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Great, So How Can We Ground Them Now?

February 20, 2012
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"If this isn't treasonous, it's the next-closest thing." - Editorial writer Dale McFeatters, Jan. 14, 2012

Ya might wanna sit down for this. Grab a couple of aspirin before you do.

Young Americans are just not that interested in driving and even less in cars.

Story after story – from the Wall Street Journal to the BBC – have been published and broadcast about this strangest of strange phenomenon. And no one seems to have a handle on why Johnny and Judy just don’t care.

And the problem is coming on multiple fronts: far fewer 16-year-olds than ever before are getting their driver’s licenses, and fewer 16-to-24-year-olds are interested in even owning a car.


SEMA’s Consumer Demand Index picked up the first hint of this now full-blown panic back in April 2010 (which we reported on in June 2010). The CDI, which tracks the performance product/accessory buying intentions of American drivers, showed that 18-24-year-olds were walking away from performance accessories, wheels, even tires as aftermarket enhancements to their cars.

OK, it’s one thing to maybe not spend money tricking out your ride, but to take a pass on that most “rite of passage” life-events? Unfathomable! But true.

According to research by the University of Michigan, fewer than a third of all eligible 16-year-olds had their driver’s license in 2008. Compare that to a solid 50% of those of-age teens just 25 years prior.

And it gets worse. The same 2011 study showed that less than 66% of eligible 18-year-olds held driver’s licenses, compared to 80% in 1983.

No doubt that the crushing recession and higher-than-high gas prices have caused a lot of Americans to drive less. But for teens, that driver’s license is less about operating a car than it is about having that first taste of parent-free living.

So why the change in attitude?

Well, it seems everyone sees the problem, but no one is offering THE answer.

Could be the cost of driving – gas, insurance, maintenance – are keeping teens away.

Perhaps because teens are among the most under-employed age group in the country. Less bucks to go toward driving, let alone car ownership.

Might be parents making family-budget reductions because of cost and/or un-/under-employment.

Apparently some states have made it harder for teens to even get licenses, but that has to be a small group.

Younger people today are a lot less about having/owning stuff than prior generations. They want nice things, but not as many – and not those that are seen as “too expensive.”

Certainly one could see that other expenditures – particularly with smartphones and other entertainment devices – rate higher today vs. the all-American car.

Whatever “it” is, carmakers are freaking. GM – once considered the stodgiest of the stodgy – has hired a 31-year-old marketing executive from Procter & Gamble (ever hear of that company before?) and anointed him as its “youth emissary.” His task is to suss out why America’s youth are bypassing car ownership, and recommend ways to recapture their interest.

While a lot of young people seriously question whether they even want to own a vehicle, GM’s youth guru surveyed more than 9,000 16-to-30-year-olds about cars and driving and their lives. While still uncommitted to buying, this group would “strongly consider” vehicles that are affordable, safe, environmentally friendly, and compatible with the latest technologies (ie, smartphones, media players, even laptops).

“What’s the matter with these kids?” wrote Scripps Howard editorial writer Dale McFeatters in January. “Getting one’s learner’s permit used to be a life landmark along with going to college, getting married, having a baby and receiving that first Social Security check. Earlier generations are appalled.

“Cars aren’t so much disdained as ignored by a generation that stays indoors, connects with each other through social media and gravitates to cities with good public transportation.”

* * * * * * * *

Those funny guys ‘Click & Clack’ are at it again, showing their lack of tire-knowledge.

Or perhaps they know more than we might credit.

Brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi tackled a reader question about tire aging. Specifically, the reader just bought a new Jeep and read in the owner’s manual that, “all tires, including the spare, should be replaced after six years, regardless of condition or usage, to avoid a sudden failure during use.”

The reader continued: “I don’t remember seeing this recommendation before. The spare in my last Jeep is now more than 10 years old. Should I replace it? What is the reasoning behind this recommendation?  

The answer given was actually quite reasoned, given that the tire-aging question is now more of a PR issue than one of science. Of course, they couldn’t answer without trying to be funny; humor, they should know, is hard.

“Tom: What’s the reasoning? Well, the Goodyear pension plan is seriously underfunded.

“Ray: Actually, it’s about the deterioration of the rubber, Eric. If you take a rubber band and toss it in your kitchen drawer, when you go to stretch it a year later, what happens? It’s all dried out, and it breaks.

“Tom: There’s a similar, though much slower, process happening with your tires. Over time, the ozone in the air degrades rubber. Just from being in Earth’s atmosphere, tires dry out, crack and, eventually, fail to hold air.

“Ray: So how’d they come up with the six-year time frame? Well, it’s somewhat arbitrary. They looked at a number of factors: the rate at which rubber decays, how the average person cares for his or her tires, the real-life data on tire failure and the tire sales numbers for Q4. They put it all together, and they came up with a guess of six years.

“Tom: So, it’s a guess. Your tires may last longer or may fail sooner. But it’s a reasonable guess that errs on the side of safety. And in reality, most tires have their tread used up in less than six years anyway. So it’s only an issue for people who don’t drive much and for spare tires that don’t get rotated into the mix.

“Ray: You may have a little more leeway with your spare, since you’re not actually driving on it every day. But in an emergency, if you were forced to use it, you’d have to drive slowly and carefully, and then replace it as soon as possible. If it were me, I’d replace a spare that’s 10 years old.

“Tom: And speaking of replacement tires, you now have one more thing to think about at the tire store. Like bread and milk, you now have to make sure your tires are ‘fresh.’

“Ray: Right. If tire manufacturers are telling us that tires have a six-year shelf life, regardless of use, then you don’t want to buy tires that have already wasted a year of their useful life stacked up in a retailer’s showroom or an overheated storage trailer.

“Tom: How do you know when your tires were made? It’s on the tire. One of the numbers printed on the sidewall is a four-digit number, like 1711. That means the tire was made in the 17th week of 2011. Now, wouldn’t it be easier if they took a lesson from milk and printed an ‘expiration date’?”