A Quick Guide to Car Performance Testing


We’ve all probably seen those episodes of Mythbusters where they show the intense force that can result from something as simple as a car crash. That’s why it’s wild so many people don’t fully understand how cars are tested for safety or performance overall.

In 2016 there were 272.48 million cars registered in the United States, and that is a huge chunk of the population buying and driving cars. Obviously, cars are a lot safer than the vehicles we were driving 100 years ago, and that is definitely due to laws concerning safety performance.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

The need for motor vehicle safety standards came to light in the 1960s. In fact, we weren’t even required to have seat belts as a standard safety feature in cars until 1968. Now, seat belts feel like such an ingrained and necessary part of cars that it’s unbelievable they have only been around for the last fifty years or so.

Once it became a requirement for cars to meet certain standards and safety minimums, companies started performing their own crash safety tests to help maintain their standards.


Crash Safety Tests

These crash safety tests have grown more intense over the years to make sure that people are protected from all sorts of issues. Whenever you talk safety, you’re looking at things like:

  • How to prevent accidents
  • How to minimize the severity of the damage
  • How to prevent secondary damage

You never know what can go wrong in a car accident as it isn’t always as simple as a fender bender. There can be pile-ups, rolls, and more cause an accident to be fatal. No company wants their car to put people at risk because of faulty airbags or poor design.

If a car is unlikely to be hit, but when it is hit from the side it flips easily on its top and pours gas on the passengers, well, that’s not a safe car.

The best way to crash test a vehicle is by putting it through the wringer. These cars that show up on the market have often faced all sorts of abuse and disaster to make certain it adds no unnecessary risks or danger to the drivers.

Car manufacturers want to test every aspect of cars through production to make sure they needle out any potential issues. They don’t want customers having to complain about a problem after the car is on the market. It goes without saying that it’s more expensive to fix a problem after you’ve sold a hundred thousand units.

A lot of car testing is done in Death Valley, California. Car companies have actually received express permission to crash test cars in Death Valley National Park. It is a great remote area for companies to do this so bystanders aren’t hurt.

Both the structural design of a car and applied safety systems can really contribute to safety. Crash tests are meant to help show what would happen to a car in different events and it shows what parts are structurally weak and need to be fixed.

Side Note: An example of a post-design safety system is a two-pound plastic plate which Canadian Ford Pintos included, which radically reduced the chance of gas tank puncture when rear-ended.

Often these days crash test dummies are used to demonstrate the impact a crash would have on a human being. This is to help discover what protections might be needed to make the car safer for passengers. Crash test dummies are meant to mimic real people and employ advanced designs to lead to proper results of the impact.

Crash Test Ratings

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives out crash test ratings based on a scale of one to five stars. How it rates cars is based on a number of certain factors. Tests that are included in these ratings are a front crash test, side crash test, and rollover crash tests.

The crash test rating involves aspects of all the results from multiple crash tests. Included are results based on damage sustained by crash test dummies such as neck extension or other potential injuries. Multiple injuries are counted as well, data is taken from all parts of the body.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also has its own vehicle safety ratings that impact how cars are manufactured. Their determination for crashworthiness is similar to the NHTSA, though focuses on a few different aspects. The testing is a bit more hardcore than with the NHTSA to help ensure safety.


Crash test ratings have helped improve the quality of cars produced over the years. Now it is an important part of car production to make sure that cars protect passengers as much as possible.

When it is time to go buy a car there are many ways to take a look at how safe they really are. You can check the car safety ratings and even watch the crash testing videos if you think that would reassure you.

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