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Extreme Measures

High-pressure tests push vehicles to the extreme

September 25, 2014

Slush Test: Snow and wintry conditions in the northern reaches of the Upper Midwest present a great real-world testing-ground.

Slush Test: Snow and wintry conditions in the northern reaches of the Upper Midwest present a great real-world testing-ground.

Before you take the wheel, high-pressure “stress tests” ensure your ride can deal with whatever Mother Nature dishes out.

You may never drive in 20 below zero temperatures during the dead of winter, or take a cruise in searing 110-degree heat — but if such a journey is required, or if you are so inclined to attempt such an endeavor, it’s reassuring to know your vehicle is built to handle the extreme temperature swings. That’s because Chrysler, Jeep®, Dodge SRT, Ram, FIAT and Mopar vehicles are run through a rigorous set of extreme temperature conditions – frigid treks through northern Minnesota and North Dakota and scorching drives through unforgiving western deserts – in order to take the measure of every vehicle component through the ultimate “stress tests.”

  • There's only one reason the Ram Trucks engineering team heads out to the Mojave desert. Extreme hot weather testing.

  • Houghton is home to subzero temperatures and is regularly blanketed in snow averaging 260 inches per year. What better winter playground to test our Ram Trucks, and our engineers.

  • The challenge: work a Ram 3500 for 24 hours, pulling a trailer, and see how it does. Open road, off road and on the track, the Cummins powered Laramie is put to the test and passes with flying colors.

  • This #Groundbreakers challenge puts the Ram 2500 Power Wagon in the dunes of the Southern California desert. The Ram Truck takes to the rugged terrain like it was made for it -- because it was.

Vehicles are tested in a variety of situations and scenarios, which vary by vehicle type and duty cycle. A significant portion of testing is done virtually, via computer simulation, while other validation is performed with actual vehicles in real-world conditions or laboratory simulation.  Engineers and technicians conduct these “stress tests,” armed with a plethora of data and specs that must be validated for a vehicle to pass the muster – all vehicles meet or exceed the requirements of applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

“Performing these extreme tests is one of our key enablers before the vehicle goes to the customer,” explains Rod Romain, Vehicle Integration Manager for Heavy Duty Truck, FCA US LLC, “They have to pass these tests. If a vehicle doesn’t pass, it doesn’t ship. These are the core tests that help us in the development of all vehicles. These tests are paramount for what we do as a company.”

A battery of in-depth, extreme tests is conducted to satisfy the objectives set out by the design and engineering teams. Here’s a look at some of the specifics – and how the tests take vehicles to the extreme.

Extreme Locales
Much of the extreme vehicle testing takes place in static facilities at the Chrysler Technology Center headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., or at company proving grounds in Michigan and Arizona. Real-world testing locations vary, from North Dakota, Minnesota and Canada in the north to Arizona in the south and California in the west.

Dodge Dart heat testing

Climatic test chambers simulate a range of conditions, from the most frigid conditions in mid winter to the extreme heat of the Gulf Coast countries.

The Heat Is On
Punishing heat testing is conducted during the hottest time of the day in July and August in the deserts of Nevada and Arizona. Vehicles are run full-out to ensure that there are no overheating issues, and that engine, oil, coolant and transmission temperatures remain at operable levels.

Vehicles are also put to the ultimate stop-and-go test – traffic on on the Las Vegas Strip in the heat of the day, with the air conditioning on full blast.  The main objective is to make sure the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system performs to its full function and that cool air continues to circulate through the cabin of the vehicle.

Cold As Ice
Engineers routinely chase the cold, seeking out temperatures of 20 below zero and colder in the northern reaches of Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada. In such arctic temperatures, the main objective is to make sure a vehicle will start unassisted, so a customer can put it in drive and be on their way. To test for driveability and handling, a vehicle is put through a slush trough, a mixture of 32-degree ice and water. The vehicle is then frozen at 20 below zero to make sure it will start up under such conditions and to ensure no loss of function from ice and snow buildup.

In regards to the “white stuff,” snow-packing tests are conducted to simulate a vehicle caught in a whiteout.  For Ram trucks, a day of snowplowing in extreme cold and snow is implemented to make sure those vehicles are ready for a full day of work in any conditions.

Through Rain, Snow and Ice
When Mother Nature isn’t enough – engineers have the capability of producing artificial rain, fog, snow and ice  in controlled settings.  These are called chamber tests and are conducted at the company’s Auburn Hills, Michigan technology center.

Tests are used to simulate the most severe conditions a customer may ever face while driving. The main objective is to make sure  vehicle systems do not freeze up, ice over or fill with water. While vehicles are frozen during outdoor tests, the same is done during chamber testing; vehicles are also baked in triple-digit man-made heat.

The Ups and Downs
Many grades (inclines and declines) are used to validate vehicles, depending on the vehicle type and its functional objectives. Engineers have the capability to simulate any grade required in the lab, combined with varying temperature, humidity and even altitude. Tests are conducted on the road itself, in hot temperature locations filled with hills and mountains, such as the Denver area. Engineers drive vehicles up and down grades, with a max grade of 32 degrees. Temperatures of major vehicle systems are observed to ensure operation at full potential, with functionality of brakes and suspension tested.

As of 2012, Chrysler Group recorded 6,300 wind tunnel tests — a total of 45,000 hours of operation.

As of 2012, the wind tunnel has recorded 6,300 tests — a total of 45,000 hours of operation.

A Mighty Wind
Inside the company’s technology center, the state-of-the-art wind tunnel is capable of generating wind speeds of 160-mph, the highest of any domestic automaker. The wind tunnel was used extensively in development of the Ram 1500, and as a result, the truck’s drag coefficient (o.36) is best-in class – equaling that of the SRT® Viper.

Increased fuel economy is a key result of wind tunnel tests, as vehicles are streamlined to more efficiently slip through the air, resulting in improved gas mileage. Noise reduction is also a key outcome from wind tunnel testing.

The Bottom Line
Bone-chilling arctic cold or Death Valley-levels of heat may never be encountered while shuttling the kids to soccer practice or hauling groceries home. But when such punishing weather conditions arise, owners can feel confident that their vehicles are ready to perform under extreme measures.