THE GOODS : Legroom Variable Confuses


Question: I have been shopping for a car and am completely confused by the dimensions quoted by different manufacturers. One model is listed with 42 inches of legroom, but it seems to have less than another model that is listed as having 41 inches. Is one of these companies lying? --G.G.

Answer: It isn’t intended as a lie; however, the auto industry has caused a lot of confusion among motorists.

Although the industry sets standards on everything from motor-oil viscosity to windshield visibility, there are no strict rules on where the front seat should be positioned when measuring front and rear legroom.

In some cases, manufacturers measure with the front seat moved partway forward--which increases the amount of rear legroom that is quoted. The problem comes in comparing these figures with those of another manufacturer that measures with the seat moved all the way back.


The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), which sets standards for measuring dimensions, has a complex formula for defining where to put the seat when measuring. But following the formula is voluntary, and Japanese and European companies often don’t follow the standard.

“We need to streamline the practice,” said Ronald Roe, chairman of the SAE committee that develops such standards. “We have 40 years of history associated with these practices. We are slowly making progress.”

He said the matter is complicated because manufacturers have increased the “track travel” (the distance the seat can be moved) from an average of six inches in the 1960s to 12 inches today. When measuring, the seat must be set in a position that accommodates the majority of the public, since the seat position affects other specifications as well, Roe said.

To find the car with the most front legroom, forget the specification charts. You have to rely on your judgment or make your own measurements.


A similar problem occurs with trunk-volume specifications. The SAE has two ways to measure trunk volume. Under the American system, the manufacturer counts the volume of a series of large oblong and square boxes that can be fitted into the trunk. But the SAE also allows a European method, which uses much smaller boxes. The two methods can produce different results even in the same trunk.

This is where shopping is invaluable. All the brochures in the world are not going to tell you whether your golf clubs or backpack will actually fit into a particular trunk.

* Your Wheels is published every other Friday. Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Please do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. 1100, Washington, D.C. 20006.