Nine things you didn’t know about ANCAP crash tests

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 12 May 2021

Who pays for all the crashed cars, and other insider facts about ANCAP crash tests.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has been testing vehicles for crash safety since 1992, in the process pushing global manufacturers to build ever-safer cars.

Chances are you’ve seen ANCAP’s star rating system on car stickers or you’ve checked for a safety rating before buying a new vehicle

To determine its ratings ANCAP crash tests hundreds of cars, assessing safety assist features and how the vehicle protects adult occupants, child occupants and vulnerable road users.

But how does it all work and who pays for those crashed cars? We went behind the scenes at ANCAP's crash testing facility and discovered nine things you probably don’t know about ANCAP’s crash test program.

ANCAP crash test with ute being hit by a trailer


Nine things that might surprise you about ANCAP


 

How many cars has ANCAP crash tested over the years?

A lot. In the past 25 years, ANCAP has rated almost 1000 models, with each of those requiring an average of four tests. Without giving a definitive number, ANCAP says it has crashed thousands of cars over the years. In 2019-20 ANCAP published ratings for 36 new vehicles, which involved 291 tests and the destruction of 143 vehicles and 374 dummies. The average cost for each of the ratings was $750,455.

Who pays for all the crashed cars? 

Well, technically, you do. ANCAP is supported by RACV, and each of the other state and territory-based clubs in Australia and New Zealand. Federal, state and territory governments, as well as some insurers, also financially support ANCAP. And some car brands also provide vehicles for testing. If the vehicle is provided by the car maker, ANCAP pulls 20 Vehicle Identification Numbers from a shipment of cars at random, eventually selecting just one, to ensure the manufacturer doesn’t try to modify the car in the hope of achieving a better rating.  

Why doesn’t ANCAP test exotic cars like Ferraris and Aston Martins?  

Given that ANCAP is a not-for-profit organisation, it needs to carefully consider how it spends its funds. To get a crash-safety rating for a particular model, ANCAP has to crash five vehicles, which gets expensive. ANCAP says it makes more sense to target high-volume sellers for broader market coverage. The most expensive cars to test in 2019-20 were the Mercedes-Benz G-Class (at a cost of $1.28 million) and Tesla Model X (at a cost of $1.19 million).

How are the crash models selected? 

ANCAP focuses first on top-selling models. It also looks at significant new models that have just launched in Australia, and vehicles it thinks will either perform very well or very poorly in a crash test. ANCAP tends to test the variant with the lowest safety specification, then analyses technical information to determine whether the rating can be applied across the entire model range.

How does the vehicle speed up to crash if there’s no one behind the wheel? 

Vehicles are towed down the runway by a 1000-horsepower “guided subterranean electric motor winch cable”. It takes the lab technicians a good four days to prepare the vehicle before it hurtles down the runway.

Those crash dummies are really put through the wringer. How do they handle that type of repeated impact? 

Those dummies have names, thank you. Hybrid III is used in frontal-offset tests and provides information on possible head and neck injuries. WorldSID is used in side-impact (driver) and oblique pole (driver) tests and is designed to gather data on likely injuries to the ribs, spine and internal organs. Then there are the littlies. Q-Series are six and 10-year-old ‘child’ dummies specifically designed for child-occupant protection assessment. And then there’s THOR. Not the Norse god with the big hammer – THOR as in ‘Test device for Human Occupant Restraint’. He’s new and for use in ANCAP frontal-offset tests. Oh, and he’s not cheap. The THOR prototype cost $1.4 million. It’s all in the name of vehicle safety. 

Ute crashing in ANCAP test
ANCAP crash test

What happens to the vehicles after they’ve been crashed? 

The crash test can be pretty dramatic, with bits of plastic and metal scattered around the crash lab after impact. Technicians dispose of the dislodged parts, but the crashed vehicle could end up as a display car for ANCAP’s community education program, it could be returned to the manufacturer for their own research and development, or donated to emergency responders such as SES, fire or police for training. 

How do they get those amazing images of the vehicle on impact? 

It’s safety first with an ANCAP crash test, so you won’t see anyone on the sidelines ready to take a quick snap with their iPhone. There are three cameras onboard the vehicle that can capture 500 frames per second and a further seven high-speed film cameras that capture 1000 frames per second. Sydney’s Crashlab, the main testing centre used by ANCAP, uses 16 banks of halogen lights to illuminate the crash for cameras (see images above and below). 

Will autonomous cars mean that ANCAP won’t need to exist soon? 

Now slow down there... There are already many cars available in Australia with semi-autonomous driving aids, such as autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping aids. For ANCAP to properly test the physical structure of the vehicle, the technicians have to turn off the autonomous functions before the crash, otherwise the driver aids might kick in and stop it from hitting the wall. ANCAP reckons there will be a mixed fleet of vehicles for some years to come, meaning some vehicles will be driving themselves alongside cars that are operated entirely by a driver. So no matter how safe an autonomous vehicle is, there’s still a risk of an older car without autonomous features running into it.