Cars and Calibres

Vehicle stability tests

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Fishtailing. The whipping of the backend of a vehicle from left to right to left, and such. It is an extremely scary thing, as it is both unpredictable and very hard to correct once the oscillation gets started.

There is a myth that this all only happens at high speed, or a wet surface, but this isn’t true.

I’ve been thinking about what I would like most to protect my family against in terms of education and modern safety systems, and this is pretty much it.

Recent accidents under very controlled circumstances show how easily this can happen, and how little we can actually do. Which is why we are trying to explain all this to people.

We recently took two identical small sedans to the racetrack to show exactly what value there is to the traction and stability controls available on modern cars.

One thing to note: While we did this on a closed race track, we did it for safety reasons, not speed reasons.

We were able to induce the oscillation (wild whipping of the car that brought it across three lanes) in speeds as low as 50 kilometers per hour with a maneuver as simple as a sudden lane change.

This can simulate things as simple and slow as avoiding a ball, or a car, or a child while driving in a village or a small road.

The only inputs were on the steering wheel; the brakes were not applied.

Another thing to note: We were not using Porsches or BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes.

We were using Toyota Vios sedans, the models most sold. The old one had no vehicle stability control, the new one did.

The track was dry, and racetracks often have more grip and traction than regular roads.

It is arguable that increased grip could contribute to whipping because of bite, but that can also be part of unpredictability coming in.

Now, if you remember a while back, Mercedes-Benz had an issue with the testing of their then-new people-mover type vehicles which were short of wheelbase and tall of stature.

They tipped over when doing the high-speed collision-avoidance test similar to what you would do to avoid an elk or moose wandering on a country highway.

That helped push the increased use of computer control for traction and stability systems, in particular with vehicles like tall, heavy SUVs.

And pickup trucks. We often forget that these beloved pickups have the same height issues, as well as inconsistent weight distribution depending on what is being carried, and suspensions made more for hauling goods rather than people.

We recorded the results, the video of which you can see on the c-magazine.com website or on Facebook at C! Magazine.

The key points are these. In speeds as low as 50, we induced oscillation that had the older car swinging out to the right lane.

When we upped the speed by 10 kilometers per hour, we had the car swinging the back out fully to the right lane, then spinning and fully to the left and pointed backwards—almost off the tarmac of a full racetrack straight, where people can do a lot of passing.

This means that if this were being driven by you or your children, you could have hit someone on your right or been hit by an oncoming car on your left.

The newer car, the latest Toyota Vios with traction control and stability systems?

When we swerved from the left lane, the car’s rear just touched the rightmost lane marker without moving into it. Then kept going until the brakes were applied. That simple.

None of this was high-speed stuff, no crazy maneuvers by race-minded drivers.

One thing to think about it is that this can be easily induced if you are cutting through traffic and darting through gaps, and suddenly a motorcycle jumps in.

And this can be in traffic, and at 50 kph. And it only has to happen once, to change your life. Or end it.

Our hugely professional and insanely consistent test driver was Georges Ramirez, who teaches this stuff all over the world.

The difference with this technology is whether your child calls you telling you they were in an accident, or someone else calling you.

Again, please remember that this is more important than stereos or new lights or leather seats when you choose what is important in your next purchase.

And these systems are increasingly available at the more affordable levels on showroom floors.

These are the integrated computerized systems we often complain about when we have to have them serviced. But they are what can save our lives.



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