Driving an unrated / poorly rated car in the city only

But if I owned just a cheap hatchback, I would happily drive it in the city and rent a 5-star rated car for my road-trip holidays.

Simple question, although it might have complicated responses!

Going for what might be the unpopular opinion here = I have voted yes, but purely for the city only.

Reasons:

  • I already do so with my 1997 Jeep which is a favourite for city driving. But I have strictly stopped highway runs with it due to its age & lack of safety. Even otherwise, the new rule in our family is that only the 2 German sedans go out on the highway. Jeep & Sunny = purely Bombay usage.
  • Many of my family members do so as well. We have a couple of cheap Marutis & Hyundais doing duty as urban runners. A close pal uses the Seltos and I recently told her “go easy, and take your VW for highway runs”.
  • I also use Uber & Ola all the time. In fact, during a working day if I have to step out for a meeting or similar, it is always an Uber / Ola so that I can work during the commute + no parking worries (I cannot park my 5-Series / open Jeep / brand new Superb just anywhere). I buckle up even on the back seat and keep a close eye on the driver’s speed & quality of driving, but I’m not going to stop taking Uber / Ola cabs because their entire fleet has unrated / poorly rated cars.
  • On Indian roads, the bigger you are, generally the safer you are. An unrated economy hatchback is still 50 times safer than a motorcycle. On a related note, I recall a BHPian calling a 0-star car a death-trap. Said BHPian rides a motorcycle everyday too. Go figure. If that 0-star car is a death-trap, IMHO, that motorcycle is a moving coffin!
  • I’m a big believer of cheap + fun cars and I’ll never buy a car with a lame engine. Some of the hatchbacks with the best engines are either not crash tested, or fared poorly. Example = S-Presso & i10 turbo-petrol. The ugly duckling S-Presso is one heck of a fun car in the city, while the space + tall seating make it practical too. Very few cars are fun + safe + affordable like the Polo TSI or Altroz Diesel. This triple combination is rare.
  • The biggest contributor to safety is that nut behind the steering wheel. Being a great, safe driver is as important – if not more than – your car’s safety rating (check out one of our many threads with invaluable driving advice). For a Mumbai-Goa drive, if you gave me the option of riding shotgun in a Benz by an ordinary driver or a Scorpio by SS-Traveller, I would most definitely choose the latter.
  • Due to inherently lower speeds + more discipline + closer hospitals, city driving is far safer than highway driving (2/3rds of all road accident deaths are on the highway). More so if you’re in a car (2-wheelers & pedestrians account for a majority of road accident deaths). 2019 stats show that 17% of road accident deaths were for occupants of a car / Jeep / taxi and remember, a majority of those were on the highway. Going by the stats, city driving in a car accounts for a small percentage of fatal accidents (for the car’s occupants). My anecdotal evidence tells me that 99% of those who I personally knew and were fatally / seriously injured in a crash were on the highway and / or on a motorcycle.

I am lucky enough to own multiple cars, 2 of which are absolutely top-of-the-line when it comes to safety. But if I owned just a cheap hatchback, I would happily drive it in the city and rent a 5-star rated car for my road-trip holidays. There are so many well-priced self-drive rentals available now.

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