Do you drive a car? Here’s a reality check of how safe you really are in your automobile says RAVI BM.
Before your take off on your ride, here are a few questions you would be better off answering.
Are your brakes good, and have you checked them? How good is your suspension, and is it keeping your car on good and bumpy roads as well? Does your car behave and accept your steering commands?
Generally, all drivers feel that their auto is safe and has a good road grip. But how correct or wrong they are can be checked out with a mere three-minute check on a test lane. A test lane is a set of roller brake testers, a platform for testing the suspension, along with a side-slip tester, which indicates your car’s alignment status.
Around 85 per cent of tests have proved that the customer has wrong perceptions, and their understanding of the questions raised above is totally based on their ‘feel’ of the car. Normally, after the results of a safety test come out, the customer is astonished that he needs to make his car ‘safe’. He orders for a brake and suspension job and gets the alignment corrected.
All brakes are supposed to stop a car within a stipulated distance when they are applied. But do all cars stop at their pre-specified distance after applying brakes, or do they overshoot their safe distances?
Is the car pulling to one side when you apply the brakes? If yes, its balance between left and right is not correct. You need to have it corrected so that you will have proper control while stopping. Again, how effective are your front and rear brakes? Are they balanced? If not, the car can get into a spin or skid when you apply the brakes.
The vehicles to be tested are driven on the roller set, one axle at a time. The rollers will start driving the wheels using a pre-described motor. When the brakes are applied, the system starts measuring the strain on the motor with strain gauges. The brakes are applied till the roller stops and the strain gauges measure the force required to stop the roller. This way, the actual brake force acts on the left and right of the automobile, separately and simultaneously.
The same is done for the rear axle, and the measurement is done. The parking and emergency brakes are also tested to ensure that they are doing their job properly.
Now we move to another crucial area — the car’s road grip. Are you aware that the small patch of tyre which contacts the ground on all four wheels is the only contact you have with the ground when you are driving at high speeds… and this contact keeps the car going in the right direction at your command. The area in contact with the ground is a mere 25 square inches.
But when the car hits a pothole, the contact patch is missing for a fraction of a second. This reduces the road grip from 100 per cent to 80 per cent (or even 60 or 50 per cent), depending on the vibration that the wheels are subjected to. If you have a very soft suspension, the road grip keeps dropping. So it is very important to have the wheel suspension checked for this road contact while it is vibrating. (This happens when you are driving over a rough patch of road).
People are really shocked that their cars do not have
the desired grip when they get the suspension tested on a vibrating platform.
Think of a different analogy — you stick to your old shoes because they are comfortable, but you dump them when you wear out your tread and skid or fall. Don’t let that happen to your car. Get all the parameters checked and corrected. A good set of tyres, shock absorbers and suspension is a must for the car to be firmly in contact with the road.
In the same way, another important part of your vehicle maintenance is your wheel alignment. A simple side-slip test will indicate if your vehicle is properly aligned. Not only will have your car under your command, you will increase your tyre life and save fuel too.
Finally, a test lane is like an ECG or blood report. You don’t know what is out of specification till you get the results. Similarly, your car may have many such (nasty) surprises for you. Take adequate precautions to avoid serious accidents. A test like this will set you back by Rs 500 and takes a total of 10 minutes. This is an expenditure that you will not regret.
The author is
Ravi BM, Managing Director,
Madhus Garage Equipment Pvt Ltd