It's time for my first installment of Doug DeMuro: Safety Crusader, where I highlight all of today's pressing safety issues affecting you, a modern parent whose toddler spends each day discovering new and exciting ways to put himself in grave danger.
I haven't always been interested in safety. In fact, just a few short years ago, I owned a Lotus Elise, which is among the most dangerous cars manufactured in the modern era. Many people are surprised to discover how unsafe the Elise is, considering it shares its orange color with safety devices like the traffic cone. What they're forgetting is that it also shares the traffic cone's size.
Yes, the Elise can be pretty scary. You discover this every time you get inside one, when you go to give the door a nice, hearty tug, only to discover that a nice, hearty tug will detach the door from the car, pull it off its hinges, and send it flying into a field located somewhere in the American Midwest, where your toddler will find it and use it to put himself in grave danger. This happens because a Lotus Elise's door weighs about as much as a credit card, and you get the feeling it would provide similar protection in the event of a crash.
Unfortunately, things don't get much better once you're inside. Fire up the engine and you immediately realize that only two inches separate your head from camshafts, and cylinders, and manifolds, and various other extremely hot things that move incredibly fast. This isn't a problem in most mid-engine cars, but then you remember: those two inches were engineered by the British.
So then you get on the road and you're once again reminded of how fragile the Elise is when everything starts to squeak. Go over a bump? *Squeak!* Make a hard turn? *Squeak!* Park the car, turn it off, and walk into a store where you won't buy anything, because it's not like you could possibly fit it in your Elise? *Squeak!*
Of course, a lot of cars squeak. I once had a Volvo 850 Turbo, for instance, and it seemed like the factory's entire quality control process involved two Swedish kids jumping on the hood and trunk like inebriated Boston sports fans just to make sure the suspension squeaked enough. And believe me, it did.
But the Elise squeaks because it's primarily held together with epoxy, which is really just a fancy way of saying "glue." This means when you go to your Lotus dealer to complain that your Elise is squeaking too much, they consult Technical Service Bulletin 222-A, which states, and I am paraphrasing here: "Send the service department porter to Hobby Lobby for a little Elmer's."
So there are a lot of potentially unsafe things about the Elise. Those light doors. The epoxy-bonded chassis. The close proximity of the entire powertrain to your face.
But the most dangerous thing about the Elise? That would be lifted pickup trucks.
For those of you unfamiliar with lifted trucks, I must come right out and say: Ha ha ha! That's because you undoubtedly live in Europe, where you are subject to high taxes, tiny diesel hatchbacks, and that currency where you can spend your entire vacation budget in four days because it's easy to forget how much coins are worth. (I would never make this mistake, of course; I am way too intelligent. But I could see how it might happen, and on a completely unrelated note, I am very glad that Europe has a lot of ATMs.)
We Americans are very familiar with lifted pickup trucks, largely because we all know at least one person who has one. This is a person we would never invite to a party; a person whose lifted truck parked outside a restaurant we were considering would cause us to eat somewhere else. We don't like this person, but we know him, and we occasionally laugh about his Facebook statuses with our friends.
So why is a lifted pickup truck so dangerous? I'll tell you why.
Here's how it works: to create a lifted truck, you take a normal truck (which was developed for agricultural purposes but is now primarily used to see over minivans in traffic) and you put a "lift kit" on it. I am not an expert on lift kits, but based on my personal observation, they offer sizes like "six inches," or "eight inches," or "tall enough to provide storm shelter for a herd of Black Rhinoceros." That one's a big seller here in the South.
The result is simple: once the already-huge truck is lifted to an even huger height, it goes from "somewhat unsafe" to "incredibly scary." Not for the people in the truck, mind you. For the people in Lotus Elises, and – if the truck gets high enough – even for people in normal cars, whose head is now directly in line with the truck's front bumper.
When I worked at Porsche, German employees would visit and routinely muse at the height of these trucks. "Zis would never pass inspection in Germany!" they'd say. "How could zey ever be allowed to drive zese trucks?" (Note my liberal use of "z" instead of "th," which proves that I could not possibly be making up these German people.)
At this point, I would explain to my foreign colleagues that most US states don't have strict vehicle inspections. Yes, it's true that an automaker must sell a car with certain safety equipment by federal law – but then we, as Land-of-the-Free consumers, are allowed to a) immediately remove it, and b) lose it when it comes time to sell the car.
The result is that there are thousands of these lifted pickups cruising around with bumpers at eye-level for anyone driving a vehicle smaller than a midsize SUV. This is very dangerous, and I think you should send a letter about it to your Congressman, right after you get your toddler to stop sticking that fork in the electrical outlet.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.