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How Do Car Manufacturers Test Safety?

An insight into the procedures conducted to ensure that cars are safe to be driven.

car showroom

The joys of being behind the wheel are endless. Among other things, driving gives you independence and the ability to travel easily. A lot of work goes into the making of a vehicle prior to its release on roads and contrary to popular belief, crash testing is not the only form of safety test car manufacturers conduct. It is no secret that most accidents take place on the road, which makes it even more crucial for car manufacturers to ensure no lives are lost as a result of the mechanics and functioning of the car itself. With increasing technological developments, car manufacturers play a vital role in keeping road accidents to a minimum. Test driving is conducted to ensure vehicles meet their required safety standard for customer use, incurring low compensation and warranty claims.

So what procedures do car manufacturers conduct to test for safety?

Crash testing

The widely publicised testing technique is a much more vigorous and expensive process than most realise. Unlike the crash testing videos we may see on tv shows and movies, crash test dummies are not just mannequins. Crash test dummies are built from materials resembling the construction and physiology of humans. From having a spine made from metal discs and rubber pads to moving the body and arms the way a human is expected to during a crash, crash test dummies are made to simulate the reaction and injury of an actual human in a crash. These dummies also come in different weights, sizes and gender. Attached to the crash test dummies are accelerometers, motion sensors and load sensors that measure the force exerted on different parts of the body during a crash. These attached features assist manufacturers in collecting crash data to evaluate the extent of damage in different crash scenarios.


Watch this short video published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Vehicle Research Center on the process of preparing for a crash test.

Test-driving on challenging roads

Crash testing is a small but important part of the overall safety process. Similar to crash tests, real-world car tests also need to be conducted in real-world conditions. Car manufacturers need to ensure that their car can withstand extreme external conditions such as heavy rain or extremely bumpy roads. Some car testing places include the Death Valley in the U.S.A. for heat testing, famous for being one of the hottest places on Earth. The Nurburgring race track in Germany has been used by many to gather information on acceleration and speed-related stats. The infamous Nurburgring race track is considered the deadliest race track. Manufacturers also take their testing all the way to Alaska during Winter to test its performance in the colder climate. Fairbanks, Alaska, while a popular dream destination during the summer, is known for its extreme frigid temperatures and heavy snow during winter. Aside from testing cars in real-life extreme conditions, manufacturers also test the general functionality and performance of a car by driving on common roads like the rest of us. This can include conducting a test drive for a few hours, days or even weeks on the roads, in order to properly to track its performance. This helps determine a vehicle’s general acceleration, braking abilities, noise levels and more, in a real-life scenario. Generally, these cars are camouflaged to not give away the new design being released by the car company.

Testing the smallest of car functions

As you may have guessed, crash tests and a car’s ability to drive on challenging roads is not the only determining factor of good car performance. As a driver, we don’t usually notice certain car functions until it creates a problem. These small function tests are just as important as the big expensive crash and weather tests. These tests account for comfort a driver should experience when driving a car. Some of the functions tested include:

  • Level of noise emitted from the engine of the vehicle
  • Vibration level at different speeds and gears
  • Ease of changing gears
  • Comfort of seats
  • Noise emitted from tires
  • Ensuring the car meets the best fuel efficiency standards
  • The weight of the car is not too heavy
  • Ensuring the appropriate distance between the road and bottom of the car
  • Ease of pressing the acceleration and brake pedals
  • Ease of using the steering wheel
  • Windscreen damage from driving
  • The functionality of wipers
  • Level of noise within the car
  • Performance of air conditioning and heating systems in the car
  • Level of wind noise
  • Rate of wear and tear.

 

Testing a car to ensure it is drivable to ensure consumers have minimal complaints is not easy. Every single aspect of a car needs to be analysed. Usually, a set of specialised teams are assigned to ensure that all these requirements are met. 60% of the most serious crashes are due to frontal impact. Therefore during the testing process, more attention and importance is given to these tests.

test drive

The expense of car safety tests

Testing automobiles, however, is not cheap. Have you ever wondered why there are only a handful of car brands that are household names? It’s not because no one else wants to compete with these car companies, but rather because it is becoming nearly impossible to gather the resources and gain any profit once the car has officially been announced for release. Because of course, prior to this, there needs to be testing conducted and this generally costs manufacturers upwards of 6 digit figures. Not to mention the cost of hiring engineers, technicians and specialists. Let’s not even get started on how much manufacturers are spending on new design technologies; which includes technological features for smoother consumer use. These require funds and resources that would be tough for a start-up to acquire.

Australia’s Reliable ANCAP Ratings

In Australia, we rely on ANCAP ratings to ensure our cars are safe for driving. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program is an independent vehicle safety authority. Safety ratings are issued on all cars entering Australia and NZ markets using a rating system of 1 to 5. These account for 4 key characteristics:

  • Adult occupant protection
  • Child occupant protection
  • Vulnerable road user protection
  • Safety assist

seatbelt - car safety

In order for a vehicle to pass the safety rating, vehicles entering these places need to meet ANCAP’s minimum safety requirement for each of these criteria. To test these, ANCAP runs a series of destructive crash tests to account for the effect it has on the occupants of the car.

To have a look at ANCAP’s safety rating of the make and model of your vehicle, visit this page!

Cars go through multiple procedures and tests before they are allowed on the road. Prototypes that don’t work are sent straight for crushing and recycling. Imagine, all that hard work put in by hundreds of workers only to be smashed due to one small but unfixable error. Now the next time you get into your car, you can drive with peace of mind knowing that your wheels have gone through rigorous testing and safety procedures to ensure it’s roadworthy.