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How Are New Cars Tested for Reliability?

Designing, building and releasing a car takes a lot of time. From concept to finished product, average car’s development cycle takes anywhere from two to ten years for a manufacturer to complete.

Innovative, high-performance machines typically take longer to develop than basic city cars. Likewise, cars with new features – from plug-in hybrid engines to carbon fibre chassis or ultra-modern computer systems –need extra development time.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 16.53.48One aspect of car development that takes a large amount of time is testing. Before a new vehicle goes onto the market, it’s tested to ensure it’s safe to drive, comfortable for the driver and passengers and reliable enough for regular use.

In this post, we’ll look at how new cars are tested for reliability, from track testing to determine a vehicle’s handling and tyre wear to dynamometer testing to work out a car’s average fuel consumption and environmental impact.

Why reliability testing is so important

Mass producing a car is an extremely expensive process, so car manufacturers go to extreme lengths to make sure their cars are in great condition before they arrive on the market.

Fixing a reliability problem in a car after it launches can often require a costly recall or repair programme, costing car manufacturers tens, or even hundreds, or millions of pounds. This makes testing one of the most essential aspects of car development.

Most cars drive millions of miles – spread across multiple prototypes – before they launch to the public. This gives manufacturers time to find and fix issues that affect performance, fuel economy, safety and reliability.

Reliability testing using a dynamometer

If you’re a car guru, you’ve probably heard of (or maybe even used) a dynamometer before. A dynamometer is a device that uses moving rollers attached to the wheels of a car to simulate driving on a road or track.

Once the car is fixed on the dynamometer, the force from its wheels is delivered into the moving rollers. This lets the car accelerate without moving so that its power and performance can be measured.

Dynamometer testing (also known as dyno testing, for short) doesn’t match the road environment exactly, but it provides an extremely close simulation that’s perfect for working out certain factors about a car’s performance, such as:

  • Its average fuel consumption and efficiency
  • Its horsepower and torque at different RPMs
  • Its carbon output and environmental impact

Each of these factors is related to reliability. Cars that generate a lot of power on the dynamometer but become extremely hot doing so might perform well, but there’s a good chance that performance could come at the cost of engine reliability.

Since a car is fixed in place on a dynamometer, it’s easy to push it to its limit in a way that wouldn’t be possible – or often wouldn’t be safe – on a test track, letting the car manufacturer spot problems that wouldn’t be apparent at low speeds.

Road testing using a special test track

While dynamometer testing gives a great deal of insight into how a car’s engine and transmission perform under pressure, it doesn’t give manufacturers a lot of data on the car’s on-road performance.

Things like speed bumps, gravel, rain and sand don’t exist on a dynamometer. These factors have a huge effect on a car’s real life reliability, making it important that car manufacturers test their new vehicles extensively on a test track before release.

Before a car makes it onto the market, it will have covered millions of miles on a test track through prototypes. Test tracks let manufacturers discover problems before a car goes into mass production, saving them from having to carry out a recall.

Most car manufacturers test their cars in a variety of conditions, from cold winters to extreme heat in a tropical or desert environment. This lets them make sure a car can withstand all environmental threats, from humidity to extremely coldness.

Lots of flaws in a car’s design that are impossible to discover via dyno testing show up quickly when the car spends several weeks on the track. This type of testing lets manufacturers make important changes to a car’s design before its released.

Third party testing after a car’s release

Not all cars are perfect once they’re released by the manufacturer. While some cars are famous for their reliability, others are infamous for performing well for a couple of years before quickly deteriorating and breaking down.

If you’re buying a used car, looking at third-party reliability test results, as well as the opinions of owners, will give you more insight into how the car performs over the long term than just the manufacturer’s reliability information.

Third-party car testing involves a variety of factors, which are used to group cars into different categories. Some of the criteria used to test and judge a certain car’s reliability includes:

  • How frequently it breaks down, and how severe its breakdowns are
  • How much it costs to repair on average and the frequency of repairs
  • How long it spends on the road (and off the road being repaired)
  • The average age and mileage of similar models still used on the road

Most of the time, reliable third-party data takes two or three years to emerge. This is because lots of cars perform well when they’re relatively new but deteriorate due to defects and design flaws as time goes on.

How to buy a car that won’t let you down

Is there any motoring experience worse than being stuck on the side of the road due to an unreliable car? Some cars are extremely fun to drive – until they put you on the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck, that is.

If you’re buying a used car, make sure you check its average reliability online before you buy. Use these tips to ensure you buy a reliable car that’s easy to own instead of an unreliable, potentially expensive lemon:

  • If you’re buying a car that’s 10+ years old, check to see how many vehicles are still on the road today. Some cars, such as the Honda Jazz and BMW 5-Series, are famous for their reliability.
  • Search owner forums and car review websites for common problems that owners face. Some cars that are otherwise very reliable have issues with certain model years that make them less reliable than others.
  • If you find a car that you like, ask an experienced mechanic to review its service history. They’ll be able to spot any maintenance issues that could affect its reliability in the future.

Finally, if you’re worried about breakdowns or repairs in the future, make sure you buy an extended car warranty for your vehicle. An extended warranty gives you the peace of mind and financial protection you need for stress-free car ownership.

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