New Versus Old School Steel : Are Older Cars Safer Than New Cars?

Philippine roads are now crowded than ever. Back in the old days, when what we now call as EDSA was known as Highway 54, it is said that one can count the number of vehicles on the road at any given time. Traffic, as we now know it, does not exist as the same horrifying mess of twisted idiocy and ineptness on the road. Fast forward to the year 2014, there seems to be as many vehicles as people within Metro Manila, and we now have the worst traffic jams compared to most countries within our little part of the world.

With so many vehicles out on the road today, at any given time, it’s no surprise that accidents are aplenty nowadays. Be it most being errors in judgement, being at the wrong place at the wrong time or just because everyone is fighting for that tight squeeze to the right, a lot of it happens because there’s simply too many cars and not enough space. Being a Filipino who doesn’t like to queue, and everyone wants to get ahead of everybody else and their brother, then we have a melting pot of accidents just wanting, not waiting, to happen.
And this being a the Philippines where not everyone can afford a current model car (myself include), old cars from the 80’s or even 70’s, can still be seen. While current model ownership is on the rise, there will still be a good number of old school cars of various conditions plying our roads, and along with it, there will be mash-ups between old and new school. From light fender benders to totals, there can and will be various accidents going on.

I was browsing Top Gear Philippines’ Facebook page, where an old, restored, 50’s Chevy truck in blazing red paint was posted. And of course this being Top Gear PH, there was a bit of Pinoy “humor” on the tag line.

The comments ranged from the mundane, to the insane, to the funny, to the non-sensical. Of course, the safety features of the vehicle became a center-point of discussion. It’s not unheard of that people, in this day and age think of older vehicles to be safer for some reason, as evidenced by the comment below.
But is there any truth into that claim?
Older cars were built to be, well, cars. Not that today’s cars aren’t made so, but rather in the old days, it was mostly about the design and style. The driver and occupants’ safety didn’t quite seem to be a matter, as shown by the fact that seat belts did not become a standard feature until well into the 70’s. Old cars are supposed to be built real tough, like a goddamn tank. And given the weight of old cars, a lot of ’em were pretty fast “tanks” too. Here’s another comment from an international article about how “tank-ish” old cars are…
We hear of folks offering testimonies of how their old car was hit by Superman without suffering so much as a shallow dent that was hammered back into place. But is it really true that older cars are safer than newer cars if we take the “built like a tank” logic?

Not entirely.

While old cars seem to be pretty tough, heavy, burly and in many sense, a real goddamn tank (take a Packard for instance), we have to consider, as I’d said earlier, that older car design didn’t quite consider passenger safety, or at the very least, have not looked into it as today’s designers and engineers are doing.

Today’s cars come equipped with seatbelts to restrain the driver, airbags, anti-lock brakes and designed with impact crumple zones to absorb impact. This last feature is mostly why people think cars nowadays are flimsy. When a car takes a hit, these zones give way first to absorb the impact from the collision. But common sense (which is why I sometimes loathe that term) dictates that something built tougher should be safer.

Not entirely.

Old cars didn’t have crumple zones. Some designs have mostly straight lines that reinforce the outside panels, and by nature are tough to beat shit into. I mean yeah, they’ll eventually mash up, but unlike newer cars, they can take quite a bit more punishment. In the event of an accident, or say a collision, since there are no crumple zones to absorb and buffer the force of the impact, the force will be transferred to – guess who…the people inside. Remember that the car is moving, if it’s movement is suddenly stopped, the occupants inside are still moving along the line on which the vehicle was going. This inertia (if you haven’t slept through physics class) will get the occupant moving still in the path that the vehicle was heading until you are stopped by something, like planting your face on the dashboard. Which is why seat belts have become a standard feature to restrain occupants from moving in to kiss the dash.

In a crash, sometimes a seat belt is just to restrain your movement. In a more violent crash, most modern cars will deploy their airbags – for you to bump into and transfer more of the force of the impact. Anti lock brakes prevent you from accidentally locking your brakes should a cat suddenly appear out of nowhere, sensors will aid you in gauging distances. All of these equate into a safer car that can better protect you at the moment of impact.

These devices are light years ahead of the old cars that we cherish, but will pretty much save our asses should an accident happen, something that you may need to rely on luck on for older vehicles.

Lastly, let’s look at how all of what I said looks like when shit does happen.

So there you go folks, my take on the whole “old car built like tank, much tough, wowe” thing.

[originally posted on]

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