The School Run : What car?

monster truck

Its September and the children have gone back to school!

With my newly won free time, I’ve been doing the school run.  I cycled with our 8 year old to the local primary school last week and was struck by the cars and the congestion at the school gate.  It was a bit like someone had arranged a  Monster Truck / SUV show without first putting up posters.

Now don’t get me wrong,  I’m all in favour of Formula 1 Grand Prix, Drag Racing and the Indianapolis 500.  I just question whether its necessary to recreate this vibe in residential streets full of school children?

Here in the London commuter belt, many parents seem to think that children can not walk or cycle to school and should instead be encased in a motorised 2 tonne steel cage.  This is strange.  I walked or cycled the mile or so to my school every day as a child in the early 80s.  As far as I can tell, England has got no more dangerous since then, despite the alarmist rubbish the media try to scare us with.

I think the climate of fear generated by the media has an impact. This may be why some parents seem to think that kids must travel in a motorised cavalcade like they are the President and the threat level is delta tango Red.  The only other reason I can think of status, which seems like a poor reason to me.

I understand that no one wants to take risks with their children.  But risk is inherent to life. Whether they like it or not, the SUV brigade are taking risks with their children. Its just that the risks are less obvious.

What about the health risks for children who grow up getting no exercise? What about the risks of growing up as lazy, spoilt consumer suckers?  This stuff matters because we often end up unconsciously mimicking what our parents did, over the course of our lifetime.

When we have children, we fall in love with them.  From then on, we are always emotionally vulnerable.   The instinct to protect our children from danger (and ourselves from remorse) is powerful and primal.

Human nature has not changed but our society has, becoming far more safe, affluent and convenient than our ancestors could have imagined. We now need to make rational decisions about how we and our children can get exercise, fresh air and independence in our incredibly safe lives.

The emotional desire to protect children at all costs can lead to unanticipated consequences, including obesity and an arms race where parents feel they have to drive children everywhere because everyone else is and the roads are full of stressed parents in SUVs.

So the questions should be: Why can’t children walk to school?  And if the school really is too far to walk, what are our options?

1. Bike

father cycling
On your bike…

Price: approx £50 – £500

Top Speed: 40 mph

Intimidation factor: 1/10

Bling factor: 1/10

The Escape Artist’s verdict: Bikes are as cheap as chips, environmentally friendly, create no congestion and deliver incredible health benefits. Bikes are not dangerous.  They are way more fun than driving over short distances (less than 10miles).

Bikes are not just for kids. I always find it odd how many people worry about getting older but then address this concern by buying anti-ageing cream or beer to give themselves a temporary but self-delusional mood boost. If you are worried about getting older, riding a bike would be a good place to start. The physical benefits are great (cardio fitness, better legs, eat as much as you like) but its a mindset thing as well.  Riding a bike means not allowing yourself to atrophy over time.

Mr Money Mustache has an interesting theory which is that if the bike had been invented after cars then it would be more obvious what an improvement it is over them.  Bikes would then have seemed like the latest, must have lifestyle gizmo rather than something to be ditched as soon as we got rich enough to afford a car.   Actually its difficult to improve on what MMM has already said on the subject of bikes here and here.

2. Skoda Fabia

Babe transporter
83.1 mpg

Price: £9,945 – £15,700 (new)

Top Speed: 117 mph

Intimidation factor: 2/10

Bling factor: 2/10

The Escape Artist’s verdict: The Skoda Fabia does the job of delivering the kids to school surprisingly well.  It can carry four children. Its reliable and starts when you turn the key.  It can be bought second hand for a few thousand pounds.  Generally the previous owner is likely to have used it as a motorised shopping trolley and not for doughnuts in the pub car park. As a result, they tend to be in good condition.

Fuel efficiency is excellent. The combined cycle efficiency of the Fabia Greenline is 83.1 miles per gallon.  For those seeking financial independence, this matters.

The Fabia can struggle when fording huge flooded rivers and scaling 45% degree ice-covered mountain slopes.  This may be a problem in the Rockies. Here in the Surrey suburbs, its fine.

3. Volvo XC-90

Safe choice?

Price: £37,115 – £45,715

Top Speed: 140 mph

Intimidation factor: 5/10

Bling factor: 6/10

The Volvo XC90 is a mid-size luxury crossover SUV produced by Volvo Cars since it was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show 2002.  The XC90 combines car-like dynamics, MPV practicality, and tough off-road capability under one roof, plus the safety values that are synonymous with the Volvo brand.

The Escape Artist’s verdict:  Volvo owners are often thought to be concerned with safety.  I think this is partly true. From what I have seen, many Volvo SUV drivers are very concerned with their own safety. Everyone else’s, not so much.  If they cared about everyone else’s safety, they maybe wouldn’t drive round at up to 140mph in something that weighs about a tonne more than necessary, with a stopping distance like an oil tanker.

Running costs are high and the combined cycle economy is only 34 miles per gallon

4. Porsche Cayenne


Price: £47,930 – £108,929

Top Speed: 173mph

Intimidation factor: 6/10

Bling factor: 8/10

The Porsche Cayenne is a luxury crossover SUV manufactured by Porsche since 2002.

Even the ‘entry-level’ model has a 295bhp 3.6-litre V6, while the S model has a 395bhp 4.8-litre V8. The Turbo version raises power to a staggering 493bhp and boasts a 0-62mph time of just 4.7 seconds. For diesel buyers there’s a 242bhp 3.0-litre V6, and a storming 377bhp 4.2-litre V8.

The Escape Artist’s verdict: Lets be honest, this is not the most economic choice. Fuel efficiency is poor: the petrol V6 gets only an average of 25.2mpg.  However, the Porsche Cayenne really delivers in the bling department.  If you want to spend £100k on a large shiny metal box with a picture of a horse on the front, this could be perfect for you.

5. Humvee

Enhanced visibility and safety…

Price: Unarmored: $65,000 Armored: $140,000

Top Speed: 70mph

Intimidation factor: 8/10

Bling factor: 5/10

The Escape Artist’s verdict:   Without aircon, CD player and leather seats, the Humvee’s interior can seem a little spartan in comparison with the Volvo and the Porsche.

On the positive side however, Humvees usually hold up well against lateral rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attacks, when the blast is distributed in all different directions. Unfortunately they offer less protection from blast below the truck, such as buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and land mines.

Fortunately, available armour upgrade kits include the Armor Survivability Kit (ASK), the FRAG 5 & 6 and the M1151. The ASK adds about 450 kg to the weight of the vehicle.  These armour upgrades can make the Humvee somewhat thirsty in its fuel consumption and the steering rather heavy when reversing into those tricky parking spaces.  But if you really want to show the other parents at the school gate that you are serious about your child’s safety, the extra $75,000 could be a price worth paying.

6. Apache attack helicopter gunship

I am not impressed by your handbag

Price: £35,000,000

Top Speed: 205mph

Intimidation factor: 10/10

Bling factor: 8/10

The Boeing AH-64 Apache is a four-blade, twin-engine attack helicopter with a tailwheel-type landing gear arrangement, and a tandem cockpit for a two-person crew.  The Apache’s mix of armaments includes: 16 x Hellfire missiles, 76 x 2.75 CRV-7 rockets, 4 x air-to-air missiles rockets, a 30mm chain machine gun with 1,200 rounds, as well as a state of the art, fully integrated, threat identification system.

The Escape Artist’s verdict:   The Apache attack helicopter features a nose-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems.  It can classify, prioritise and eliminate up to 256 potential targets in seconds.  For those times when only the best will do for your children.

Which would you choose?

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  1. One of the most important things I have learnt about achieving FI, is that where you live is absolutely crucial to accelerating the process towards FI. Unfortunately coming from the Midlands and getting my first job in the SE I got sucked into the London scene. Now my kids (born in Hillingdon, west london) don’t want to leave and have also been sucked into the London vortex and high cost of living. MMM has written many posts on this. If I was advising anyone today, I would say choose your roots carefully, is it close to your work, is there a primary and secondary school down the road, is the housing relatively cheap?

  2. Good timing. I’ve been penning a car related post after a week that has involved more than one trip to the garage!

    Surprised you left out a scooter/motorbike. I spent a good few years commuting by scooter. It’s cheap, quick, good fun (except in the rain) and surely would get your kids some kudos on the playground?!

    1. UTMT – its funny you mention scooters, I’ve always thought they looked fun. I’m not sure its suitable for the school run but I plan to investigate this transport option further in future

  3. I’ve just spent the last week working my way through every post you’ve written and this was the last one.
    Fucking awesome.
    The helicopter gunship at the end was a nice touch 🙂
    I love your blog and writing style. I think it sits really nicely alongside Monevator – similar but different.
    I’ve subscribed and am looking forward to all the future posts, they will definitely help brighten up my days in the Prison Camp while I strive towards FI.


    1. Chris – Great feedback, thank you. Pay it forward and tell a friend!

      Also feel free to let me know if you have any themes / subjects you’d like covered in future posts…

  4. Am spreading the word already!
    I will email you a few thoughts on things I’d be interested to hear your take on, along with a password request so I can have a nose at your positions

  5. This is a great post and I absolutely agree about the dangers to which parents are subjecting their kids by driving them to school (leaving aside the fact that my own bus journey into work takes 30 mins more during term time because of the unnecessary ferrying of able-bodied kids clogging up the roads).

    I was a little sceptical of your “bikes are safe” stance until at looked at the MMM reference because I do see some kids careering along in heavy traffic, no helmet and no evidence of any road sense and it makes me shudder. A more “cycle friendly” attitude from drivers and more cycle routes would have had to be in place before I would have been happy with my kids cycling to school (they walked).

    btw I notice that you don’t have a bus anywhere on your list of options. Where would you put it? Not many kudos like UTMT’s scooter but you get to chat with (shout and scream at) your friends on the way and catch up with your homework on your knee (if needs be) 🙂

    1. Cerridwen – thanks! – I will return to the subject of transport in a future post that takes in trains, planes and buses as well. You are right to pick up on the social aspect of public transport. I still have fond memories of a train journey to the south of France that had a disco carriage. I also know a couple of people that met their future wives on trains….you don’t get that walled off from the world in your Volvo

  6. Very good! One question tho’ : Why does a basic car need a top speed of 117mph?
    Years ago 75mph was adequate.
    I find that many things that are today regarded as ‘basic’ would have been more than luxury when I started work.

    1. Carl – thanks! Luxury is indeed in the eye of the beholder. But I don’t quite agree with the phrasing of your question as new(ish) Skodas are not at all basic. I started at 17 with an ancient (1974 vintage) Mark I Ford Escort made with attitude in Dagenham, painted in metallic fern green to cover the rust steel bodywork. Once you’ve acclimatised to that….EVERY car afterwards is a luxury….

  7. Dear Escape Artist, This is an old post but I had to write because I agree and am astounded so few British parents seem to get this. Some years ago moved down the road from the local primary school in beautiful Claygate, by Esher, in the summertime, congratulating ourselves on our kids’ easy stroll to school. We didn’t realize it would be impossible for us to EVER use the road within an hour of drop-off and pick-up times, because it was clogged with “Chelsea tractors” (as they were called then) honking at each other and blocking driveways. Stress! The kids who walked were always accompanied by adults. Now we are back in Germany where even six year olds walk to school alone. I do admit to missing the early morning chats with the other mums/nannies/grannies!

    1. Ha-ha, thanks for commenting all the way from Germany Dorf. Here in the UK we are that little bit closer to L.A. and car clown syndrome. Esher in particular seems to be an epicentre of ridiculousness (the Chelsea FC training ground is there which may help explain things!).

  8. Haha, got to laugh at this one.

    A friend recently bought a Cayenne, £60k list price yet £80k by the time all the optional extras were added.

    He took great pride in listing out the price of every upgrade he’d added on, every single one of them cost more than our actual whole car. WTF! 🙂

  9. I would absolutely love to bring my girls to school by bike! However, I live in Texas, who disregards anything that isn’t powered by gas. Home to school is 1.8 miles of 50mph narrow roadway that lacks shoulders or bike lanes. It also has blind corners and lots of inattentive drivers of lifted pickup trucks. One day I will live in a bike-friendly area 🙂

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