Home » Why Automakers Paint Crash-Test Cars Orange, And Other Fun Facts We Learned From Mercedes’ EV-Versus-EV Crash Test

Why Automakers Paint Crash-Test Cars Orange, And Other Fun Facts We Learned From Mercedes’ EV-Versus-EV Crash Test

20231013 Autopian Ev Mercedes Safety Pm 0252 Tm
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When you think of a head-on collision between two cars, what comes to mind? Screeching tires, mangled metal, a world of hurt, and hopefully survival due to optimized crumple zones and strong safety cells, right? What about when you think of a crash between two electric cars? Well, as Mercedes is demonstrating with a new crash test between an EQA and an EQS SUV, it’s… pretty much the same.

Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles are every bit as safe as all other models from the brand with the star,” reads the brand’s press release headline. Still, let’s watch some EVs crash head-on with one another, shall we? Maybe we’ll learn something.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Mercedes’ test is like a choreographed dance of airbags, crumpled metal, and seatbelts – all set to a dramatic music score. It’s the kind of crash you’d want to watch with a bag of popcorn (from a safe distance, of course). See this epic video I put together from their press footage below.

Going the Extra Mile (Per Hour)

Eqa Crash

Euro NCAP says, “Hey, let’s crash-test a car at 31 mph,” and Mercedes-Benz responds with, “That’s cute, but how about 35 mph?” Not only did the company add a couple of miles to the industry’s standard frontal impact test, but it used as a crashing-device a real car instead of the usual trolley with a honeycomb barrier.

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We’ve seen some similar tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with the most famous one being 1959 Chevy Bel Air vs. 2009 Chevy Malibu:

Screenshot 2023 10 28 At 1.00.56 Pm

Like all electric SUVs, the Mercedes’ EQA and EQS are no lightweights at 4,800 and 6,600 pounds, respectively. That’s the heavyweight bout of the century, and the collision energy was off the charts! A quarter century ago, such big and heavy SUVs might have crumpled and twisted like a pretzel, but the new Mercedes’ passenger safety cells stayed as secure as a vault, and the doors still opened after the test. That means if you ever find yourself in a pickle, then you can probably just wiggle out of the wreckage or let the heroic first responders reach you.

Oh, and also critical to EV crash tests is the fact that the high-voltage systems shut off automatically; first responders are probably going to be very thankful for that given the trouble fire departments have had putting EV fires out.

Mercedes Dummies

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Mercedes talks about why 108 pound, 4 foot 11 crash dummies were used in the driver’s seats of each car:

Another focus of the crash test was the type of dummy that the safety experts placed in the driver’s seat of both vehicles – the Hybrid III 5th Percentile Female, which is the female dummy currently used in the automotive industry for frontal collision tests. It corresponds to a woman of approximately 1.5 meters tall (4 feet 11 inches tall) and weighing around 49 kilograms (108 lbs). According to the underlying statistics, only five percent of women worldwide are smaller or lighter. For many years, Mercedes-Benz has used frontal crash tests with fifth percentile female dummies1 in the front seat to design its protection systems for the widest possible range of customers. Ratings by consumer protection associations as well as various legal requirements worldwide now include specifications for testing with fifth percentile female dummies. Another fifth percentile female was a passenger in the EQA. In the passenger seat of the EQS SUV was a Hybrid III 50th Percentile dummy, representing a 78-kilogram (172 lbs) male of average height.

High-Voltage Safety

Eqa Safety Cell

Mercedes breaks down its high-voltage safety hardware in its press release, writing:

Mercedes-Benz has developed a multi-stage high-voltage protection concept for its electric vehicles. The system has eight key elements to ensure the safety of the battery and all components with a voltage above 60 volts. Examples include separate positive and negative wiring and a self-monitoring high-voltage system that automatically switches off in the event of a serious collision.

[Editor’s Note: I’m a little baffled by the “separate positive and negative wiring” thing, because doesn’t pretty much any electronic device have separate positive and negative wiring? If you don’t, that’s how you get short-circuits. My guess is they mean the positive and negative lines are well-isolated, so in a crash they don’t ground together and short out and turn those wires into a heating element. I think? – JT]

Eqs Safety Cell Crop

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So, what have we learned today? Mercedes-Benz’s head-on collision of two electric vehicles apparently signifies a technological milestone (” the world’s first public crash test involving two fully electric vehicles,” per Mercedes), and also your next dream vacation should be to their Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety in Sindelfingen. With a full roster of crunchy machines, they perform up to 900 crash tests and 1,700 sled tests annually. Bring the popcorn.

[Ed Note: OK, so this post was mostly done because 1. We wanted to add a video to our video player, which we’re still populating and 2. Watching cars crash is fun and 2. Plus, there actually is some gold in here. First, check out Mercedes’ own video:

Screenshot 2023 10 28 At 1.01.25 Pm

I mean, come on! Look at this beautiful screenshot of the simulation Mercedes did for the crash test between the two vehicles. You can bet engineers did some Finite Element Analysis (which is defined by CAD software developer AutoCAD as “a computerized method for predicting how a product reacts to real-world forces, vibration, heat, fluid flow, and other physical effects”):

Screen Shot 2023 10 22 At 12.13.43 Pm
Screengrab: Mercedes

It’s cool to see the individual components in the crash; I see seats, cooling modules, an air conditioning compressor, ABS pumps — let us know what you see.

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There’s also this little nugget from Mercedes passive safety engineer Julia Hinners, explaining why cars are often painted Orange for crash tests:

“We take this orange color because, when we first started doing crash tests, it was just black and white filming, and on the black and white films, this orange color was the best contrast.”

Huh… after seeing scores of orange-painted-car crash test, I’d never thought of that. I did a bit of research and found that Danish engineering firm Bruel and Kjaer did a writeup on Volvo’s then-new Volvo Cars Safety Center in Sweden (this was around the year 2000). Here’s what the writeup says about orange paint:

[Test engineer at Volvo’s safety center] Patrik Settergren explains, “Each test car is a full production model, exactly as it would be seen by a customer”. He continues, “We have a special preparation area where around 25 people are employed and it takes us about 10 days to prepare each car.” Volvo paints it’s test cars matt orange. We have found that this is the best colour for filming the tests as it gives clear pictures from the high speed cameras”.

[…]

Patrik says, “The digital cameras record the crash at 1000 frames a second. We also position cameras on the ground and under glass floors to document the underside of the car during a crash. We use special high-power lamps which simulate daylight and we have found that the orange paint reduces reflections from the lamps and gives the best results.”

Fascinating stuff! -DT]

[Note: Therese is a fantastically capable video editor and process-improvement specialist. As this was her first story for The Autopian, the piece was co-written by David Tracy.]

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Ron888
Ron888
8 months ago

Welcome Therese!
Interesting stuff.I didnt quite understand the reason small females are harder to design for.Is it because auto tensioning belts,and even the belt stretch itself, is designed for heavier people?Could the airbags also be a factor?

One funny thing on the mercedes video: those painters were putting waaaay too much pride in their work. Dude it’s going to be a pretzel soon

Ben
Ben
8 months ago

For many years, Mercedes-Benz has used frontal crash tests with fifth percentile female dummies1 in the front seat to design its protection systems for the widest possible range of customers.

While I’m sure a fifth percentile dummy presents some unique problems for safety systems, as a ninety-fifth percentile dummy I suspect the other end of the spectrum is much harder to design for. In basically every car I’ve ever driven my femurs are the crumple zone with the dashboard if I’m ever in a front collision. I’d be more impressed if they could adequately protect a large, heavy person versus a small, light one who is going to naturally generate smaller forces and have significantly more buffer space in an accident.

Adam EmmKay8 GTI
Adam EmmKay8 GTI
8 months ago
Reply to  Ben

I guess the smaller dummy moves around more than biggest dummy and that is a challenge.
For example, biggest dummy hits airbag in the center, smaller dummy’s head hits edge of an airbag and A pillar instead. Also with lighter smaller dummy air bags inflate slower and with less force to not knock out the smaller dummy unconscious.
It is harder to keep smaller dummy in place for all the safety things to do their job.

Ben
Ben
8 months ago

Sure, but the “big” dummy here was 50th percentile, IIUC. It had better hit all of the safety systems perfectly.

Like I said, I realize there are challenges to both ends of the spectrum, but I suspect you’d have at least as many problems keeping a 95th percentile dummy from hitting hard surfaces as the 5th.

Uberscrub
Uberscrub
8 months ago

I was thinking the other day that crash testing should include vehicle to vehicle testing, and damage done to the other vehicle should be a factor in the rating.

Old Hippie
Old Hippie
8 months ago

I thought Mercedes was crash-testing the Ski-Klasse?

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago

The best part of this test is it means fewer EQSes on the road

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
8 months ago

Just want to second Dar Khorse in welcoming Therese. Happy to see a new byline—and expanding the specialist fields is a Good Thing

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
8 months ago

What they mean by separate the positive and negative wiring is that both the positive and negative contactors are opened, disconnecting the wiring from the battery.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
8 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

I’m wondering if they mean that they use separate contactors instead of one with 2 poles. But I only work with AC up to 600v, so have no knowledge of high-voltage DC.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
8 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Not sure about all brands but on the tear downs I’ve seen they do use separate contactors for the HV connections. Usually 3 Low (negative), precharge, and high (positive). On power up the low is energized first, then the precharge which has a resistor in circuit, and then the high. I’m guessing shut down is the reverse.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
8 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

Thanks: I’m always learning
🙂

Oldskool
Oldskool
8 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

That makes sense, like a true circuit breaker instead of a single pole switch.

I had figured it meant that the positive and negative cabling was run in separate locations. Instead of right next to each other. To reduce the chances of a single piece of metal slicing through both and shorting things out.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
8 months ago

The use of orange for contrast tracks with my memory of using yellow and red filters for more contrast in black and white photos. Orange filters had an intermediate effect but were less common than red and yellow

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
8 months ago

Video feedback.
1) Volume control please!!!!! It takes me forever to find my system volume control. Just put it in with the video display. Sometimes I want to play it low as others are around and I want to respect their ears.
2) Auto-start is a very bad thing. By the time I have read the words leading to the video, the video has already started. Then I have to fiddle around to figure out how to get back to the beginning of the video.
3) And then at the end of the intended video, another unrelated video starts, then I have to figure out how to stop that thing.
4) Another auto-start feedback. The video is sometimes related to the post, sometimes not. Annoying to have to figure out if it is important to the post, or just some other stuff I don’t care about at that point in time.

Uberscrub
Uberscrub
8 months ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

Adding to video feedback
1) also not a fan of auto play – but I do appreciate the default setting is mute.
2) too many ads. I gave up trying to watch this and the lowriding video because I had so many ads. I understand the need for ads, but a sub 3 minute video shouldn’t have 4 ad breaks.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
8 months ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I hate the autoplay feature so much, too! I use the plugin called “YouTube Never Autoplay” (Firefox) and “Disable Autoplay for YouTube” (Chrome). It works so well…

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
8 months ago

A relative of mine worked for the Southern Railway in the 1920’s and 30’s as a photographer and publicist. He produced very fancy book-sized sales brochures (they are in the archive of the National Railway Museum in York, sales brochure does not get close to describing them). I still have some very dried out paint tins, all shades of grey and purple, very subtle differences, just powder now, but each labeled with very specific codes. This was water-based matte paint that, matched to his film stock and camera best portrayed the shiny new locomotive.

MrLM002
MrLM002
8 months ago

Petition Mercedes to make this color a standard color offering?

Sean Ellery
Sean Ellery
8 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Sure. If you want to drive around looking like you’re sitting in a Mandarin…

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
8 months ago
Reply to  Sean Ellery

Or waiting to be crashed into by another vehicle in that color.

MrLM002
MrLM002
8 months ago
Reply to  Sean Ellery

I would. Better than sitting in another colorless blob.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
8 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

I love orange cars.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
8 months ago

I was around in the good old days when you could order your Saab, Volvo or Mercedes-Benz in “crash test orange” (it wasn’t matte tho – it was a shiny enamel – at least at first…)
I even remember the back of the Mercedes-Benz color chart which showed which colors were “safer” – ie: which car rescue personnel would generally find the remains of first after a crash/eruption/typhoon/avalanche if it was painted one of the more vibrant colors.

Last edited 8 months ago by Urban Runabout
Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
8 months ago

Fascinating read! Always interesting to see more behind the scenes about crash safety testing.
‘“We take this orange color because, when we first started doing crash tests, it was just black and white filming, and on the black and white films, this orange color was the best contrast.”’
Yeah, set designers & other set crew always had to take that into account when shooting with black & white film; for instance, reds & blues look virtually identical & oftentimes things simply don’t look quite right so the set crew would use surprisingly unlikely colors to achieve the right look. For example, when shooting the Marx Brothers’ first sound film, The Cocoanuts, which was set in Florida, the set crew had to mix two different colors, namely, purple and yellow, of sawdust into the grass on the set to achieve the proper look of grass in black & white (mentioning the Marx Brothers in the hopes that David will let Jason write about Zeppo’s clamps!!)
And here’s a fairly well-known shot of the TV series The Addams Family set in color:
https://images.fastcompany.net/image/upload/w_596,c_limit,q_auto:best,f_auto/fc/3021327-inline-675-colors.jpg

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
8 months ago

I was very hesitant to search online for “Zeppo’s clamps”, but holy moly, that’s really interesting! (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/oldies-amp-oddities-zeppos-gizmo-729132/)

On a related (aviation) note, I’m currently enjoying a book called Indestructible by John R. Bruning about the WW2 exploits of madman/inventor/warrior/aviator P.I. “Pappy” Gunn. Some of the field mods he made to A-20s, B-25s and others are simply astounding and were critical to the Allied success in the Pacific theatre.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dar Khorse
TOSSABL
TOSSABL
8 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

I was completely unaware of Marmon clamps. Thanks for the cool history lesson!

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
7 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

BMW (among others) use a form of the clamp in their turbocharged engine exhaust systems.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
8 months ago

Curious how Cybertruck will perform in this scenario. Guess copy right concerns squelched obvious Orange Crush caption.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
8 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

I don’t know about vehicle to vehicle crashes, but it will slice thru errant pedestrians like a new Ginsu…

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
8 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

and then drive away by it’s self. (said Elon)

Monolithic Juggernaut
Monolithic Juggernaut
8 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

A wrap.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
8 months ago

Interesting article – welcome Therese! I sure wish I could see those embedded videos, though 🙁 For some reason, even though I’ve turned off my ad blocker, they just show up as black boxes.

Also, you guys gotta start saying “Mercedes-Benz” in the title when you mean the company. My first reaction when glancing at the title of this story was “Oh no! Mercedes was in an EV vs EV crash!”

Last edited 8 months ago by Dar Khorse
Tarragon
Tarragon
8 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

I have that problem in safari.

Reader mode usually makes the videos show up in a viewable way

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
8 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

you guys gotta start saying “Mercedes-Benz” in the title when you mean the company.

This, absolutely!

I was anticipating a crash test organized by our own Ms. Streeter involving EVs.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
8 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

Try clicking on “Watch on YouTube” banner in the lower left corner. That usually clears up the issue for you.

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