If you own a car and aim to keep your repair and maintenance bills low, chances are that you take extremely good care of it. That is, you drive it moderately and modestly and have it serviced regularly. You avoid driving it in extreme conditions, like exceedingly hot or numbingly cold weather, whenever possible. You might keep it in a garage. The stresses of hard driving, harsh temperatures and environmental exposure take their toll on a car. Anything an owner can do to reduce these conditions increases the car's life expectancy.
In car testing, the idea is precisely the opposite. Manufacturers attempt to flog the pre-production vehicles they test to flush out problems and fix them. They want to fix problems themselves, before consumers have a chance to experience any problems and complain. To do this, the carmakers seek out tough environments such as Death Valley in the United States, private testing facilities owned by third-party companies, or the famed Nurburgring race track in Germany, to name some examples.
In addition, manufacturers make their cars available to certain media outlets to get their test drive impressions and to create buzz around groundbreaking automobiles before they go on sale for consumers.
Car testing tends to generate conversation around most new vehicle prototypes, but perhaps the most exciting testing takes place with high-performance vehicles. At Germany's infamously challenging Nurburgring test track, the world's fastest production cars attack a twisting road course between 13 and 15 miles (21 and 24 kilometers) in length, depending on the track configuration used.
Testing at Nurburgring and at other high-speed tracks helps automakers gather information about the test car's acceleration, braking and handling capabilities. It has also become something of a marketing tool, as the top manufacturers seek to topple the incumbent record holder each year. These bragging rights then make their way into a vehicle's marketing materials, with the intention of enhancing the prestige of both the model and the brand.
With several dozen major automobile brands around the world in existence, there's bound to be competition for testing resources. For the most part, the manufacturers have adopted a policy of peaceful coexistence at testing areas, having adopted "gentlemen's agreements" not to harass one another or record specifications of competitors' vehicles.
This does not mean, however, that automakers let their guards down when testing their cars in public.
Go to the next page to read about the cat-and-mouse game that auto engineers are forced to play with spies.