A Field Guide to Chicago’s Deadliest Cars

Welcome to Chicago! Maybe you’re a tourist, or maybe you’re a local out who’s finally given up on our custer-flucked Ventra system and bought a car. It’s a bold step braving our streets anytime of year, but especially in the winter. It’s not the snow, the salt, the potholes, or the taxis. It’s not the extortionate parking meters, the red light cameras, the speed cameras, or the exploding water mains. As Jean-Paul Sartre, said “the hell of Chicago’s streets is other people.” Ok, he was bitter because Chicago’s own Nelson Algren was tapping Simone de Beauvoir at the time. But Sartre wasn’t wrong. Think about it: there’d be no traffic if there weren’t other people. But then when would you get to practice cursing?

While there are a lot of things one can do to ensure one’s safety on Chicago’s roads – staying the hell away from the grotesquely misnamed “Magnificent Mile” is one idea – the best thing you can do is engage in some profiling. Not racial profiling. Only the police and department stores can do that. I’m talking about car profiling. Just like my mother used to ask if the Asian kids were in my math class, you can tell a lot about people by what they drive. Provided herewith are the absolute most dangerous vehicles in Chicago.

(all photos are from actual Chicago-area Craigslist postings)

honda civicThe Mid 90s Honda Civic Tuner
Common Name: Probable Cause
Danger Level: Extreme

The most lethal car in Chicago. Unable to afford a real sports car, your local thug has taken an unassuming compact and turned it into the instrument of your demise. What kind of person would add custom paint, a custom spoiler, and fancy wheels to a $2500 car? Someone with a CRIPPLING inferiority complex. Someone who is going to blow off stop signs, try to pass you from the right turn lane at red lights, and is most definitely going to take any attempt to pass them as an affront to their manhood. Worse, they can’t see. They have reclined the driver’s seat to near horizontal in order to obscure the fact that they are 5’6 and 140 lbs (5’8 and 160 when wearing rigid Bulls cap and giant gold chain). They are on a hair trigger, ready to strike violently against anyone who points out the absurdity of their existence. You must never flip off a driver of these cars, or even raise an eyebrow in their direction. Note that although the car in the picture has custom paint, these cars inevitably have mismatched body panels. Probably because the original panels were smashed by hitting people like you. Avoid at all costs. See also: mid-90s Acura tuners.

pontiac grand prixEarly 00’s Pontiac Grand Prix
Common Name: No Money, No Problems
Danger Level: Extreme

At least the Honda Civics were good cars to start with. The early 2000s were the nadir of American car manufacturing, and the low point of that low point was Pontiac. Unable to decide if it was making sports cars or sedans, or whatever the hell an Aztec was, Pontiac decided that at least they wouldn’t waste time carefully assembling their vehicles. Thus, these cars have only two things going for them: they have a lot of power in the low gears and they’re dirt cheap at any of the shady used lots on Western Ave. Somewhere in Chicago right now, some jackass is gunning it off the line in his Grand Prix. Seconds later, a poorly assembled bearing will crumble, sending bits of metal and possibly an entire wheel through the windshield of a nearby car. Don’t let that be you. This car is worth maybe $1.49. It’s not insured. The driver literally has nothing to lose. See also: just about any Pontiac.

Buick LeSabreLate Model Buick
Common Name: Not So Loud!
Danger Level: Extreme

Note that no model name is indicated. Like most people born after Truman was President, I know nothing about Buicks or why anyone would drive one. When GM was eliminating brands a few years ago, they kept Buick around solely because it sold well in China. Let’s pause here to review what we know about China for a moment. (A) Chinese people are the biggest consumers of tiger penis and rhino horns in the world (B) Chinese media occasionally reprint Onion stories as news. (C) China has traffic that makes the Circle Interchange look like the Autobahn. So why would you want a car that’s popular with people who will buy anything, believe anything, and can’t get anywhere in their cars? Of course, I learned all of this from the internet, which is largely unknown to the target demographic for Buicks in America: people in no particular hurry to be anywhere but home for dinner by 4pm. Still, you might ask how dangerous something as big and slow moving as a Buick could be. You know what else was big and slow moving? The iceberg that hit the Titanic. See also: something called an “Oldsmobile”

chrysler minivanLate Model Minivan (read carefully below)
Common Name: IUDs Expire?!
Danger Level: Extreme

There are two problems with having more than two children. First, you are compelled to move from playing man defense to zone. Second, factoring in car seats, you can no longer fit them in a sedan. Lots of urban moms manage to navigate Chicago streets in their minivans. With nerves of steel, she can focus on the road while Quinoa and Zachary scream that they’ve already seen this episode of Phineas & Ferb, ignore the sickly feeling of recently expelled GoGurt oozing through her hair, and clench her nostrils against the olfactory assault that can only come from a toddler who ate an entire box of raisins while everyone else was making hand turkeys at craft time. No problem. But I urge you to look closely at that minivan. What color are the plates? Is there a sticker that says “My Child is an Honor Student at John C. Mellencamp Middle School?” Is there any chance at all that the minivan is from INDIANA? Exercise EXTREME CAUTION.

In their native environment, I’m certain that Hoosier moms can manage the noises, smells, and general vileness of parenthood while concentrating on the road. But on the roads of Chicago, thick with cars and absent the soothing repetition of corn fields they are DEADLY. The sight of tall buildings stops them. Short buildings stop them. The presence of minorities surprises them. Suddenly the logic that tells them that three right turns make up for a missed left escapes them and they have but one thought on their sleep deprived minds: KILL KILL KILL. see also: drivers from Michigan and Wisconsin.

lexus GXComically Huge (not actual model name) Lexus / Infiniti SUV
Common Name: Queen of the Carpool
Danger Level: EXTREME

Say what you will about minivans. You have to have a lot of faith in your driving abilities and confidence in your self image to drive one. For all other moms, there’s the luxury SUV. Though she can’t see over the wheel, there are blind spots as big as basketball courts, and the thing can’t stop in less than a quarter mile, Mommy is most definitely not going to lose in an accident. And then one day, she’ll be tapping her feet to “Brand New Day” and accidentally hit the gas pedal. Or she’ll just be miffed that everyone liked Jen’s cake pops better than her gluten free Chocolate Ginger Crinkles even though that bitch totally had her mother in law make them and they were on toothpicks for Christ’s sake and who the hell does that and then….BAM. That V-8 is going to push 43 tons of Japanese luxury right up your deck lid and onto your roof. See also: every “luxury” sport utility vehicle.

corvetteLate Model Corvette
Common Name: The Codpiece
Danger Level: Extreme

This is the car driven by the guy who bought his second wife the giant Infiniti SUV. That acupuncture bunk is a cash cow for his chiropractic practice! He deserves a fancy car, yet he can’t quite manage the payments on a Porsche. Those are for real doctors. Besides, the wife’s been really good not making fun of his little problem, and the ‘Vette puts the spring in his step when her Pilates class can’t. Nothing better than dropping the top, cranking the Zep and cruising down the Kennedy. Except what’s the point of having a long, powerful, pounding red … car if no one can see it? Speed up to draw attention, and then slow down and change lanes so your next ex will see there’s still more pepper than salt up top.  God help you if you’re between Mr. Half Staff and the hygienist he’s hot for in the left lane. See also: Ford Mustang


I hope this brief guide helps you have a safe and enjoyable trip through Chicago. Next week: why a beat up 2002 brown Accord is the best car ever.

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One thought on “A Field Guide to Chicago’s Deadliest Cars

  1. […] Egyptians made carvings of Gods with the heads of dogs and birds, and you’ve got  a ‘95 Civic with mismatched body panels and an ill-fitting spoiler. Hardly the stuff of a good museum […]

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