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Sean Phillips

Inside Consumer Reports: Electronic Stability Controls

By October 3, 2011

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Photo © Sean Phillips

The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center sits on a large plot of land in a relatively rural area of Connecticut. It's unspoiled enough that the engineers there admitted that they've been having something of a "deer problem" ever since Hurricane Irene knocked down some of their fencing. Fortunately, the deer stayed away for our visit.

After a congenial lunch, we toured the remarkably clean and well-equipped garage where the cars up for testing are checked out and given a four-wheel alignment prior to being put on the track.

Photo © Sean Phillips

Consumer Reports spends $3 million per year buying all the cars they use for testing, although they do recoup approximately $2 million selling the cars after they finish with them.

Our first demonstration was the testing method for Electronic Stability Control. ESC is a computerized system which detects a loss of steering control and applies asymmetrical braking to individual wheels to oppose the direction of the skid and keep the car under control. To test these systems, Consumer Reports uses the "Avoidance Maneuver." A double line of cones is laid out to resemble one lane of a road, interrupted by a "gate" comprised of two cones that are offset to the left. The test driver must drive between the double line of cones, veer hard left to pass through the offset gate, then return to the double line of cones beyond. This maneuver simulates a driver veering hard left to avoid an obstacle such as a car backing out to one's front, followed by another maneuver to the right to avoid, say, a oncoming truck in the opposite lane.

This sounds relatively easy until one tries to perform it at 56mph. The first two runs were sufficient to impress upon us how remarkably effective ESC is:

After that, it was time for we journalists to put on our helmets...

Photo © Sean Phillips

...and experience the Avoidance Maneuver from inside the car.

Next time: Tires, Tracking and Treadwear.

October 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm
(1) St George Hyundai Sonata says:

This is a very good post, thanks for sharing!!! :D

October 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm
(2) Sean Phillips says:

Thank you!

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