The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Why Do Americans Insist On Having Such Large Engines?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Great news! Another week has passed, and Friday is once again upon us – and as many of you well know, that means precisely one thing: if you practice Orthodox Judaism, you are not allowed to operate an automobile after sundown.

But that's not all! Friday is also an exciting time for Jalopnik readers, because it means that Letters to Doug (Letters for Doug?) has returned, ready to answer the latest difficult, exciting, challenging automotive question. I received a record number of letters and Tweets this week, and while I can only print one, I must say that virtually all of them were good, except the guy who asked about how long he has left on his Subaru head gaskets. Newsflash, sir: it will all be over soon.


And remember: if you want to have your letter featured here, just send me an e-mail at, or Tweet me at @DougDeMuro. Names will be changed to protect the letter-writer, such as "Steven," who sends today's letter from the British Isles:

Dear Doug,

As someone in England reading your blog (which is hilarious by the way) I keep coming across complaints about "Tiny European diesel cars" with ONLY 2 Litre engines ‎.

The Mercedes S-Class for example (I know it's not a tiny diesel but still)

‎In the US you can have the S550, S600, S63 and the S65. None are Diesel.

But in England we get the S300 and the S350 which are diesel. The S400 Hybrid, and the S500 Hybrid as well as the ones in the US which are all petrol.

You've mentioned before that Americans don't want to drive slow cars the "only" do 0-60 in 10 seconds, but let's face it who really takes their car to the max on an on ramp anyway.

1-2.5 Litre engines are are probably the most common in England, but Americans appear to scoff at anything less than 3.

Why is it that you won't drive small engined cars in America?

Thanks if you answer this,


P.s - your book isn't sold in England so I had too download it on iBooks looking like a total Douche reading a book on my iPad - it was worth it though


For those of you who cannot understand Steven's question due to his British accent, allow me to sum it up: he's asking why we, as Americans, refuse to drive tiny little cars with 37-horsepower 1.3-liter diesels like they have in Europe.

And I admit, Steven makes an interesting point, because the thing they have in Europe is fuel economy. I have been to Europe several times, and while I routinely bemoan the fact that my rental car over there is always some sort of fax-machine-sized hatchback with a motor sourced from a paper shredder, I must admit that I often see fuel economy numbers as high as 347 grams per centimeter, which is the method of fuel consumption they use in Europe. (See? You've learned something today!)

So it only stands to reason that we, as Americans, would want vehicles like this, because we are obsessed with fuel economy, and the environment, and saving the planet, and helping the rainforests, provided that it means we don't have to curtail our shower usage.

But when it comes to automobiles, Americans aren't so quick to embrace the small and fuel-efficient – and, Steven, I can tell you right now there are precisely two reasons why this is.


NUMBER ONE: Gas here is really cheap. Over in Europe, they have free health insurance, and free maternity leave, and free welfare, and free bicycle lanes, and free cake on your birthday, and in the Netherlands they even have free windmills that generate free wind. But how do they pay for all this freedom? Yes, that's right: with gasoline taxes. (I think that's true, anyway.) Gas is insanely expensive in Europe. Ridiculously expensive. It's not uncommon for a European to pull up to a gas station and think: Do I want to buy gas today? Or purchase a home?

Whereas in the United States, gas costs very little by comparison. Oh, sure, everyone always pisses and moans when it goes up to four bucks a gallon, but the truth is that relative to the Europeans, we could all be driving around in full-size U-Haul vans and we'd still be coming out ahead. So when we consider cars, we don't think: Should I get the 86-horsepower version that does 0-to-60 in 19 seconds? No way. We're red-blooded Americans, and we want to go fast, and have fun, and drive something exciting, so instead, we think: Is there an 84-month loan available?


But there's another factor at play here, namely: we drive everywhere. Now, I don't mean to knock the Europeans here, but what I have noticed – after several years of closely observing European behavior, in the sense that sometimes I stare at attractive European women when I'm on vacation – is that Europeans don't drive all that much.

To illustrate my point, allow me to explain two different methods of travelling to New York City from my residence in Philadelphia, which is about an hour and a half away.


HOW A EUROPEAN WOULD REACH NEW YORK CITY: He or she would take the train, and spend the journey quietly reading a book or magazine.

HOW I WOULD REACH NEW YORK CITY: I would drive as fast as I possibly could in my gas-guzzling SUV, taking great care to flash my lights at people from Maryland who hog the left lane on the New Jersey Turnpike, until I arrived in Manhattan, at which point myself and my vehicle would take up far more space than I am entitled. I would also occasionally honk at pedestrians.


What I am trying to say here is that Europeans take public transportation everywhere, which means they don't have as much need for a car as Americans do. When you're in Europe, you get the sense that there is a train or a bus that goes to every possible destination you can think of, including your bathroom. So you buy the cheapest car you can, with the smallest, most fuel-efficient engine, to be used on the days when the train people are on strike because the government is trying to take away their free massages.

And so, Steven, that's your answer: Gas is cheaper in the States, which gives us less incentive to buy cheap, diesel-powered cars. And we drive more frequently – and longer distances – than Europeans, which means we want more gadgets, and more toys, and more size in order to get our money's worth behind the wheel. And I know it sounds surprising, but I promise you this: if you were one of us, you'd do it too.


@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. 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.