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The Extreme-Weather Testing New Cars Go Through

Posted on August 15, 2016

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Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest places on Earth where daytime temperatures of 50°C are not uncommon, with hot air winds that make it a giant, natural convection oven. Arjeplogs is located just south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden and is for real men at a balmy -20°C!

What do these two extreme regions have in common? Car testing.

It might seem a bit over the top to submit cars to conditions very few are likely to encounter, morever only occasionally, but the car industry is global, and deciding not to would mean renouncing to entire markets, including countries that are very profitable to some brands such as the United Arab Emirates, or the whole of Scandinavia, Canada and other countries that span several climatic regions. Volvo, for example, insist that their cars withstand temperatures ranging from -40°C to +60°C.

So next time you think you are too hot or too cold, think about what new cars have to go through!

Jaguar, for example, has invested NZ$2 million in a testing facility in Dubai. Scorching temperatures and seas of sand that will get everywhere between mechanical parts and will put wheel-drive systems through their pace, what else could a car maker want?

They also have remote northern areas to test for winter driving, but the truth is that extreme heat, dry air and dust are far more damaging to cars– just ask our Australian cousins. Also, until penguins and seals learn to drive, there is a wider, wealthier market in hot countries.

It’s not only engine components that are tested: air-conditioning, interiors and electrical parts go through it too. If you are a sheikh spending a considerable amount on a Rolls-Royce, you will expect the air-conditioning not to fail, no matter what, and that the expensive leather on your seat will not crack or fade in the sun. So car manufacturers have set strict criteria on how quickly the interior has to be comfortable when air-conditioning (hot or cold) is on, for example, and radiator grilles are checked to ensure that they won’t clog up during a sandstorm.

One thing you would probably never have guessed cars are tested for is bad smells. Fabrics and leather can produce odours in high temperatures, and if anything is found offending nostrils, it will be changed!

This draconian testing is usually as secret as blue prints, but car manufacturer Kia allowed journalists in their Mojave Desert facility in 2014, allowing a fascinating insight into the world of car testing.

Located near the Edwards Air Force base where NASA’s space shuttles landed after their missions, it offers a range of demanding terrains where vehicles can be tested for hill climbing, stability and off-road driving. Various car parts are tested for resilience to heat and sunlight: external painted bodywork will be left under baking sun for months as well as grilles, glass, dashboards or weather seals. They are displayed on cases that follow the course of the sun so that the parts may experience in a quarter of the time the equivalent of years of exposure to sizzling, sunny climates.

Interestingly, while there are many destinations to choose from to test cars’ endurance to heat, car makers generally struggle to find places that replicate harsh enough winter weather, or offer those conditions long enough throughout the year. As vehicles are not allowed to progress through to production until weather testing is passed, this could lead to production delay when prototypes are ready outside of those very cold months.

The solution? Car manufacturers have built all-weather laboratories that can create most conditions at the touch of a button. Want a snowstorm? Slush? Icy roads? Just ask. And that’s not all! Tropical climates can be fatal to cars – what is worst to metal than heat and humidity? Gale-force winds and tropical rainfall are no further away than the tip of their fingers.

Those weather facilities also have ‘rolling roads’ – very similar to treadmills for humans – so that cars can be test-driven quickly and cheaply without going anywhere.

Volvo, for example, placed vehicles in refrigerated cells overnight at temperatures of -30˚C to test how they respond to being started and driven the following morning. They also check that windscreen wipers and bonnet lids don’t freeze, how long the windscreen takes to de-mist, and what happens to seals when frozen doors are forced open. Coolant flow, coolant temperature, batteries, catalysts and air duct temperatures are all components that are also monitored.

Extreme weather-testing isn’t only for luxury models. An everyday model like the Ford Focus undergoes the same rigorous treatment in the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida – which incidentally, is used to test all the aircrafts of the American Department of Defense.

For another of their vehicles, the F-Series trucks, such testing is even more crucial as they can be used as commercial vehicles and can play the role of shelter in extremely cold working environments. There, making sure that the cabin indeed warms up quickly to keep its occupants comfortable until, say, a rescue team reaches them, and could literally mean the difference between life and death.

But all of this testing isn’t only about reliability and people’s comfort. Many countries have specific regulations that cars have to comply with. The US’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 103, for example, states that a certain area of a car’s windshield must be cleared of ice and fog within a specific amount of time for drivers’ safety. Failure to meet those stringent conditions will simply mean that a car cannot be sold in the corresponding country.

Stringent criteria are not only for car manufacturers. If you are importing a vehicle from Australia to New Zealand for example, you will have to make sure that you meet road standards and MPI inspection. Contact us or get a free quote online, we live and breathe international shipping and can help you make this process straightforward and stress free.


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