Cars seem to be getting bigger and heavier each year. As cars get bigger and heavier, they tend to get longer as well. Car length affects many of a vehicle’s attributes, such as storage capacity and handling dynamics.
There are many factors that affect a country’s average car length such as road conditions, average family size, marketing, government regulations, and culture. Here are some average car lengths you can expect to find in different parts of the world. This article also attempts to break down possible reasons behind some of those variances.
Does Length Matter?
Vehicle length has a major impact on vehicle dynamics. In other words, it changes the way the car handles. This is mostly due to the length of the wheelbase, or the distance between the front and rear wheels.
What is the Average Car Length?
The average car length is not a statistic that is publicly reported by any government agency or company within the automotive industry. Across the internet, the generally accepted average car length is somewhere between 14 and 15 feet (4.25-4.5 meters). This is assumed to be the global average since this length is not qualified by location, and no sources for the original data set could be found.
Most compact sedans sold within the past five years are just over 15 feet long (4.5 meters). Even the Toyota Prius is over 15 feet long. For reference, a 2023 Toyota Camry is 16 feet long and a 2023 Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV is 15 feet long.
Anecdotally, the average car length varies depending on which country you visit. Countries with wider roads or less public transportation tend to have longer and larger vehicles. The United States is a great example. Expect the average car length in the United States to be substantially longer than 15 feet, where SUVs and trucks are ubiquitous.
Countries with narrow roads, smaller families, better public transportation, and higher fuel prices tend to have shorter, more fuel efficient vehicles. Many European countries match this description.
Pros of a Long Vehicle
1) Straight Line Stability
Vehicles with a longer wheelbase tend to have a bit more stability in a straight line. This is why longer pickup trucks tend to be more stable while towing a heavy load.
2) More Cargo Space
Longer vehicles also typically allow for more cargo space. This is particularly true of SUVs and minivans, which are longer vehicles with ample interior cargo space for most consumer use cases.
3) More Controlled Slides (Sometimes)
If the vehicle is prone to oversteer (like some rear wheel drive vehicles are), the rear end of a longer vehicle will typically come around slower, giving the driver more time to react to the slide.
The ease at which a driver can correct a slide depends on many factors. The driver’s skill is the most important factor, followed by suspension and alignment setup, wheelbase length, road conditions, and tire compound.
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Cons of a Long Vehicle
1) Sluggish Handling
Vehicles with longer wheelbases are not as nimble, which means they are slower to respond to steering inputs to change their direction.
2) Harder to Park
Longer vehicles are also harder to park, particularly for less experienced drivers. This issue is exacerbated if the vehicle lacks a backup camera. Backup cameras were not mandated on cars in the United States until May 1, 2018.
3) Larger Blind Spots
Long vehicles need wider mirrors to cover their blind spots. Some vehicles are long enough to need special mirrors just to see the entire vehicle. This is one reason many truck owners choose to purchase tow mirrors when they buy a truck that does a lot of heavy duty towing.
4) Less Fuel Efficient
A larger, heavier vehicle will be less fuel efficient. It takes more energy to move a heavier object; no amount of clever engineering can outrun the laws of physics.
One reason large vehicles tend to be much less efficient is their shape. Large SUVs and trucks are not particularly aerodynamic. More fuel is required to overcome the drag from the large, boxy shape.
5) More Expensive to Own
Longer vehicles are more expensive to own for many reasons, fuel economy being one of them. The sheer cost of materials to build a larger vehicle is a major factor in the ownership costs. With this comes a higher insurance premium.
Parts are larger and fluid capacities are greater, which means you pay more each time you need to bring the vehicle in for service. This adds up fairly quickly over time. It’s not particularly cost effective to drive a large vehicle if you don’t truly need one.
Why Are American Cars So Long?
There are several regulations in America that allow exemptions to fuel economy standards for trucks and SUVs. This encourages vehicle manufacturers to market and sell more trucks in the United States in order to save money.
The following are a few examples of regulations that impact the production of United States Domestic Market (USDM) vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a set of regulations called Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. CAFE standards say how far a car must travel on a gallon of fuel. The consequence of exceeding the CAFE standard is a fine for the vehicle manufacturer.
In order to comply with CAFE standards, a vehicle manufacturer must maintain an average EPA fuel economy across their lineup. As of 2020, the current corporate average fuel economy in America is 42.4 mpg for domestic cars, 44 mpg for imports. Light trucks are not required to meet a fuel economy standard.
For more information about CAFE standards, the NHSTA releases public reports that allow anyone to review the performance of a given vehicle manufacturer.
Gas Guzzler Tax
The Gas Guzzler Tax was introduced in 1978 (during the 1970s energy crisis) to discourage the production of inefficient vehicles. This tax applies to passenger cars that fall below a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 22.5 miles per gallon.
This tax only applies to cars. Trucks, SUVs, and minivans are exempt from the gas guzzler tax.
New Regulations for Trucks and SUVs
Although trucks and SUVs have historically been exempt from fuel economy standards, the laws are changing. In 2020, a new bill was issued that supplements the CAFE standards called the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule.
Light and medium-duty trucks are included in this bill, although heavy duty trucks are still exempt. According to the bill, any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 lbs. or less will be included.
A Chevrolet Silverado 3500 can be ordered with a GVWR of 11,500 lbs., so some very large consumer trucks are still exempt. Typically, you only need a truck this large if you are towing heavy vehicles or fifth wheel trailers.
The search for a definitive average car length has been inconclusive. However, you can still get a feel for how your car measures up against the rest using a handy website called carsized.com. This website uses photos of cars taken across the world to compare different vehicles side by side.
Using this website, it is easy to see that even smaller compact cars made within the past 5 years tend to exceed the “average” of 15 ft. As SUVs and trucks rise in popularity across the world, the average vehicle length increases.
When you purchase a new vehicle, ask yourself if a longer vehicle is truly necessary. Many longer vehicles are more expensive to own and less efficient to operate. They have a larger carbon footprint and are less safe for pedestrians and people with smaller cars.
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