Forensic auto engineering
Normally, it takes a car a long time to show signs of wear and tear, especially when it comes to rust. Over at General Motors, however, they are performing techniques to accelerate the process to make their new Chevy Cruze even better.
The team led by Christa Cooper, General Motors' Corrosion Engineer, recently did things worthy of CSI on the Chevy Cruze to find out where the rust is most likely take place in the car by accelerating wear and tear by 10 years in just a span of a few months.
The testing takes place at the Vehicle Teardown Facility in GM's Milford, Michigan proving grounds. There the cars are subjected to extreme durability testing, fully taken apart and meticulously inspected.
"We test to the 95th percentile environment, which is the most-severe customer environment we can replicate in our labs and road courses," said Cooper. The cars are then disassembled piece by piece in a sort of "Where's Waldo" search for the tiniest evidence of rust.
Skilled trade mechanics drill out 2,000 to 3,000 individual spot welds by hand seeking out corrosion in the sheet metal structure. It takes a two-person team two weeks to completely tear down a car to its base elements.
When Cooper and her team find even a trace of rust, they look for ways to prevent it. Rust is a natural result of steel contacting water and oxygen, and the corrosion accelerates when road salt is present. The solution most often is finding a way to keep water out. Sealers and alternative materials are often prescribed.
While Cruze was under development, Cooper and her team uncovered corrosion where the inner panel of the rear door is joined to the safety beam. The team recommended switching out an uncoated steel bracket with a rust-resistant coated steel stamping. The change eliminated corrosion in that area.
"It's part investigation, part engineering - I love this job," said Cooper, who has worked in the auto industry since age 18. Her interest in cars and trucks came from her grandfather, who drove and restored classic pre-World War II cars. "I got the automotive bug early," she said.
An auto morgue may seem like a grim place where vehicles sacrifice their bodies for science, but the benefit is future Cruze bodies that last longer and are more durable.