Date: Mon, 22 Feb 88 14:41:41 est
From: mcnc!rutgers.edu!alliant.alliant.com!ll-xn!linus!muller (Jim Muller)
Subject: Scary article
I am posting the following to rec.autos, but I thought I would send it to the Sons-of-Lucas group too. I think this sort of thing needs all the attention it can get...
This past Sunday I read one of the scariest items I have ever seen in the motoring press. It was a review in the Boston Sunday Globe about the Audi 90 Quattro w/ABS. The car itself seems like a real jem, though at more than $28,000, it certainly ought to be. But it wasn't the car or the price that scared me. It was the review, and the impression that such an "authoritative" piece might leave in the mind of the unwary consumer.
What the write said was:
"This has to be the safest car in the United States... It is not a good idea to stomp on the gas on hard-packed snow. Still, I stomp... Wallop the brakes...but there [was] no lockup. ...the car slows gracefully to a straight stop - on the icy, hard-packed snow. ...In this car I fear naught but other drivers. It is just too good to be real. ...I felt totally safe careering (sic) around that rain-swept twisting track. ...no matter what I did, short of a direct hit on a retaining wall, pain was out of the question."
The fact is, it *IS* too good to be real. Not that ABS doesn't work. Or 4wd either. This article gives the impression that the car can cover for all those bad old ugly times when the pavement isn't what it ought to be. What it forgets to say is that there is still a limit to performance. I'll grant that ABS can reduce skidding, but that is all it can do. If it works properly, it gains for you the difference between static and sliding friction between the rubber tires and the snow/ice/wet-asphalt road surface. But even a *perfect* ABS (no-skid) system can do no better than that. No matter what the ABS does, it cannot do any better than static friction on that particular road surface, and if it happens to be ice (or snow) then it ain't gonna be very good, skid or no skid.
>From this article we have the impression of a do-no-wrong braking system that
renders even icy roads safe. And unthinking readers start believing that they can brake just as well on ice, snow, or water as they can on dry asphalt. So they start driving as though there were no longer any danger from poorer road surfaces (hey, the article said exactly that!). The image in my mind is of some unfortunate (and gullible) schmuck coming over a hill on a wet (or worse, icy) road, thinking he is unvulnerable; he doesn't bother to slow because he know his car will cover for him. He sees a problem so he hits the brakes; they go ABS on him, max'ing out the decceleration at static rubber-on-ice. Sure, he doesn't skid. But he still gets only, what, .3g's, maybe? Wha' happened??? PUSH HARDER!!!..(deep breath)..Wham!! So someone get hurt or dies, and, at the very least, a car or two gets damaged, because he *thought* his car would stop for him under such difficult conditions. Then if he survives, he (or if he doesn't, his spouse or parents) sues Audi, claiming that the car didn't do what it was claimed to be capable of, and they were guilty of malicious false and misleading advertising. And this article just proclaimed the infallibility of Audi's 4wd-ABS to its entire readership. How many will believe it?
The problem with all this ABS talk, informed or otherwise (I would include this sort of newspaper article in the "otherwise"), is that it ignores one thing: ABS gains for you the benefits of static vs. sliding friction, for whatever road surface you happen to be on. And by keeping the front wheels rolling, you also maintain some steering control. But the limitation is that even the static friction still *may not be very good*! In fact, on the very kinds of surfaces where it becomes most critical, the static friction is still VERY BAD!
I suppose the real key is whether Audi's literature to new owners explains its benefits and weakness in a way that informs them sufficiently. Audi may be very good at it, but you can never be sure of the buyers. Even amoung us enthusiasts, we still have owners who haven't read their manuals enough to know that the "BRAKE" light coming on may mean "low fluid" in addition to "Emergency Brake on". And how many non-tech-trained lay-persons are going to fully comprehend static vs. sliding friction? (Would your mother understand it if you tried to explain it in writing? (No insult to mothers intended.)) [From what I read in rec.autos, I sometimes wonder how many of even us enthusiasts really understand what factors influence a car's behavior.:-)]
We need all the technological improvements we can get. Especially if they *work*! But certainly, the LAST thing we need is articles in widely-read newspapers proclaiming that this new technology makes the car completely safe under all low-traction conditions. Those of us who *DO* understand have an obligation to ourselves and everyone else on the road to correct such dangerous and mis-informed opinions.