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Bad News For Telep!

From the Mailbag - it makes us want to vote for Nader!

I love your website and read it almost every day, but I wanted to comment on
your article about the Nissan Altima. That sounds almost like a design flaw
in the car. Yes, it is wonderful that the car wasn't badly damaged, but in
a serious accident, I think I'd rather have your friend's Honda. I'm a
mechanical engineer, and have done a lot of study on cars, so let me
explain. I'm certainly not a Ford Engineer, so remember that although I am
knowledgeable, I'm still an amateur, and car technology is always changing.

A car has a property which used to be generally called crushability.
Crushability is how much your car crushes in an accident. Remarkably
enough, crushability is a good thing! As I'm sure you know, your car is
hard, while you are soft. As a car gets hit, it should be an elastic
collision, meaning that the two cars should sort of meld into each other.
What this does is slow the two cars' momentum in relation to each other,
giving your body a chance to slow with the car. If your car bounces off the
other car like a rubber ball, you are going to hit the hard INSIDE of your
car before it can stop. That's where people most often get hurt. If you
don't wear your seatbelt, that's how you get thrown through a windshield and
break your neck. Not a good thing.

You should not have been thrown forward so hard, even in a higher speed
collision. You see, your collision was probably less than a 10 mph
collision. The high speed at which you were traveling made the accident
more dramatic, which is understandable. I've felt the same way in accidents
before. But you have to remember that if you were doing 30 mph when you
were rear-ended, you have to subtract your speed from the speed of the car
that hit you. If the old man was matching your speed at 35 when you broke
to 30, your collision was only a 5 mph one, not a 30 mph one. The real
danger at those speeds is that the other car, especially one that size,
could have knocked you out of control and into something else, like the car
ahead of you or a tree or lamp pole, or worst case, oncoming traffic. I'm
glad you guys were lucky.

If the other couple that hit you was old, they may not have even known they
did it. Their car is so big and crushable that you can barely feel a
low-speed impact even if you are expecting it. They may have hit the brakes
and thought the bump was the brakes kicking in hard. They may have done
this before and some of the damage you saw may have been old damage. Also,
there was probably more damage on their car because when you brake, the back
of your car lifts as the front dives. If the old couple hit the brakes too,
their front probably dove under the back of your car. Thus, their grille
hit your bumper, not their bumper. Look under your bumper for some scraping
from their bumper. That's a tell-tale sign.

I would definitely have your car thoroughly inspected, also. Don't let the
mechanic just replace the bumper. There can be extensive damage that can't
be seen, though, in this case, I doubt it. Also, your seat belts should be
checked and probably replaced. The bolts that hold seat belts are designed
to take one HUMUNGOUS impact, but ONLY one. Experts say that if you are in
a 1 mph impact in a parking lot, you should still have your seat belts
replaced, or at least the bolts checked extensively. There could be
microscopic cracks in them weakening them. You wouldn't want to have a big
accident later and and have your seat belt give out on you.

On a side note, this whole crushability thing is why I hate cars built of
that dent resistant plastic that's on most minivans now. Give me steel,
baby. You see, that plastic is great if your kid hits the car with a
baseball or in a low speed impact in a parking lot. But in a high speed
collision, it can be fatal. That's why they build those minivans with the
special steel skeleton with crumple zones. You see, that skin just
disintigrates in a high speed collision, leaving nothing between you and the
road or the other car. The companies added a solid steel frame to make up
for this. Then they realized they lost all crushability when they did this,
and the passangers (or test dummies) got pulverized by the interior of the
car. So they made these crumple zones and added air bags all over. So, the
crumple zones were basically invented to make up for the design flaws in the
dent resistant plastic skin. Pretty insane, eh?

On a second side note, if the other car was truly a 1990 cadillac, then that
would partially explain the extensive damage. It looks from your picture
like the caddy hit you low on your bumper, but that the other car's bumper
did hit yours, and not the grille, though again, I'm going from an internet
photo. However, the caddy's of the mid 80s to very early 90s are considered
the low-point of the cadillac legacy. Though cadillac would never admit it,
any long time caddy customer or cadillac oficionado will tell you that. I
don't know what happened, but several cadillacs from that era bear a
frightening resemblance to oldsmobiles and buicks of a few years before.
These are also considered by many as the worst cadillacs in terms of quality
and reliability.