Why Would You Purposely Deform a Car?
That’s a question that Austrian engineer, Béla Barényi took quite seriously back in 1937 when contemplating how to control crash energy. The prevailing belief was that a safe auto should be rigid to protect its passengers.
Barényi countered this notion with a new idea to divide a car body into three sections: a rigid non-deforming passenger compartment and front and rear compartments that would quite literally crumple on impact.
As an engineer, Barényi understood a very critical concept –gravity and inertia (momentum) do not stop when a vehicle of over 4,000 pounds or more has an abrupt deceleration. The kinetic energy of a collision continues and transfers to its passengers.
Expanding his vehicle design at Mercedes-Benz, he implemented the fore runner of the Crumple Zone with a strong, inner framework to form a rigid safety shell (or cabin) for passenger protection and created front and rear body frame and panels to deform on impact absorbing the energy and spreading the force.
Today’s Crumple Zone design creates a rigid safety cabin with vertical body panels made of high-strength steels and reinforcing beams to prevent intrusion and to uphold maximum strength under stress. The front and rear body sections are built with curvature to crumple upon sudden deceleration and impact, and wide spread the loading of impact. To achieve protection against injury, auto designs control weakening by sacrificing outer parts of a vehicle.
The “Crumple Zone” is one of the most significant advances to slow down the inertia or momentum of motion, all to maximize passenger protection. The design is further enhanced by speed reducing technologies such as air bag systems, electronically fired pre-tension seat belts timed to work with air bags and interior padding, all meant to support speed-reduction.
While having any part of a car collapse upon impact is not desirable, it’s better to sacrifice replaceable parts than suffer the adversity of energy.