4 car family
- here's a depressing one for the file
Rise of the four-car family
By Susannah Cullinane
Not long ago the two-car household was the last word
in suburban affluence. But changing lifestyles and a
fall in car prices have given rise to what used to be
seen as an American phenomenon: the three- and
With upwards of 24 million cars on the road and
traffic jams an everyday reality for many of us, it
already seems that British motorists have reached
breaking point on the roads.
But the trend towards car ownership shows little sign
of slowing down and new research reveals one of the
big growth areas is among older children who have yet
to fly the family nest.
One in five British homes with 17-21-year-olds living
at home is classified as a four-car household,
according to new research. Almost half the 500
households questioned for the Zurich Insurance survey
had three cars.
The trend is being driven by a number of changing
factors in family life, coupled with a fall in new car
Last year the Prudential financial services group
published a survey saying 6.8 million British parents
had children aged 18 or more who were still living at
Cars used to be for polishing
But while grown-up children are often reluctant to cut
the apron strings - particularly in light of the
rising cost of attending university away from their
home towns - their parents are less likely to be
prepared to act as a shuttle service.
As a compromise parents are increasingly expected to
buy-off their children with a car. More than 40% of
cars being driven by 17-21-year-olds are gifts from
The Automobile Association believes rising incomes and
a fall in the cost of cars has contributed to the
trend, along with more women driving.
"I think the family unit certainly isn't as strong as
it used to be and I think people are leading
increasingly independent lives," says the AA's Gavin
Research by the AA Trust in 1998 showed car use was 14
times greater than in the 1950s and the use of buses
"Many people are having to commute further and further
for work and given the sometimes unreliable nature of
the public transport options (if any exist) this often
necessitates the use of a car, fuelling the growth in
The new look 'family day out'
So who are these multi-car households?
Ian Crowder, 55, who lives in the Cotswold countryside
near Cheltenham, Glos, and is head of a four-car
family, says relying on public transport would be
Mr Crowder says he needs a car because he works 100
miles from home in Farnborough, staying nearby during
the working week: "My wife is a community midwife so
she needs a car to go from appointment to appointment.
"My stepson Mike (22) is doing a gap year from his
marketing degree in Bristol and he's working his gap
year with an estate agency, so he needs his car, and
my step-daughter Melanie (20) uses a car to get to and
from work," he says.
"If you asked her she'd say it gives her independence
and it takes her half the time to get to work."
Cheltenham used to be well catered for when it came to
public transport - at one time it had five railway
stations, but that has been reduced to one. Meanwhile,
the villages the trains used to serve have grown into
Echoes of America
It's all a far cry from his formative years. As a
child he and his father - a schoolteacher - both
cycled to school in Hampshire and the family didn't
have a car.
"The culture was different in those times - I think
most people used to use public transport or use
So, as we shift to multiple-car families, are we
destined to become another America - all spaghetti
junction and no footpaths?
The Department for Transport says it recognises car
ownership is attractive and that it is likely to
increase over the next 30 years.
"With nearly two million extra people in work, more
people are travelling every day and as people become
better off - so they have more reasons to travel," a
It said it is investing in efficient transport options
that are environmentally friendly.
"We're planning ahead to meet increased demand and
we're better managing the traffic already on our roads
to ensure we have a reliable and free-flowing