designed for off roading! Yea, 15 years ago, the few SUVs available were designed for that purpose. But now a days, not so much. I've never laughed harder than a few years ago, up in NJ ... out shovelling my parents driveway, and I see a lexus "SUV" spinnin' it's tires in the snow across the street.. I realize.. only the front tires are spinning.. the thing's not even 4wd!! not to mention the lack of skid plates under the car, and numerous other standard off-road features that you'd be hard pressed to find on an "SUV" in any dealer lot today. Those dumb things are made for cartin' around ur kids, without having to drive a mini-van, and nothing more.. most would fall apart if ya took em off the paved road.

As for hybrids... I did the math when I was driving 60miles a day, before I switched to the train for my commute (gas was about 2.50 at this point.. ). At 60 miles a day, it made no sense at all to sell my '98 forestor, making 27mpg in exchange for a 50mpg civic hybrid (sorry, i just couldn't bear to drive the little ones that get the really good mileage.. they just look toooooo stupid) .. however, were I in the market for a new car ANYWAY, it would have paid for itself in a little under 5 years with 60miles/day of commuting. That being said, I now commute by train.. burn a tank every two weeks or so between weekend trips and my girlfriend occassionally using it during the week... I'm hardly putting any wear on it, it'll hopefully last many more years.. gas will probably be $15/gal by that point.. and hopefully the economics of the situation will have forced GM and others to invest R&D dollars into vehicles that burn no oil product at all... Afterall.. we are on the downward side of the bell curve that is global oil supply, headed rapidly towards no oil at all - within my lifetime certainly (i'm only in my mid 20's) we WILL be living without oil one way or another.. hybrids are really only a transitioning solution to make that transition less painful while gas is 10-15-20 dollars /gallon, but before R&D has gotten alternative energy methods to a producable state... hrrmm.. funny, I thought the purpose of government was to think ahead and fund much needed R&D in these interim periods before it became profitable for corporate america to do so themselves... why hasn't our government been doing so over the past 6 VERY critical years?? Tons of economists have talked about peak oil and predicted exactlly when we would peak, when supplies would begin to be short of demand, etc... why didn't our government react? Oh wait... look who's been leading our country for the past 6 years... good time to be a texas oil giant I guess :)

Posted by: pjb | May 19, 2006 10:44 AM | Report abuse

How I miss the days when I lived in the city, had a ten minute "commute" to work and could walk or Metro most other places! Unfortunately, when it came time to leave the ranks of the renters & actually invest in a property purchase, D.C.'s high prices drove us out of the city and we were forced to join the clamoring Beltway throng. My husband and I now share an aging Honda Accord. I would gladly purchase a hybrid (or other alternative fuel vehicle) if they were more affordable. Until they're reasonably priced, we won't see any sweeping changes in the purchase habits of most Americans.

Posted by: Exurbia | May 19, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse


More of you should try it.

Posted by: D in DC | May 23, 2006 6:40 PM | Report abuse

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