When you hear the words new car testing, what probably flashes to mind are dramatic videos of cars deliberately smashed against walls in a closed facility with a number of dummies inside. In reality, this is only one of the many tests cars go through before entering the market.
Post premarket auto tests are carried out in “the real world” to see how the car, including its components (paintwork, engine, etc) cope with the vigorous conditions; mud, fording streams, icy conditions and so on.
The actual number of tests that a manufacturer takes a car on is a closely guarded secret, but it is known that they use places like Death Valley or a test track in the mountains of Germany in order to see how the car operates. The testers are interested in how the car accelerates and, perhaps more importantly to us as drivers, how it brakes. Generally, they are looking for how the car handles on these extreme roads and this driving routine.
Driving smoothness in what most people might feel are unsmooth conditions is important. Although it would be impossible to remove all the bumps and jolts it is up to the designers the minimize discomfort.
Comfort is another aspect that people tend to need to think about. If the front seats or the back seats do not feel right some redesigning might be needed. Then there’s the problem of leaks, either air leaks or fluid leaks might need to be looked at. Is there a likelihood of something further along the line? Your prototype is your opportunity to address problems before they get truly expensive, which is when it’s gone into production.
Although unfamiliar to most of us, the industry refers to this as “rig and component level testing.” Think of the rig as another name for the chassis or body and the components as everything else. More precisely, rig testing works out exactly how durable and sensitive the chassis is to certain stimuli, and component testing focuses on individual elements and how they work together.
Some tests require the car to be built but others can be accomplished through computer simulations. Jaguar, for instance, uses computer simulation as a good way to save money. Why build a car that will be considered unsafe? Many people have heard of Computer Aided Design or CAD but the car industry is more reliant on CAE or Computer Aided Engineering. Simulation is hardly a new use of computers but as technology increases the number of virtual tests also increases.
Perhaps the single most important car feature, after safety, is fuel economy. Despite all the projections about miles per gallon, someone has to actually drive the car far enough to establish the actual number. Until recently, cars haven’t been very efficient in this respect, but car buyers are starting demand better efficiency even in luxury sedans and trucks. The need to save energy and fuel prices changes things.
There is so much testing involved in automobile manufacturing that is a wonder that any car ever goes into production at all. Perhaps more startling is the number of high profile recalls of cars in recent years given the rigorous testing designed to make the cars safer. Still, with all the money involved, and all the possibilities of what could go wrong, testing is an important step in the process.