Archive | March, 2012

Car Auctions: “She’s got the Mercedes-Benz. Uhhh…”

30 Mar

Yes, I know that in The Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ , the line is written “…She’s got the Mercedes Bends…” and that Don Henley had to explain to eagle-eyed fans (see what I did there?)  that this was not a spelling mistake and was in fact a play on words.

So, I am now taking Don’s lyrics and I am making a play on his words. In years to come, I will be asked tirelessly about the exact meaning of the title and whether I was making a dry social comment about the collapse of western civilization, using the metaphor of car auctions as a symbol of the capitalist system devouring itself by over-producing cars which in turn leads to the collapse of their value and subsequent discounting to below the gross cost of their manufacture.

I shall smile back through unfocused eyes as my bodyguard refreshes my single malt and, with the slightest tilt of my head, I shall indicate that I wish for the interview to be terminated and for the pink doves to be released over the city.

My nucleus of faithful blog subscribers – those who followed me prior to February 9th 2013 and who remained loyal despite experiencing great emotional and intellectual suffering – will be carried ahead of me on gilded chairs while school children dressed in the flags of the world’s nations perform “Next” by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band using only mime and natural yogurt.

I cannot stand Mercedes Benz products.

They make my flesh crawl. They symbolize a value system that I am deeply uncomfortable with. The signals they send out are not the ones that I want to transmit. Every Mercedes that I have ever driven has been well-built and outstandingly reliable. But I sometimes couldn’t wait to get out of them and simply drive something else – anything else – as if to confirm who I really was.

Mercedes Benz have built up a formidable brand value over the years. However, they are trading on their glorious past far too much. It simply is no longer true to say that a Mercedes never rusts and it will last forever; they rust pretty badly since Mercedes changed their steel supplier in the mid-nineties and their long-term reliability is wobbly, to say the least. Sure, their trucks and vans are still good but when did you last follow a Mercedes Sprinter van which had both tail lights working, eh…?

Then, there was the infamous A-Series “Moose-test” fiasco where Mercedes made two outrageous errors of technical judgement.

1) They released the original A-Series cars knowing full well that they could tip over if thrown sharply from left to right and back, as if avoiding a moose at speed.

2) Mercedes solved this technical problem in a shoddy way by reducing the ability of the car to steer quite so sharply in the first place, by increasing the ‘toe-out’ of the front wheels.

For many motoring enthusiasts, that disgracefully lazy ‘remedy’ marked the end of ‘old’ Mercedes (top-notch engineering) and the beginning of ‘new’ Mercedes (top-notch marketing).

They now offer so many car models  that there is at least one Mercedes for each of us on this planet to take a personal dislike to. Tell me that your pulse doesn’t quicken  to at least one of the following:

1) You are driving alone through an unfamiliar county on the back-roads at dusk after visiting an old friend. A soft rain begins to fall and you switch your windscreen wipers on and change from marker lights to dipped headlights. As you do so, you become aware that a silver 2006 Mercedes S500 with tinted glass is following you, always keeping just far enough back so that you cannot read it’s license plate.

2) Wanting to show your devotion and deep love for your partner after having both been through a hellish month, you drive out to a small but expensive restaurant that you both always promised you’d visit when you had the money, which you still don’t. As you turn in to the street which is a clearway and does not permit parking, the restaurant has a black 2012 Mercedes E Class Executive SE  stopped outside. The suited driver is standing by the rear passenger door and he is looking directly towards you as you drive by.

3) Having driven a company Mercedes C-Class for three years, it is now at the end of its lease and due for renewal. For a change of scenery, you select a cash-equivalent Audi from the list you are given to choose from. For the next month, all your acquaintances greet you with: “Hi…! Hey…what happened to the Mercedes?”

Am I getting anywhere here? Is it just me? Is there something specifically ‘Mercedes’ about those situations that simply wouldn’t happen if one swapped out all those cars in the stories for Lincolns or BMWs or a Lexus?

I mean, try reading through those stories again and instead of the Mercedes, insert  “1959 red and cream Chevrolet Corvette” and see how you feel now.

A Mercedes makes a statement far beyond its shape and composition. It announces one’s political and social outlook like no other cars does. It doesn’t wait for you to speak, it speaks for you without your permission and over the top of your own voice. It is as if Mercedes is becoming the victim of its own advertising campaigns. By offering humorless elitism and superiority (“Unlike Any Other.” “The Future of The Automobile.”) they attract many humorless people who wish to purchase admiration.

If you are unlucky enough to be living in one of the world’s many refugee camps right now, you gain respect from most people but you neither seek nor receive admiration. What matters most to you is this: If your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Chevrolet or a Toyota, then you and your children are probably going to survive. If your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Rolls Royce then almost anything could happen in the next 24 hours so you keep awake. But if your food is delivered off the back of a 2010 Mercedes Benz, you and your children have probably already been acquired by a warlord so you practise real quick how to smile and mix concrete at the same time.

Photograph at top of page, taken three days ago. Mercedes Benz E200 Avantgarde CGI Blue efficiency, Tip Auto, 1.8, petrol, Calcite White. Full black cow (sorry – full leather interior) and parking sensors. 14,500 warranted miles. First registered May 2010. One owner. Guaranteed as having no major mechanical faults by the auction house and vendor. Sold this Monday for £29, 100 ($46,269) at auction.

If you want one right now with U.K. specification, Mercedes Benz do have just one, a 2011 model for sale up in Scotland, yours for £34,999 ($55,648). The only other white one available is this one pictured above. White ones are scarce. Black or silver ones are everywhere you look, being the weapon of choice of the airport transfer brigade. You don’t want to spend all that money and be mistaken for a chauffeur, do you? Of course not.

The dealer who bought this Merc was possibly tracking it for the last few weeks as it neared the end of its lease.  He probably had it advertised as  “for sale – awaiting picture” for the last month  so that he could line up a buyer for the car in advance.

The leasing company who still owned it and the car’s actual keeper and driver would have been blissfully unaware of his audacity. Then, the dealer followed it down to the auction house on Monday and made £5,000 ($7,950) profit for a day’s work. It is not an easy way to make a living but two cars a month like that and you are earning $190,000 a year.

As you walk around a car auction, you may be surprised at just how many people are continually jabbering on their phones as they walk the lines of cars. Now you know why. All you need is a credit card and the telephone number of somebody who wants a white Mercedes because they hate getting mistaken for a chauffeur all the time.

After all, one doesn’t have to like a product personally in order to sell it. More on crystal-meth dealers in a future Roadwax post…

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Car Auctions: How to be cool on the dance floor…

28 Mar

If you can answer “YES” to any of the following questions, then for goodness sake don’t read the rest of this post.

1) You drive a BMW Mini and thought it would be funny if you attached fake ‘eyelashes’ to the headlights.

2) You recently purchased a new Saab for a great price by using your truly awesome bargaining techniques.

3) Your boyfriend drapes his arm around your seat top when you are driving and glares at passing motorists.

Okay. I think we shook them off.

Oh – hang on!  There’s a couple of stragglers who are still here out of curiosity, not sure if I’m joking or not…

4) You often order fresh pizza to be delivered to your home because it is cheaper than cooking stuff yourself.

Got ’em.

That’s the last ones. They just clicked the ‘back’  button and typed “Pizza” into Google. We can talk freely, now.

Right. Buying at a car auction is very easy but you have to take a few simple precautions. There are so many excellent vehicles passing through right now that you may lose your self-control and make a serious mistake.

Resist temptation. Consider my analogy of the night-club. Car auctions are so similar to night-clubs that it is untrue. If you understand how a night-club really works, you will have no trouble at a car auction.

Do your homework.

Check the terms and conditions of the auction house. Visit the place and make sure that you are aware of  your duties as a buyer. Stand to the side and watch people who are bidding. Watch how the auctioneer manages the bidding and notice how little time each car actually spends in front of the podium. Notice that there are areas in the room where the speaker system that relays the auctioneer’s voice sounds crystal clear…and also areas where it is impossible to hear what is being said.

Smarten up your act.

Research the exact car you want to own by using the internet and asking around. Look at similar examples on a local dealer’s forecourt. Visit the auction and watch as identical cars to the one you want go under the hammer. Make a few notes on the vehicles concerned: the last six digits of the chassis number or the registration plate, specification, mileage and service history. Do not even think of buying, just watch. If those cars go under the hammer for 25% – 30% less than the price you would expect, then you may be at the right auction. Go to the very next auction at that site. Did those exact same vehicles go through again? Why?

Don’t pretend to be somebody you aren’t.

Nobody cares who you really are at an auction. Keep it that way.  The serious buyers are so discreet and polished that it may take you many hours or even days before you notice them. They are not your competition. They will always pull out before you do. When the day finally arrives where you go in for the kill and buy, your competition is most likely to be an idiot private buyer who obsessively bids against you, stupidly jacking the car’s price up beyond its real worth.

Practise a few clever moves.

On your first visits to the auction, find an example of the car you want to buy and stick with it as if it were your own. Watch as dealers come up and survey it. Watch what they see, watch what they do. Learn to move your head as they do, so that reflections on the car’s paintwork  (the hall lighting, the car next to it) ‘slide’ over and across the bodywork. By following the reflections, you will more easily spot dents and paint differences. Notice how some dealers run their index finger along a clean car as they pass along it. Do the same. Resprayed panels often ‘feel’ different.

When the car is started up, ready to enter the auction line, watch what the dealers do, where they look, what they check. If the dealer reaches in and turns the steering wheel sharply, you can bet that it is because power steering racks are expensive to replace on that model. If the dealer tries all the electric windows, perhaps they are prone to fail? Watch what is checked under the bonnet. Follow the car into the hall and watch if those dealers bid on that car.

Beauty had better not be just skin-deep.

That 2008 Audi A5 Quattro Sport in the picture above, with 75,000 miles on the clock, sold for £14,200 ($22,580) last week. Now, that actually is the same price that you could buy that car at a dealership here in Britain. So, did somebody get carried away and forget to stop bidding? Perhaps. But then again, in Germany, $22,580 would only buy you that model if it had been hit hard in a collision. You’d need to find at least an extra $8-10,000 to buy an A5 like the one in the photo.

So, a one-way ferry ticket and two days driving will possibly see that car sitting with a delighted new owner in Eastern Europe who has got a bargain.  Alternatively, that A5 may first of all spend a week in a back-street garage, somewhere in Europe. The dashboard and chassis numbers from a crashed left-hand-drive A5 Quattro will be fitted and it will ‘become’ the crashed car…but apparently now no longer crashed. However, that will be somebody else’s problem; the car shown in the picture is the real deal.

Buying a second-hand car always carries risks, whether you buy privately, from a dealer or from an auction. Strangely, perhaps counter-intuitively, the largest auction houses provide a greater level of protection than you might at first think.

More explanations, buying advice, plus extra-clever tips and safety hints to come!


Car Auctions: How to win on the dance floor in 2012

19 Mar

Firstly, I must apologise for the long delay in posting this guide. After I uploaded the introduction on March 6th, I was attacked by two masked people while I was relaxing at the dentists. Although I put up the best fight I could, they stole one of my teeth.

The main attacker was a Caucasian male who drove an Aston Martin DB 9. He had bought it at an auction. How could I tell? Because it still had the little white label with the bar-code on, stuck to the bottom right of the windscreen. You can see one of these stickers if you click  on the car in the picture above.

Microsoft Paint is one helluva handy little program for airbrushing out details in photographs. But if you take a 500mg Amoxicillin, 1000mg Co-Dydramol and then pop 50mg of Tramadol, you will get the kind of sloppy results you can see in my picture. Assuming, that is, you can actually remember which room you put the damned lap-top in and can still work door handles.

I took this photograph at an auction in the UK last week. This 2003 Ford Focus 1.6LX Automatic Estate had just “had the auctioneer’s hammer drop on it” – a casual term to describe that binding and contractual sale made between the Auction House and it’s new owner who offered the highest bid. That owner was rushing off to get hold of the car’s documents while I went out and snapped this pic of their new possession.

The car shown has air conditioning, alloy wheels, parking sensors, leather interior and holds a current mechanical safety certificate (MoT). It has six Dealer stamps in its Service Book, confirming that it has been driven only 35, 000 miles from new and was regularly serviced by its previous owner.

It was sold for a “hammer price” of £250 ($396). You would be hard – pushed to buy a leather sofa for the same price as this entire car.

The “hammer price” of £250 reminds us that the buyer will have to also pay a further ‘Buyer’s Premium’ to the Auction House – a commission that is charged on all sales. That will be another £200 ($317) making a total of £450 ($714) for the joy of driving that Focus away.

Somebody just bought themselves a great little car for everyday use!

If you enlarge the picture, you will see some clues as to why it went so cheaply. The trade dealers didn’t want it on their forecourt because this car has got a little ‘ding’ or scrape on some of the panels. Car dealers rarely get approached by a customer who says:

“Hi, I’d like to buy a good used car for everyday driving but it must have a couple of little dents and scratches.”

The system just doesn’t work like that. So, the dealers held back and didn’t bid. The bidding “stalled”. Only the ‘private’ bidders (ordinary people like you and I) remained interested and only two people out of about two hundred were concentrating for that moment – about forty seconds – when this car was driven up to the stand.

The auctioneer did what he could to raise interest but he can see a queue of eighty more cars waiting their turn and time is money. Lunch break beckoned. The car was sold.

So, Rule Number One of buying at a car auction is that you have to actually be there with your credit card and your eyes and ears on alert. You can alternatively bid online but I would not personally recommend that. You can tell so much by simply ‘looking’ at a car up close and watching as it is started and driven into the queue for the podium. More on all those techniques in future posts.

This year is proving to be a good year for auction bargains. Over-supply of new cars is resulting in huge discounting of cars that are three years or more in age. However, the increasing cost of insuring certain models is also skewing the market values of some cars.

If you are walking down the street and you see a car that is similar to one which you would like to own, write down its registration plate details and then feed them in to an insurance comparison website ‘search’ page.  That way, you’ll get its exact make and model details up on the screen. Speed-Dating.

Car Auctions: Nightclubs for the over 25s…?

6 Mar

Right. Let’s get down to business.

The first time you had sex with someone who wasn’t actually you, three things happened:

1) You couldn’t compare the sensation to anything else that you had previously experienced.

2) You got a strange look from the person you were doing it with, somewhere towards the end.

3) You suddenly realised why some people did it for a living.

Okay, Now you are a little older, you should try buying at a car auction. Its pretty much the same deal.

Regardless of gender, when you are feeling too old to be going to a nightclub, you are just becoming old enough to enter the world of car auctions. Just like some weird deleted scene from Benjamin Button, as you become too old to spill a Smirnoff Ice while drooling at someone on the dance floor, you come of age to enter a far more exciting world of sober intrigue and expensive nods.

Car auctions are not for everyone. They can be like getting off with a complete stranger and then waking up the next morning to find you have no credit card. Or, they can make you happy for the rest of your life. You can save $5,000 easily at a car auction while having fun at the same time. You can’t do that at a nightclub.

Thousands of one, two and three year old cars are sold each day by Auction Houses. Just one auction I visit regularly can crank the ‘hammer’ speed up to one car sold every fifteen seconds. Most of the second hand cars that you see on a dealer forecourt have been through these auctions. The dealer adds about 30% to the price and sticks them out front, sometimes without even needing to polish the door handles.

The truly massive over-production of new cars in the West is threatening near-catastrophic melt-down of our economies. This is no over-exaggeration. Western Europe relies heavily on new car manufacture to employ it’s workers. As an extreme example, Spain’s demand for new cars has dropped by an estimated 55% since 2007. European manufacturers are over-producing new cars by a rate of 20% per year. Jobs are going to be lost. Presidents and Prime Ministers are looking pasty and grey. Insomnia is the new ‘black’. As new car prices drop, nearly-new car prices drop more. Especially at auctions.

The latest Roadwax “Western Leader Poll” results are in. All western leaders were asked the same three questions by Roadwax, their premier trusted source of internet motoring groove.

Q 1) “As a Western Leader, did you get out of bed at 3.20am last Wednesday and see if there was anything in the fridge worth finishing off?”

Q 2) “Did you eventually decide instead to neck all the whiskey from the cupboard and cancel your first meeting?”

Q 3) “Even though all of you are millionaires, do you ever fancy sneaking off and going down the car auction?”

All Western Leaders have now returned their answers to me. Putin replied twice, but he doesn’t actually count on this one. Sorry, Vlad. Yes, I know you hate being called Vlad.

Just like Roadwax showed you in four easy parts how to find a good car to have a crash in, Roadwax is now going to show you how to understand car auctions and save between £500 and £50,000 from your hard earned cash.

General Motors Found Mumbling To Itself On Night Bus To Penge

4 Mar

The household name and multinational giant General Motors has been spotted on the 176 Night Bus from Trafalgar Square to Penge, South London, England.

Relatives of the American auto legend, once famous for world-first cars including the Chevrolet Bel-Air, Corvette, Camaro and the entire Cadillac range and also many other outstanding automotive classics, have been informed.

G.M.’s confused and highly agitated state initially aroused the suspicions of fellow Night Bus passengers when he stood up, wrapped roasting foil around the top of his head and screamed: “…I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me…?” as the bus approached Waterloo Station.

Emma Thong, 18, a stylist from Croydon said: “At first, I was quite shocked, but G.M. suddenly burst into tears and sat down again so I let it go. It is not something you expect from a multinational conglomerate but I didn’t want to get involved.”.

General Motors left a note last week with a next-door neighbour, saying that he had met a French woman on the internet and was going away for a while.

“G.M. often did that sort of thing.” neighbour Jack Daniels said yesterday.   “He shacked up with some Isuzu woman in Japan for a while but things never really went as planned. Heart wasn’t in it. Got involved with a Korean called Daewoo and kept telling everybody she was the real thing but I guess loneliness makes you blind to what’s really going on.”

Amrit Dinesh, a 24-year-old Post Graduate medical student who was sitting on the bus next to G.M. said: “He used his finger to write the word ‘HEPL’ on the glass. When I explained that he had miss-spelled the word, he started crying and asked me if I knew how to design small cars. I gave him a tissue but he ate it and then began singing about how he wanted to be a country girl and having an old brown dog and a big front porch and keeping rabbits. It was sad.”

London Police were initially alerted by White House staff after G.M.’s rented Opel Corsa was found at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. Empty wine bottles were strewn across the interior and a love letter from the French car maker Peugeot was found on the driver’s seat. American Embassy staff were unable to make progress and called Scotland Yard.

Detective Inspector Brian Loadsworth from Scotland Yard issued this statement to reporters:

“At about 17.56pm yesterday, we were contacted by American Embassy officials in Paris who were extremely concerned that G.M. had possibly gone on an immense bender with a known French car-maker. They had intercepted evidence that General Motors had got absolutely trousered and signed some sort of agreement with the French car maker, formerly known as Peugeot. The officials stated that they were getting no help from the people of Paris, who were responding to their questions by merely shrugging their shoulders and saying something about George W. Bush. At 02.14 this morning, we received information from a trusted source that General Motors was possibly sitting upstairs on the Night Bus No. 176 to Penge”.

“Armed Police from the Tactical Support Group immediately surrounded the bus and, after a short but vicious struggle, neutralized the bus driver and took him into custody. Seven officers were injured when they were hit by a Ford Transit kebab van. Forty-six passengers who were on the bus have been charged with assault. One American business legend, aged about 100 years, was questioned by Police at the scene and then was released after being cautioned about his behaviour.”

A good car to have a crash in…? Part 4

2 Mar

This is the final part in this mini – series on how to choose a car that can save your life.

If you haven’t read parts 1, 2 and 3 then I suggest you do before reading this so that you can make better sense of the points raised in this particular post.

The latest figures released for America and Western Europe suggest that the cars we drive on the road are approximately ten years old on average. Personally, I am surprised to read this. I would have thought that the ‘average’ would have been younger – closer to seven. However, I simply cannot find data that contradicts this claim and so I shall have to accept it.

A good car to have a crash in is one that will maximise our chances of survival and minimise our chances of becoming “KSI” – Killed or Seriously Injured.

At this point, we can all imagine in our minds a few particular cars that we might choose to be in, solidly manufactured by makers who have a long and proven reputation for collision safety research and who build large and well-upholstered cars. ‘Large’ cars? No – hang on – we are already becoming confused.  Just because it is large does not mean that it better protects us from KSI. Yes, it may be scientifically correct that a large car is likely to better survive a collision with a small car, but large cars do not necessarily save us from being KSI. Ask Princess Diana.

We have to look carefully now at a whole range of factors and ‘values’ to understand how to make the best choice.  If “large cars from reputable manufacturers” are good to have a crash in, three questions immediately pop up:

1) Will manufacturers or insurance companies reveal KSI data for these cars?    Answer: No.

2) Is it easier to quickly alter the direction of travel of a large car compared to a small car?  Answer: No.

3) If both large and small cars are driven at 100 kph into an unmovable concrete block, is KSI data identical?  Answer: Yes.

To find out what is really going on with modern cars and to make an informed choice, we must go back and look again at the three ‘interested parties’ involved in a collision: The Car – The Occupants – The Investigation. I call this: “The Facebook Triangle”;  each player has an opposing self-interest. Let me explain it to you.

The car manufacturer works hard to build a car with a low KSI factor, including safety by design, by build quality and by product testing.  In the real world we live in, the manufacturer will only go so far before the budget dictates that they release the car on to the market.

The crash investigator visits cars that have been involved in KSI collisions and tries hard to establish what  factors caused the KSI result. Although the investigator may see obvious reasons for KSI that were not actually  to do with the car itself, for example – a 100 ton tree falling on the car when it was stationary, the investigator will still have to attribute a KSI cause – “car roof structural integrity failure”.

The driver and passengers of the car unintentionally became involved in a collision. Effectively – if we are accurate – the driver ran out of ways of avoiding the collision and therefore became involved. The driver now hopes that the car will protect them as a last resort.

There are three players involved: the manufacturer, the investigator, the driver. All three have totally different aims. The manufacturer is trying to avoid having KSI data attached to its product, the investigator has to attach a cause of KSI to the product. Lastly, the driver (or their surviving relatives) is hoping that the cause of KSI is not attributed to the driver.

By accepting the above scenario, we can see a greater truth emerging:

A mass-produced, affordable commuter car will attract more KSI “hits” than an expensive luxury car simply on the basis that it is generally driven for more miles, driven by a more diverse range of drivers, driven in more diverse circumstances.

So, manufacturers of large luxury cars do not want to reveal accurate KSI data because it might actually show that, mile for mile in the real world, that precise model of car has similar or more KSI hits than a competitor’s standard ‘budget’ car. Manufacturers of standard ‘budget’ cars don’t want to discuss KSI openly for fear that their product gets unfairly associated with a high KSI. We can see their point because many more unskilled or otherwise dangerous drivers will drive their product instead of an expensive luxury car.

Collision investigators have to attribute a cause of KSI. If they keep writing down “…I don’t know but, jeez, the driver was completely like spaghetti once he’d been passed through all the round dials on the dashboard…” they are only hanging on to their jobs by their fingertips. Accuracy is key.

And then, there is the driver. We drivers come in all shapes and sizes and skill levels. The collision investigator and the manufacturer want to ask us – in all seriousness – “…could you have avoided that collision?…”  We rarely answer “Yes.” When looking at KSI data, it is often difficult to separate out the acts of the driver from the behavior of the car. For example, did a car leave the road because it has poor road-holding or handling characteristics or else did the driver fail to use the car’s controls correctly?

Several popular manufacturers currently have cars on the road which, technically speaking, have fatally flawed handling characteristics.

More truth emerges: Insurance companies sift through the data of KSI. They have close access to that accurate data. Do they reveal the accurate, dissected data? Absolutely not. It is competitively sensitive. However, they do often put pressure on manufacturers to improve their products. They sometimes do this quite bluntly by telling the manufacturer to improve a particular car or else the insurer will effectively “kill it off” by use of high insurance premiums.

Conversely, the ‘People Carrier’ design of car emerged partly because insurance companies noted a new KSI trend: where two vehicles collided and one vehicle had its occupants seated higher than the centre of gravity of the other, (say, a conventional car) much of the collision shock passed underneath them. The obvious flaw in this initial advantage was that it canceled itself out if all vehicles were designed in that same way and it also raised the centre of gravity, increasing the chance of the People Carrier turning over.

To find out which car is good to have a crash in, we have to run all the data backwards. Instead of looking at all the shiny cars we have available to us and then wondering which one to drive, we must imagine each one already crashed and stationary, its occupants still inside. By doing so, stark realities become clear that were previously obscure.

All cars perform worse as more occupants and luggage are added to them. Regardless of size, if the car is carrying maximum occupants and maximum luggage, that luggage and those occupants increase the distance needed to stop or evade, increase the kinetic energy that has to be dissipated in the collision, reduce the interior space available to act as a ‘free zone’ where there are no obstructions.

All humans become KSI if their internal organs are subject to an impact above approximately 27mph. When we watch film of cars being crash tested, we see how the manufacturer tries to solve this problem by making the car’s passenger compartment slow down ‘progressively’. This is done  by transferring the impact forces away from the compartment and ‘soaking up’ as much force as possible in the parts of the car that are outside the passenger compartment – the engine compartment and the luggage compartment in particular. These areas are particularly used to make impact shocks to the passengers become more softened.

Airbags and flexible interior trim add more shock-reduction still, so the more of them one has, the better overall. They convert those sudden shocks and impacts into a series of more gradual ones. That passenger compartment has to keep it’s integrity, leaving the passengers with room to move inside it as the actual impact takes place. So, a sophisticated manufacturer can turn a crash at above 30mph into a series of decelerations, each one lower than 25mph, the g-forces dissipated as much as possible within the time frame of the collision.

Drivers and occupants often survive high-speed crashes because their car actually is involved in a series of collisions within that one event and each individual impact is lower than 25mph. For example, suffering a tyre failure at 100mph (lose 10mph), bounce off the railing (lose 15mph), skid diagonally across three lanes (lose 20mph), bounce off a truck (lose 20mph), bounce backwards into another vehicle (lose 20mph) and then skid to a halt (the final 15mph). Far better than hitting one item at 100mph.

Since the vast majority of crashes are head on, it is wise to design the front of a car so that it sequentially changes shape during an accident, altering the onward course of the car. This is best illustrated by looking at a Formula 1 racing car. Notice how the driver sits in a narrow canoe-like pod with a pointed nose? What would happen if two racing cars were to collide head on? The two passenger compartments would slide past each other, decelerating more slowly over a longer time period as  ‘sacrificial’ parts – front wheels and suspension – take the brunt of the forces. Clever stuff.

So some newer cars have their mechanical components angled such that they will fold inwards and downwards, reducing the chance of the vehicle stopping dead or becoming interlocked with another vehicle. Their suspension and wheels will progressively shear off as forces rise, their passenger doors will interlock with their door frames to provide a continuous structure instead of acting as a separate panel.

Walking among the lines of crashed cars in a recovery yard, I became aware that one category of car rarely appeared: the car with four new tyres. It was disproportionately absent. I checked this with my calculator and this car was under-represented by a factor of 75% in a yard made up of 175 cars. Those “missing” cars were not there in the yard because they had managed to stop in time or else swerved to avoid the crash.

Think on that. They never actually got involved in the crash. The crash never happened.

“A good car to have a crash in…?” has been a series of articles intended to help you make informed decisions and good risk assessment. In real life, a good car to have a crash in is a two to three year old medium-sized or large car from a reputable manufacturer, carrying a five-star (maximum) safety rating. Its occupants are average build, seated and belted correctly and relaxing as the airbags explode to meet them.

A good car to avoid having a crash in?  Well, that is a different question!

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