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Driving small: 'Little-Car' trend has finally established a foothold in U.S.


Chuck Cook stands beside his Smart Car Wednesday at the Columbus Riverwalk. Cook is one of several local residents who switched to the smaller, more economical car.

Chuck Cook stands beside his Smart Car Wednesday at the Columbus Riverwalk. Cook is one of several local residents who switched to the smaller, more economical car. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


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Columbus resident Karen Jamison still gets asked questions about the “little car,” often by total strangers.

Columbus resident Karen Jamison still gets asked questions about the “little car,” often by total strangers.
Photo by: Matt Garner/Dispatch Staff



Sarah Fowler



In a land where bigger usually means better, especially where cars and pick-up trucks are concerned, some local residents are embracing "cute little cars." 


While vehicles the size of Smart Cars are considered commonplace in Europe, they are still seen as an anomaly in the United States. 


Columbus resident Karen Jamison said she has had her Smart Car for almost four years and still gets asked questions about the "little car," often by total strangers. Jamison said she will be in the process of loading groceries in the back of the car and passers-by will hop in the vehicle's front seat just to check it out. 


"They just climb right in it," Jamison said. "I can barely get out before they climb in." 




What is a smart car? 


Jamison said she bought the vehicle in 2009 after she saw how popular the small cars were in Europe. She first saw the cars in 2005 and took several years before making the purchase. Once she did, she was hooked. 


"I saw them somewhere years ago, probably in 2005," she said. "I just thought they were cute. They're little. I'm just happy buzzing around in mine," she added. 


Chuck Cook bought his Smart Car in 2008 and said he too has fallen in love with the compact car. 


"I've had mine for five years and I love it," he said. 


Cook, who previously owned Magnolia Motor Speedway, has driven large passenger cars and full-sized pick-up trucks all his life. Before he bought the Smart Car, he was driving a Ford F-150. He admits he got some strange looks when he bought the small car, including from his teenage son, but he loves the car despite it all. 


"They just thought it was a major change for me but things were changing, and I was changing," he said. 


"I've always liked a little different. I've had hot rods my entire life since high school and I thought, 'This is different.' It looks smaller outside than it is on the inside, so people do look at you a little funny. The inside has as much or more room than a lot of cars. It's roomy," he said. 


"My boy claims he doesn't like it, but that's because he wants a big pick-up, all the teenagers want a big giant pick-up. He said he's embarrassed to ride in it but that ain't true." 


Cook contemplated buying the car before the economy crashed in 2006 but there was a one-year waiting list at the time. So instead of ordering a custom Smart Car, he called around to dealerships in the area and asked if they had "orphans" available. 


"I got mine as orphan," Cook said. "An orphan is one that was planned to be bought and was not purchased for some reason or another but mine is just what I wanted. It worked out good for me. I love the little car." 


When Cook first bought his car, he said seeing a fellow Smart Car driver was a rarity. Then in 2008, suddenly the cars were everywhere, he said. 


"When I bought the car, there was a one year waiting list and that was just before the economy crashed. When the economy crashed, you could buy one just about anywhere." 


Fuel economy is one of the reasons Cook said he decided to down-size from his truck to the Smart Car. 


"In 2008 and 2009, 40 miles per gallon was pretty good," he said. 


Jamison said she also purchased the Smart Car for the gas mileage. She said she can drive all week on $20 in gas. 


In addition to saving on gas, Jamison said she feels the car is very reliable. In fact, other than oil changes and regular tune ups, Jamison said she has not had to have the vehicle maintained once since she bought it four years ago. 


"It's good on maintenance," she said. "I've never had any maintenance, believe it or not." 


While Jamison said she does worry sometimes about the safety of the small car if she was in an accident, she tries not to let it bother her. 


"Sure I do (worry) but with an 18-wheeler, if it hits you don't have much hope anyway," she said. 


Cook has been in two accidents in his Smart Car, both times he was able not only to walk away, but drive away from. 


"Two deer have run me over, two different times, but I got it repaired and kept going," he said. 


Cook tells the story of when he and his two dogs were driving late at night in Tennessee when a deer hit his car. The Smart Car's headlights, grill and fender all fell off on impact. 


"The officer that was there said, 'Do you need me to call you a wrecker?' So I said 'Well, hold on.' I picked the headlights up off the ground, put the grill in and put the fender back on, they all pop back in place you know. I got in and it cranked right up. The trooper said, 'Well I'll be damned' and I drove away," he said.  


"You wouldn't have even known it was wrecked." 


He added, "I'm a little leery of deer now but I still love the little car." 


Cook said he wouldn't trade his Smart Car for any other vehicle. 


"I can park anywhere. It's very safe, it has a five star rating...I love the little car." 


Jamison agrees and note another advantage of driving her little car. 


"A lot of people are scared of them but it's a good little in town car. I can always park anywhere."


Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.


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