top-nav-left top-nav-right

Article Search


Girl TORQUE: Crash Tests


It’s scary how little the average driver knows about crash safety...

One mate spotting a crumpled car called it "rubbish"; hers would have retained its shape in a crash.

Yep, and transferred the impact forces to the soft stuff inside – the passengers. Modern cars crumple for a reason; they’re absorbing often savage impact forces.

Honda showed me an offset crash test between a Jazz and a much bigger Legend, each doing 50kph. The impact was brutal; glass flew as the Jazz leaped clear of the ground. The smaller car’s nose was history, yet the only cabin deformation was around one footwell; impressive.

But that wasn’t an official test. They’re conducted under strict laboratory conditions to ensure identical conditions every time, so you can compare one car to another.

Trouble is, the real world doesn’t work like that. You won’t hit a tree at exactly the same angle the laboratory tested, or with the same force. Real world crashes are just like the real world – unpredictable. That’s why many companies do their own real-life research, Volvo for example attending any Volvo crash in its home country. And that’s why Monash University looks at real-world crashes each year. Its 2009 figures examined 203 crashes and rated the cars according to how well they protect occupants, and other road users.

Some results show an imbalance between the official result and the real world. For example, Monash rated the 1998-06 Holden Astra as only marginally crash-worthy despite its NCAP four-star result, upgraded to five in 2004.

Kia’s 2004 Rio rated ‘poor’ in the real world, with a four-star NCAP result. I guess the answer in part is that you don’t know what caused the crash. A Corolla hit by another Corolla will fare very differently to one hit by a train.

Do car companies build vehicles specifically to beat the tests? Perhaps. But many have very good records on research and implementation, with high end brands developing safety innovations that eventually filter down to mainstream cars.

Do you think your cheap runabout would have the stability control, crumple protection, airbags and other active and passive safety systems it does if there weren’t an independent system testing cars for safety?

As car companies build vehicles to beat the tests, we benefit; our car might protect us best at the speed and angle tested, but the better it is at those tests, the better it’s likely to be all round.

That’s especially true with the latest NCAP tests, recently made much harder in response to the increase in four and five-star results.

To do well a car must now also protect child occupants and pedestrians. To do very well it must include the best technology to prevent and mitigate crashes. Stuff like blind spot assist, or the pedestrian protection just introduced in Volvo’s S60, which will slam on the brakes if a pedestrian darts in front and you don’t react in time.

It can’t do a better job than you could if you’re paying attention, but it’s better than nothing.

If you’re buying a car you could do worse than look it up on the EuroNCAP site or the Australian ANCAP version; both now give plentiful detail to explain the score and exactly where each car excelled, or not.

Read past Girl TORQUE columns here.

Auto Trader New Zealand