Stability Control Topic on the Daily Calendar

My wife bought me the Car Talk daily calendar for Christmas and today’s (15Feb12) topic is Stability Control. I agree Stability Control is a great thing (particularly on my 2WD pickup) and it should be promoted. I question your spin though with the courts and lawsuits. The ingenuity of auto manufacturers produced stability control, government and trial lawyers have never contributed anything to auto engineering. Can’t you just say that manufacturers have given us a great feature and everyone should seek this out when buying a car ?

I believe that stability control systems are now government-mandated on all new vehicles. It used to be an optional system.

Trial lawyers and the govt. have never contributed anything to automobile engineering ?

. Granted, they don’t sit down, pencil in hand and design, but the impetus sure is there. I think lawyer Ralph Nader would agree. Class action law suits do much to encourage car companies, god or bad, into certain courses of action.
I think you have your head in the sand if you don’t think govt. mandates haven’t contributed to better made cars. Some of us would swap some of these so called improvements for less expensive or more drvable cars…but that’s a different debate. And, I sure whine about some of them and how they are implemented…especially stability and traction control.

Stability control was an option at one time because car companies had to prepare for the date it was mandated. Car companies are well informed when these mandates become active. Without the mandate, you would never have seen it on cars, an option or otherwise by now. Car companies like Toyota made it standard on all their SUVs back in 2003 knowing it would be later mandated. One of the moves that keeps them competitive.

I suppose we could do without all govt. mandates and keep breathing second hand smoke at Pizza Hut and asbestos in our schools and offices…and not have seat belts or head restraints in cars.

Ralph Nader is the poster boy for a bad trial lawyer. After destroying the Corvair with bogus claims all of which were later proven to be false.

"After destoying (sic) the Corvair with bogus claims all of which were later proven to be false. "

Actually, that is not true.
Because of the cheap swing-axle design of the original Corvair’s rear suspension, the car was more prone to oversteer than the typical front-engine cars of the day. This could have been ameliorated to a great extent by adding a Camber Compensator, but this was not part of the original design.

Buyers were never cautioned about handling differences in this car vs the cars which they had driven for years, and thus the sudden oversteer took drivers by surprise and most did not know how to deal with it. Also–the car was EXTREMELY sensitive to tire pressure irregularities.

Most cars of the day called for something like 24 lbs of pressure in all 4 tires.
By contrast, the Corvair needed its front tire pressure set very low (18 lbs, IIRC), with the rear pressure set to…I believe 26 lbs. However, this very vital information was mentioned only once, in regular typeface, in the text of the Owner’s Manual. When the above-noted tire pressures were not used, the car oversteered viciously, thus leading to a lot of serious accidents.

Despite the incredible importance of correct tire pressure on this unconventional car, there were no notices on the door jamb, or inside the glove box, or even on the sun visor. GM saw fit to place operating instructions for the heater on a piece of cardboard that slipped over the sun visor, but did not think that this type of notification was important in regard to the tire pressure!

When GM later redesigned the rear suspension (adding an additional U-joint to each swing axle, plus adding a “camber compensator”, the Corvair was transformed into a true driving enthusiast’s car. Unfortunately, those features were not included in the original design.

Additionally, the steering column was a major safety hazard on these cars.
No cars in those days had collapsible steering columns, but most did have the mass of the engine “protecting” the steering column from impact unless the impact was very severe. Also, most cars had the steering box located at least a couple of feet back from the front of the car. By contrast, the Corvair’s steering column extended much further forward than on most other cars, and the steering box was located just a couple of inches behind the front sheet metal The result was that even a relatively slow frontal impact drove the steering column back far enough to cause serious or fatal injuries to the driver. There were even cases where the steering column was driven back far enough to penetrate the roof!

“All of which were later proven to be false”?

Having learned on Corvairs, a '61 and then a '65, I can testify that for its day the car was actually a pretty decent car, as safe as most on the road at that time. The swing axle was not uncommon in rear engined cars…even the Porsche of the day had swing axles and was subject to the same problems as the Corvair. The '65 was “sorted out” and was IMHO a good car, and in many design aspect was ahead of its time…

However, the Corvair being such a dramatically different design, it was expensive to produce, and it was thus unpopular among the GM heirarchy. That, combined with the book by that self-serving, self-promoting, poor excuse for a lawyer, killed the Corvair.

Sorry, while I admit that safety has often taken a back seat by auto mfr’s, Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at any Speed, was a hatchet job written by a man obviously bereft of any automotive understanding whatsoever.

For starters, UAAS came out AFTER the Corvair was outfitted with a revised suspension! Yes, Mr. Nader spends the entire first chapter kvetching about something GM had already fixed.

Second, UAAS uses “expert opinion” like the Chrysler engineer complaining about the safety of rear-C.G. autos. Given that he uses an expert opinion of a man employed by a company that DOES NOT manufacture rear-enigned cars (yet competes with two companies that do), Mr. Nader was either (a) too stupid to appreciate the obvious conflict-of-interest, OR (b) too ethically compromised to care.

Meanjoe, you have a much higher opinion of Ralph Nader than I do.

That’s cool. Nader is probably responsible for saving more lives then many of us could imagine. I guess it shows you how much you can be loathed when you look quirky regardless of how much you devote your life to trying to do the right thing.
His intent as a devout free marketeer himself, as VDC alludes to was never to kill the Corvair, exploding Pinto or rollover Broncos. Nader feels that a free market can only exist in an atmosphere of accountability. If a company produces a product and claim it is safe and handles well under most conditions, it had damn well better be. You want to then buy a Corvair, Pinto or Bronco, go ahead. But at least be informed by the manufacturer of it’s limitations. That goes for any produce …getting rid of deception and holding corporation accountable for their sociopathic tendancies is his goal, if you were so inclined to actually follow his history.
That’s when the free market flourishes.

Nadar probably has saved more lives than we can imagine. He was the driving force behind the federal government taking a rgulatory atttitude toward automotive safety, as well as a wakeup call to the manufacturers that the market can hold them accountable for pawning off junk.

However, I don’t believe his actions were all that altruistic. IMHO the book was about self-promotion and creation of a revenue stream for a nonprofit private enterprise (his). And I relaly don;t think he knew much about automobiles or the automotive industry. he simply searched out data for his book.

Nadar believes strongly in government oversight…of everything. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. We’re now restricted to government-sanctioned lightbulbs, pans without Teflon (next year), and toilets that don’t flush. Eventually we’ll all probably have to buy government-sanctioned recycled toilet paper. I rue the day.

Same…Nader I agree was no automotive expert, but I don’t believe he would have gone as far as he did without commissioning some expert advice. Does he self promote ? Absolutely. Is he difficult to follow and work for ? Often according to his underlings. But, like a lot of effective people who sometimes go a little too far when they take their own vision as the absolute truth, good still comes from it. I, like you disagree with a lot of what he does.

But as far as govt. oversight is concerned, rules and regulations written by congress are often at the mercy of the administration in power as far as enforcement is concerned. That’s what happen when Glass - Steagall was repealed and the Fed was given blanket oversight authority to oversee investment practices. Under Bush/Greenspan era. Greenspan turned out to be a political lacky for whomever was the president at the time, just to keep his job. Oversight was just a word…it didn’t happen and GM was caught in the middle, floating loans well beyound auto ownership which they had no business doing and set the stage for many of their problems. Govt. regulation ? …some would argue, there wasn’t enough. And, at least for the previous 8 administrative years, I agree with Nader.

As far as our other concerns with respect to over regulation, light bulbs etc. there is always two sides. If it’s a safety concern, I don’t want to breath asbestos in a public space. I remember that it was over regulation when tobacco was restricted state by state from public places…a lot of people are alive and thankful today. The same with Teflon ? I need to google more.

Right now, we have a bill before Congress sponsored by conservatives that allow the employer health care provider payer to determine which services THEY decide the insurance company will pay for… If you think that corporate regulation is better then govt. regulation…we’ll have to agree to disagree.

A quote I heard the other day…from ??? "busness and corporate practices created the need for unions and govt. regulation. "

How can you say that lawyers haven’t contributed? The silly warning that appears on your sun visor re. airbags, the multiple disclaimers in your owners manual, the horrid warnings that appear on your nav system when you power it up, and the unending seat belt chime that takes Herculean measures to disable are all products of litigation and/or paranoia about same from auto manufacturers. Add to that top speed governors, ‘black boxes’, and brake pedal shifter interlocks. Don’t forget high insurance rates.

And going away from autos, don’t forget that idiotic warning on your new computer keyboard about repetitive stress injuries, that surely has not ever prevented even a single one of them from occurring.

“silly warnings” as you say I agree. But, these warnings are usually accompanied by a publicity campaign on the part of consumer groups well before they appear. That well informed people like yourself Oblivion find the labels objectionable means not so well informed find them necessary. There are people who still drove truck based SUVs like Corvettes even after these labels were put on, making add ons like stability control necessary, saving lives of well informed innocents who were less apt to be killed by said SUV swerving into their lane.

So, I agree with everything you say and feel the same way about these devices. But I remind myself of the sacrifice we all have make because we can’t gurantee that only the "idiot drivers " would suffer from their own actions. I really don’t like having to buckle up my powered speaker I set convieniently in the seat beside me either, just to avoid flashing lights and chimes. I consider myself well informed but still do stupid things when I think I can get away with it, and putting a heavy unsecured projectile next to me then driving at high speeds, is stupid on my part.

MOST if not ALL safety features and warning labels are from the INSURANCE industry. They have spent MILLIONS in lobbying congress for safety features…and certain laws (Seat-Belt just to name one). The insurance industry also pushed for many of the safety labels you see in cars. It’s basically to their best interest to do so.

Actually, I’d argue that safety features and warning labels originate from a variety of sources, including industry lawyers,
private lawyers in the act of self-promotion,
special interest groups (often funded by government grants),
regulatory agencies,
and legislation promulgated by industries and manipulated into legislation by industrial lobbys, often with an eye toward protecting their market segments.

As regards the original subject, stability control, I’m inclined to believe that while it should perhaps be an option it should not be mandated until much more is known about it. ABS was touted as a great thing, but in use it was realized that it has a weakness, longer stopping distances. It’s become ubiquotous because the industry considers it a selling point. Much as radial tires became ubiquotous despite never being mandated, if stability control is proven over the long haul to be superior it too will become the norm.

Stability Control is the norm and mandated in new light duty vehicles. Abs generally results in shorter stopping distances, even on ice and has shown to very slightly in crease it in sand over hot top. If some one asked you your preference, I think most would opt for control over marginally longer distances in very few situations normaly encountered. Only at very low speeds, less then 5 mph may it be of benefit to lock up. Most cars seem calibrated to do so and deactivate it at these speeds.

IMHO, most drivers WANT these two features. Vehicles that offered them before mandates as standard features had preference for me and everyone I knew who bought a new car. As long as you have a lock out feature for the stability combined with traction control that allows wheel spin when you need it at lower speeds, there is no reason not to have them from a safety point of view. As a feature that eats your brakes and may cause long term ownership maintenance problems, there are indeed aspects that we all hate with them.

Abs inrceases stopping distances on ice, gravel, and washboard roads. Washboard roads are the worst case scenerio. But it does improve control. I agree that they should be available for people that want them, but not mandated.

Traction Control/stability control has clearly been shown to assist in maintaining control in bad situations. I’m unaware at this time of any “downside”. Cost, perhaps, but that’s not a concern for me. Perhaps an elevated sense of false confidence, but that’s arguable. I see enough SUVs in the ditch every storm to realize their sense of confidence (or perhas common sense?) already exceeds their abilities anyway.

Same…This is just one source…but it’s repeated nearly every where I google.

There are minority situations, sand and deep snow and the like which can increase stopping distance. I don 't mean to be argumentative, but I feel it’s incorrect to say "abs has a weakness, longer stopping distances " when in fact, it occurs in the minority of surfaces that most cars need the shorter stopping distance of abs…dry and slippery, ice, snow and water covered roads. It does not portray that for most of the situations abs may be used, stopping distance IS reduced.

Washboard roads are extremely variable and that along with deep snow and sand would require much slower speeds to begin with with a minimal increase in distance.

The down side is long term ownership, and if you drive slippery roads daily likeI do in the winter, heavy use and increase wear on the brakes.

Re: the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Re: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Whiplash Prevention Institute

All of the dot-org agencies recognize the weaknesses of ABS, and warn not to assume that it will reduce stopping distances. They point out that its purpose is control, and in some surfaces it can increase stopping distances. I myself have had this “the wheels won’t stop” experience on an icy road. Had I been going too fast for conditions or not kept plenty of space between me and everything around me, it might have resulted in an accident (it did not). But it did wake me up to the weknesses of ABS.

I think that for those that desire it and feel it’ll be an advantage for them, it shouldl be offered. If it ends up being installed in all vehicles, I hope they add the option to disable it.

Same my good man. It’s a matter of semantics and I struggle to see the disagreement other then your insistence that your own references which say " some surfaces like loose snow and gravel" which are in the minority while you stand by a blanket original statement of “abs lengthens stopping distances.” Your references agree with my position and I agree with them. Even one says the longer distance situations are RARE. Your personal experience is only valid if you immediately jumped into a non abs car, went through the same senerio and compared distances.

Further more, as an additional reason…
I can only tell you that when doing accident reports, the 4 wheels of a car seldom if ever where in the same traction situation both as a group of four or individually during the entire stop. Anyone thinking they can adjust their braking on all four wheel while reacting to the worse tire traction wheel with the same efficiency and stopping power equal to doing it with abs is mistaken.

Test done on artificially groomed surfaces seldom reveal true, real life situations. Abs equipped cars from my and every other cop I have talked to, feel they simply stop shorter in all measurable situations that were part of their reports. They prefer them on their cruisers around here. It’s subjective because cops never take coefficient of friction measurements for each of the tires. They generally observe that for each given speed, non abs equipped car skid marks are generally erratic and exceptionally long as the driver just goes into the “freeze” mode while the car spins, often onto more slippery side of the road conditions they can’t avoid, sometimes getting launched for significant distances, sliding on their sides and generally going dramatically greater distances then abs controlled cars. Tests never take this into account. Daily body counts do reveal that the simple act of control does wonders for decreasing stopping distance regardless of our disagreement in general. The guy who survived, often never appreciated why.

To opt for disabling abs, with all do respect, is the height of conceit that even a student who later became a very succesful NASCAR professional race car driver has said he preferred these aids on his daily driver. I have yet to ride with anyone who can handle a car like some of these guys. You may be the exception. For your safety, I hope you are Or never get the chance to delete this option. You presence is too valued. Abs is now and has been mandated in all light duty vehicles.