The VRC's 22,000-square-foot crash hall has three runways to accommodate front and side tests replicating crashes into another vehicle or fixed object. The cavernous crash hall can even handle tests involving a parked tractor-trailer. We conduct 50-70 crash tests each year, and representatives from auto manufacturers are welcome to watch.
Apart from crashing real vehicles, we have used the runways to evaluate new technologies such as adaptive headlights and rearview camera systems.
We use specially designed crash test barriers when we evaluate how vehicles protect people in front and side impacts. In the moderate overlap front test, a fast-moving vehicle strikes a deformable barrier made of aluminum honeycomb that crushes like a real car would in a crash. It's mounted to a larger barrier that's 320,000 pounds of steel and concrete.
In the small overlap test, we use a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier with a radius of about 6 inches representing the outer corner of a car or a tree or post. The test vehicle strikes the barrier at 40 mph.
In the side evaluation, the test vehicle is parked and the barrier itself moves toward it at 31 mph. The 3,300-pound barrier strikes the driver's side of the vehicle. The barrier's face is shaped to simulate the typical front end of a pickup or SUV.
We also perform vehicle-to-vehicle crashes, mostly for research purposes. An especially memorable crash test was the one we conducted for the 50th anniversary of IIHS. The Sept. 9, 2009, crash featured a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air versus a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu in a moderate overlap front test at 40 mph.
Beneath the crash hall floor is a propulsion system that can accelerate full-size pickup trucks to 50 mph on the VRC's two 600-foot runways. Speeds up to 25 mph can be reached on a 200-foot runway situated perpendicular to the longer ones. The propulsion system, the first of its type in North America, uses compressed nitrogen to run hydraulic motors that, in turn, drive the cables that tow the vehicles to their designated impact speeds.
Just before the countdown begins for every test, bright light floods the crash hall. The lighting system provides up to 750,000 watts of illumination without glare, perfect for capturing digital video and still images at multiple angles. Onboard cameras and additional ones positioned in the crash hall record the key footage that helps us assess vehicle performance and share the story with media outlets worldwide.
Photographers take detailed before and after photos of vehicles in a special studio equipped with a turntable that floats on a cushion of air to display vehicles from various angles.