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Buying a Car: Automakers Sweat the Details Before You Buy

Contrary to the idea that raw steel, rubber and glass go in one side of an auto manufacturer’s plant, and newly constructed cars come out the other, car companies subject their latest models to extensive testing to prove that their products will be ones to reckon with from the day you first buy the car to the day you turn the keys over to your child, a family member, a new buyer or a pre-owned dealership.

Before consumers ever have a chance of buying a car, brands like Kia, Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac, FCA, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, BMW and MINI routinely head to locations like International Falls, Minnesota, for Cold Weather Validation, while in the middle of summer, the direction is reversed and leads them to test centers in Arizona, Nevada and California. Autotrader visited the Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc., (HATCI), where Kia and Hyundai brands develop and test vehicles destined for the North American markets. While this Mojave, California, facility is located in the shadow of Edwards Air Force Base, roughly 95 miles from Los Angeles, many brands from around the world perform hot-weather testing in the same region. A stroll through hotel parking lots in the popular testing town of Beatty, Nevada, gives the impression that the world’s car companies have converged upon this small town (population 1,010) with an infinite variety of upcoming — and heavily camouflaged — cars and trucks.

Testing, Testing, One, Two…

Vehicle testing at these extreme locations typically centers on development and validation. Here, projects undergo development from the root (initial concept) stages early in the production process to nearly final dynamic testing, which ensures that ride quality, noise, vibration and harshness, as well as handling, braking and stability are within tolerances of what consumers expect from their vehicles. To that end, facility designers have replicated surfaces ranging from gravel and off-road courses to streets lined with cobblestone, all the way to surfaces that were copied from California freeways, right down to the smallest details including expansion joints and pothole resurfacing. In other words, if such a road exists, the car manufacturers have gone to great lengths to replicate them at their test centers.

Parts durability is another prime example of testing that occurs at these centers. Trials here include accelerated wear and weathering, where fabrics, plastics, rubbers, metal and fluids are subjected to increased levels of UV rays and natural elements to see how they perform during extended exposure to sunlight and other conditions.

Hot Stuff

The thermometer outside the Furnace Creek, California, visitor’s center reads 117 degrees. But it’s a dry heat. We are reminded that it’s also a dry heat in our kitchen oven, but still. In the corner of a parking lot sit three camouflaged vehicles with a combination of padding, black and white speckled wrap and yards of Velcro to make it difficult for automotive spy photographers to determine exactly which models they are looking at. We have joined up with a team of quality control engineers from Kia Motors America, in the middle of the desert, at the peak of summer. As if it’s not hot enough already, the vehicles are in the middle of their heat soak.”

Think of it as an hour of “soaking” up rays at the beach. In this process, they purposefully attempt to get the vehicles interior ambient temperature to a sustained 122 degrees in an effort to check the effectiveness of the car’s HVAC (climate control) systems. The test process continues with the vehicles driven at their hottest point, starting at sea level and climbing to an altitude of more than 4,000 feet, all while the vehicle’s climate control system tries to bring the interior temperature down to a relatively frigid 65-degrees Fahrenheit. We found no issues at all in our test drive, which had us at the cool side of the spectrum within 16 minutes.

What it means to you: The companies and their many engineers spend a lot of time and money performing validation testing in extreme cold and hot temperatures, freezing and sweating the details so in the end, the person buying a car ultimately won’t have to.

Mark Elias
Mark Elias is a writer and photographer specializing in automotive topics ranging from new and used cars to classics and motorsports. His first car was a Matchbox Jaguar D-Type. From there, things have only become larger. During his professional career, he has been a staff photographer for the Associated Press, a contract photographer for Bloomberg News, and a contributor to automotive outlets... Read More about Mark Elias

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