DaimlerChrysler engineers can put a test vehicle through a lifetime of wear and tear in just 70 hours, using a special body test rig at the company’s passenger car plant in nearby Sindelfingen.

The $2.3 million (five million Deutschmarks) body testing unit, which has been in operation since August 1998, can recreate vibrations and convulsions comparable to driving the vehicle over a series of potholes at high speed. Each individual wheel is pulled and jolted by an intricate system of hydraulic cylinders, struts and clamps that mimic the maltreatment otherwise suffered over years of hard driving. Engineers can assess five wear and tear factors: wheel load, longitudinal and lateral forces, and braking and drive moments.

After three hours on the rig, the vehicle is examined for signs of damage. Engineers look for broken weld spots and bolts or ruptured rubber seals; they use endoscopes to search for possible damage to hollow components such as longitudinal or cross-members; and finally, even the finest of cracks in metal components are rendered visible when penetrated with fluorescent dye.

Then it is back onto the “torture track” for another three-hour session. The test runs and subsequent inspections are repeated until the vehicle has covered its prescribed “distance” on the torture track.

Findings from the torture track test are incorporated into the further stages of development of DaimlerChrysler vehicles, helping to ensure quality, while saving on time and costs.

Similar “torture track” test rigs are in use at DaimlerChrysler facilities in North America, including three at the Chrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and two at the Advanced Research and Development Centre in Windsor, Canada. Three more test rigs will be installed at the North American facilities over the next year.

While testing procedures vary slightly, DaimlerChrysler engineers from Germany and the United States have exchanged information on their testing operations, helping both to enhance their testing programs.