Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You invited large SUV owners (Suburbans, Expeditions) to tell you why they bought their vehicles. You'll be interested to know that in a recent survey, nearly 70 percent of all SUV owners rated recreation as an important factor in their vehicle purchase.

We feel that the growth in popularity of SUVs is clearly linked to the growing demand for outdoor recreation. Recreation helps us stay physically and mentally healthy and renews our commitment to clean air, clean water and a sound outdoors ethic. With a nation blessed with outdoor diversity and SUVs to get us there, we may have a successful strategy for making Americans happier and healthier in the 21st century.

Derrick A. Crandall

Executive Vice President, Recreation Roundtable

Washington

A Sturdy, Family Automobile

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It never ceases to amaze me, the extent some people will go to impose their will on their fellow citizens. This debate on the propriety of the oversize sport utility vehicles (Suburbans, Expeditions) is another prime example.

The Chevrolet Suburban is a sturdy and safe automobile that has been operating safely for some time. I am sure this is longer than most of the SUV whiners have been alive.

My Suburban can safely and comfortably transport nine passengers and their luggage. It has been my experience that most SUV whiners quickly put principle aside and butter me up when they need to borrow my vehicle to move something.

The SUV whiners also love you when you can haul an entire sports team, or Scout troop, so that they do not have to make the trip.

As far as being unfriendly to the environment, it takes me one trip in one vehicle to transport nine people. It takes most others three trips in three vehicles to make the same trip. Who do you think burns more fossil fuel?

However, the most compelling reason I drive a large SUV is the safety of my family of five. I believe the real reason for all this criticism from the SUV whiners is guilty consciences. If my family was involved in an accident in our Suburban, I know I gave them a better chance of survival than the whiners did in their smaller, less sturdy cars.

I chose safety for my family over economy and style. SUV whiners did not. They made their choice and should learn to live with it and leave other folks alone.

Benjamine C. Huffman

Burke

Station Wagons Too Small

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I wanted a station wagon, but they didn't make them that large anymore, so we got a Suburban.

I'm sorry if people don't like sharing the road with us, but it's really a great car. We can volunteer to drive lots of kids places, and the dogs fit in the back.

We park carefully. I've passed up lots of places where people wouldn't be able to get in their cars with us there.

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer

Vienna

Saving Gas and Time

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am an owner of a Chevrolet Suburban. I tried a Ford Explorer first, but could not get our gear in it without also putting some on the roof. Now I can carry two more people without any difference in gas mileage, and I don't have to figure out how to get everything inside, just toss it in.

My biggest problem: My wife drives the Suburban all the time and won't let me have it. She says she likes driving it because it makes her feel safe, and someday when we have kids, they will be safe, too.

Darren Hornauer

Centreville

Heavy Lifting

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked why people might buy the big sport utility vehicles. I have a Cadillac Escalade, which is basically a Chevrolet Tahoe/Yukon Denali with Cadillac trim. I have a 24-foot trailer, which I use to haul a race car with all its spare parts, a workbench, extra tires, tools, a generator and compressor. I need a vehicle of my size to tow this.

My primary vehicle is a sports car. I couldn't have gotten by with an SUV that was smaller or lighter.

Ellen Aaron

Arlington

Cross-Country Treks

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have just finished reading the complaints about the monster SUVs, and your request from owners of these vehicles to explain their reasons for purchasing them. So here goes.

I bought a four-wheel-drive, diesel Suburban 2500 this year to replace my 1980 Ford Club Wagon, which had made 20 annual trips back and forth to British Columbia, racking up 284,000 miles in the process.

The Suburban presently rests in my garage, awaiting calls to make the trip to our cabin in Pennsylvania, to visit our daughter up in western New York, and to hit the road next summer to the Northwest.

We plan to use it there to explore some of the mountain trails that we have been hesitant to travel to.

So, as you can see, I did have a pretty valid reason for purchasing the Suburban. I cringe at the thought of having to park it in a parking garage, or even a supermarket space. As for parallel parking, forget it.

Arthur W. Alberg

Columbia

Safe and Secure

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We are the proud owners of two "behemoths", as you so lovingly called them: two GMC Suburbans. One is 12 years old and the other two years old.

We love them because they are multi-functional vehicles. They are also the only vehicles qualified to safely tow our large travel trailer.

We do not own the SUV for a status symbol. It is the family bus to sporting events and vacations. It is the transporter of plants, trees, flowers and lumber. It is the vehicle of choice for double and triple dates to the dinner theater, and during inclement weather.

We have difficulty parking them only because the owners of the mall parking lots have painted the spaces narrower and shorter to accommodate more vehicles, thus generating more revenue for the merchants.

Please rethink your dislike of them. Fire chiefs and advanced life support teams use them as their vehicle of choice, so they must be worthy vehicles!

P.A. Hart

Owings, Calvert County

King of the Road

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You have asked owners of large sport utility vehicles (Excursions, Expeditions, Suburbans) to write and tell you why we bought such things.

Two weeks ago, perhaps in a weak moment, I strode into my local Ford dealer and emerged the proud owner of that recently created bane of the eco-set, the King of the Road itself, the 7,500 pound, 19-foot-long Ford Excursion.

It is a truck and built like one, so it should last a long time and keep its value. Also, it really isn't so expensive--about the same as a medium-size BMW or a small Mercedes.

You get more capacity, too. You never know when you might want to tow some horses or a backhoe.

As for gas consumption, it should get about 15 miles per gallon on the open road. At that rate, for 12,000 miles a year, it will burn about $400 extra at the pump.

My 16-year-old daughter is already hitting me up to lend my new baby to her science class at school to tow their solar-powered car to a solar car race in Kansas City. This could be my contribution to the development of ecological transport. Isn't irony wonderful?

John Binkly

Potomac

Old Faithful

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We decided on a Suburban in 1984 because we needed a vehicle that was capable of transporting our family, dogs, gear and bicycles to and from our lengthy (four- to six-week) trips.

We also needed a car that would pull our boat, motor and trailer to and from various launching sites.

The Suburban has the capacity to haul two cellos, one violin and a trumpet, along with their musician owners, to and from youth symphony rehearsals and performances.

We have hauled as many as 30 large bags of mulch in the Suburban.

We moved our daughter in and out of dorm rooms every year for her four years of college, watching frustrated parents of other students trying to cram a year's worth of accumulated possessions into smaller vehicles. The Suburban had room to spare.

We moved that same daughter with her household furnishings to and from graduate school and, a year later, to Chicago, each time pulling a U-Haul over the mountains with nary a whimper from the faithful Suburban. Need I continue? This car is a gem!

We have found that it does indeed fit into most parking spaces and is no more trouble to parallel park than most autos.

Our Suburban cost $12,450 in 1984, and is nearly 16 years old. It still runs dependably and has needed nothing but routine maintenance. We hope to be driving this car proudly for many more years.

Christine Breedlove

Rockville

Original Soccer Parents

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We went with a Suburban because there was no other vehicle that could carry seven children and a driver in seat belts and still have room for their various sports equipment bags, rakes, shovels, chalk field markers, etc.

We were also looking for a four-wheel-drive vehicle that would travel in Washington's temperamental winter weather. (I am a nurse and need to get to work.)

Our children were active in sports and we often transported half the team. We were the original soccer, softball, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, field hockey parents.

Our Suburban has come in handy for us, friends and family who needed the ability to transport either lots of people or things, such as moving children into and out of college and into their own apartments.

Everyone has a reason they purchase the type vehicle they do. As long as everyone tries to be a courteous driver, and not be judgmental of others, we would all be better off.

Celia L. Henderson

Olney

Mass Transport

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You wanted to know why I bought my Ford Expedition?

(1) I have a daughter in college in Baltimore and found myself scared with all the trucks whizzing by me on Interstate 95.

(2) I have a daughter in high school who has to be taken all over the place with many of her friends. I was able to take four couples to homecoming, and I'm able to transport bass drums (they don't fit in just any vehicle).

(3) I like the looks of the Expedition.

P.S. When I go to Montgomery Mall, I park in the uncovered section, away from the other parkers, and at Safeway I park in back. I'm aware of smaller vehicles on the road and really try to be courteous at all times.

Janet Parrish

Darnestown

Remote Control

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We bought a Suburban because we go bicycling and canoeing in remote places and haul a lot of things between our house and the 36-foot boat we keep on the Chesapeake Bay.

I'm sorry that so many of your readers have hostile feelings toward SUVs. That wasn't apparent when I transported van loads of workers to and from Suburban Hospital during the blizzard of 1994, when only four-wheel-drive automobiles could navigate the streets.

Judith Engberg

Bethesda

Gee, you've got me almost convinced to run out and buy a Suburban. Your correspondence has made me realize this is a question of point of view. It's one thing to be safely looking over traffic from behind the wheel of a super-size SUV; it's another to look at SUVs from a normal car, say in your rearview mirror.

I still find the behemoths somewhat intimidating. Their front bumpers seem to be at head level. Their headlights, from behind and oncoming, are blinding. You can't see through or around the vehicles. They look like they could crush you in an instant's distraction. Some of them look mean.

The owners say the main reasons they have one is extra cargo capacity, and the safety that comes from operating a vehicle bigger and sturdier than others. The last point seems to lead to a leapfrog logic: the more Suburban/Expeditions that are on the road to provide greater safety over smaller cars, the more demand for even larger, heavier vehicles to be safer among the proliferating Suburban/Expeditions. Eventually you wind up with a tank. Army surplus, perhaps, refitted with tires (ammunition extra). The cost: just a little less than a mid-size Mercedes.

Thanks to all who wrote and shared views with us, and thanks for your consideration of others. Happy motoring!

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.