Testers turn ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to family-proof cars

September 9, 2015

As modern families turn cars into mobile beauty salons and dinner tables, our test team in Europe is forced to come up with new and diabolical ways to family-proof cars.

Torture testing includes beauty and grooming products alongside coffee and fizzy drinks.  The team is even testing to ensure interiors can withstand red-hot hair straighteners, which are increasingly used in cars by time-strapped passengers on their commutes.

“Sometimes you have to be a bit like Sherlock Holmes, playing the detective to understand exactly how damage has occurred and how it can be avoided or reduced,” said Robert Luetzeler, Ford materials engineering manager, in Cologne, Germany.  “To be effective, testing has to continually evolve to reflect changing trends in customer use, as well as new technologies.”

For some families, beauty kits are an essential part of the car travel kit. We have devised extensive tests that involve coating 10 cm square material test panels with nail polish remover, hand lotions and hairsprays containing corrosive materials. Each is analysed in a lab to identify their resistance to chemicals they are exposed to.

A new test involves laying hair straighteners on interior materials for a short period of time. The test is in addition to the normal flame resistance tests that all our vehicles are put through. Improvements are identified and new materials used that better prevent or mitigate damage.

Further testing designed to meet the ever-increasing demands of school runs, family holidays, and transporting family pets includes soaking surfaces and materials used inside the car thousands of times with fizzy drinks, coffee, and mud. Our testing facility in Dunton, Essex, U.K. uses about 1 kilogramme of coffee a year – 130 shots of espresso – to help test resistance to staining.

Tests conducted by engineers also include:

  • Scratching surfaces 600 times with a miniature mace – like the medieval weapon – that simulates the snags that can be caused by belt buckles, jewellery, and rivets on jeans
  • Rubbing fabrics 60,000 times in a 17-hour non-stop wear test on a high tech machine
  • Repeatedly running rough abrasion wheels on carpets
  • Bouncing a rubber ball, which is ten times heavier than a regulation football, on plastic surfaces at temperatures as low as -30 C when plastic is more brittle

“Many of us in the materials lab are parents, so we’re fully aware that kids often deliver the toughest examination of our vehicle interiors,” said Mark Montgomery, Ford senior materials engineer in Dunton. “Whether scuffing door trims with shoes, snagging seats with Velcro school bags or chucking muddy boots onto the carpet after football, it’s our job to replicate everything kids throw at interiors to ensure they can withstand it all.”