Donald Trump Doesn't Know Shit About Cars

Right off the bat, I’d like to remind everybody that’s considering banging out angry emails about “politics” and “bias” that I’ve also written about how a prominent Democratic presidential candidate didn’t know shit about cars. I think it’s important to revisit the idea that powerful politicians don’t know shit about cars because, A. they don’t and 2., they make policies based on not knowing shit.


And, as President Donald Trump made very clear in a speech at his New Mexico rally last week—as his administration seeks to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency goals and revoke California’s ability to set its own emissions regulations—he doesn’t know jack shit about cars.

In case you’re not sure what I’m going on about, here’s the part in question, right at about 1:29:59:

Almost everything President Trump said there regarding cars and safety and fuel efficiency is absolutely, comprehensively wrong. Let’s just look at it in the written form:

“And we’re trying to do the same thing with cars. Cars have so much junk on them now to save a tiny little fraction of gasoline. They have so much junk that they’re less safe.

So, what I want to do is the following. Under our rules and regulations, the cars are environmentally terrific, but they’re safer and they’re $3,500 less to buy, right? And the reason they’re safer is because they could be a little bit heavier.

Makes sense, right? They could be a little bit heavier. I mean, they make them now like papier-mâché. Somebody touches them and the entire car collapses. When somebody hits me, I want to be in as close to an army tank as possible. No, they’re made out of papier-mâché. They weigh about three pounds and if you get hit by a bus, it’s over. They say, “What happened to that car?”

This backs up what the president said on Twitter last week—that cars have gotten somehow less safe in the name of fuel economy gains.


Okay, so, it looks as though Donald Trump’s last experience encountering a fuel-efficient car may have been a 1992 Geo Metro.


Sure, nearly 30 years ago, the most viable way to make a truly fuel-efficient car was to make a small, very light car that offered little in the way of comfort or safety, and probably would not fare great meeting with the aforementioned bus.


But three decades of automotive development, spurred in large part by the increasingly demanding regulations for safety and efficiency, had paid off in some really dramatic ways, as modern cars are, pretty much without exception, safer, more comfortable, and better on gas than ever before.

Trump’s statement that “Cars have so much junk on them now to save a tiny little fraction of gasoline. They have so much junk that they’re less safe” is absolute, unmitigated bullshit. These are the words of a man who’s less informed about the current state of automobiles than your average cantaloupe.


I mean, yes, it’s true cars have a lot of equipment—sorry, “junk”—on them to help fuel efficiency, like ECUs and direct injection systems and exhaust gas recirculators and other equipment, but these same bits of junk also can help improve performance and it would actually be more expensive to re-engineer drivetrains to be less efficient, even if you wanted to. (He is right that cars have become more expensive, in part due to new technologies, but those technologies have not made cars less safe. The opposite is in fact true.)

Well, I suppose carmakers could re-introduce carbureted engines that would be cheap as hell, but is that how we really want to go? I have several carbureted cars, and I can pretty much assure you that, no, you do not want that.


Now, I’m guessing Trump isn’t actually proposing going back that far, though, to be fair, how the hell else are you going to slash $3,500 from the cost of a new car without sacrificing anything else?

I’m not saying our efficiency standards don’t add to the cost of new cars—they do, but what they do add is more than offset by what you save buying gas. Studies have shown that per-vehicle costs to meet the upcoming 2025 standards would be about $800 to $1,115, with an overall savings of $1,650 on fuel.


Even Forbes, hardly a cabal of commies, have questioned just what the hell the Trump administration is thinking with all of this.

Cars today—regardless of size or any level of “junk” they may have on them to improve MPGs, whatever the hell that means—are safer than they have ever been, no question whatsoever.


An NHTSA study from April of 2018 found that 55 percent of occupants in a car from 1984 or earlier involved in a fatal wreck between 2012 and 2016 were killed; in a car from 2013 on, that percentage goes down to 26. That’s amazing. Physics didn’t change; cars did.

Also, Trump’s assertion that “...they make them now like papier-mâché. Somebody touches them and the entire car collapses...” is moment-just-after-you’ve-been-smacked-with-a-2x4 level of idiocy, since that in no way whatsoever is true of any modern car.


Hell, the current NHTSA itself doesn’t believe this, and said so very clearly in June, in a testimony before Congress on fuel economy standards, where NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King stated:

“The fundamental principles remain: Newer cars are safer and cleaner than older cars. Consumers are more likely to upgrade to newer, cleaner, safer cars if costly regulations don’t raise the price beyond consumers’ means.”


And keep in mind, this was stated in defense of the proposed SAFE Vehicles Rule proposed by this administration. Nobody is saying, other than the President, publicly, that modern fuel-efficient cars are unsafe.

Also, the idea that a heavier car is always safer is rich, creamery bullshit as well. Just having a heavier car doesn’t mean it’s safer at all. I’m guessing many of you have already seen this video of a roughly 3,700-pound 1959 Chevy Bel Air being crash-tested into a 3,400-pound 2009 Chevy Malibu, right?

Those extra 300 or so pounds sure didn’t help out that Bel Air, did it? In such a wreck the folks stuck in that boring-ass Malibu would still be alive, while the Bel Air crew would have died as they lived: in style.


And that was a decade ago. Imagine how a new Chevrolet would fare against a Bel Air.

Heavier does not always equate to safer. And, you know what, even if it did, Trump would be still woefully misguided, because modern cars are heavy as shit. I wish you could accurately exaggerate and say modern cars were “about three pounds” but that is in no way true. If cars are loaded up with any kind of “junk” that Trump laments, it’s safety junk, which is why even a small car like a Toyota Corolla weighs almost 3,000 pounds.


And, if you really want to talk about the relationship between fuel economy and weight, thanks to hybrid vehicles, light weight does not always mean better MPGs anymore, because batteries are heavy as hell.

Take the current 2020 Toyota Prius, for example, which gets 52 MPG city, much better than the old Geo Metro’s 41 MPG. That old Metro weighed only around 1,600 pounds—the Prius weighs 3,075, close to twice as much, and more than what, say, a mid-sized 1976 Ford Maverick weighed (2,909).


Full electric cars are even heavier; a Tesla Model 3 can weigh up to 4,072 pounds, more than what a full-size 2005 Cadillac Sedan DeVille weighed.

If anything, fuel economy and safety advances have been making cars heavier, not lighter. And as far as that idea that cars would be $3,500 cheaper if they were somehow less fuel efficient and even heavier? I have no idea where he pulled that number from, though his own rectum is one of the more plausible options.


Everything Trump said about cars at that rally is a steaming pile of horseshit. Not one bit of it is true. And, with these ideas in his head, he’s seeking to get rid of California’s emissions standards and roll back fuel economy standards, and it’s all based on a mix of vitriol and ideas like this:


Engines would run... smoother? What the hell is he talking about?

The only possible effect this could actually have on the cars produced by American automakers it to make them far less competitive—or perhaps even sellable at all—in other markets. Any export sales of American cars that no longer have to meet fuel economy or emission standards would be destroyed, because other countries do not want thirsty cars that don’t meet their air-quality standards.


Or, even if they do, they’ll just get something cool like an old Comet or GTO or Javelin or something.

America’s automakers, who arguably know a good bit more about automotive engineering than the entire current administration even if you gave them a stack of Haynes manuals, understand that having one national standard to meet makes the most sense, and have nearly all sided with California and against the President’s proposed policies of less efficient, heavy-ass cars that are, somehow, a mythical three grand cheaper.


As car drivers, users, lovers, and gearheads, we have to remain vigilant when it comes to how the leaders of our country will legislate how and what we can drive. If the President demonstrates as much willful and lavish ignorance about the fundamentals of how cars work and the current state of modern automobiles, we need to call that out, and be sure that policies are not made based on a nauseating cocktail of ignorance and stupidity.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)