"Play it safe."
When one starts modifying a car, little thought is usually given to the safety of the car.
Manufacturers spend millions to ensure our cars are safe for the occupants and those outside the car.
Each country has its own list of regulations that even the DIY car tuner has to comply with. They usually relate to the construction of the car.
In the UK we have an annual MOT test to assess the road worthiness of a car but a keen tuner will want to go further than this.
We shall look at some of the areas covered already in law and then we make some common sense suggestions based on feedback from TorqueCars members
Seat Belts, must have a secure anchoring point and the locking mechanism should work with no signs of frayed edges. Often the law allows the use of harnesses but again they must be securely installed in the car.
A harness and even a tight seat belt will offer better protection than a seat belt with an inch or two of play in in. Drivers can lock their seat belts and wind the seat forwards a little or (more safely) add a seat belt tensioning device.
Many cars are fitted with side impact beams and structural rigidity. A car is required to withstand a head on or side impact. Often the side impact protection beams and some of the rigidity is lost when a car is put through a rigorous weight reduction program. Thankfully though the addition of a roll cage increases the strength of the car and enables it to withstand greater impacts than an OEM car. A well made roll cage need not be particularly heavy.
Airbags are now fitted pretty much as standard to every car sold across Europe. The fitment of aftermarket steering wheels will usually mean that the air bag is removed. Tracks usually insist that all drivers and car occupants wear crash helmets to give additional protection to the head. (This is not very practical for driving around town though!)
Again in the track environment there are many additional measures to protect the occupants against fire. Cars usually need to have a fire suppression system installed or must carry a hand held extinguisher. This is a good precaution for non track drivers, especially having a hand held extinguisher available.
Drivers clothing needs to be fire resistant and fabrics that are known to melt as they burn are banned. Depending on the track and type of competition you may also need a face mask and gloves that comply with fire regulations. We are also seeing the introduction of head and neck protection systems which have many obvious benefits but not all helmets are compatible.
As far as a fast street car is concerned many drivers look to increase the power of the car. The aim is to improve the handling (a good thing for safety) and improve the acceleration time. Sadly many such projects totally ignore the brakes.
One of the first modifications we recommend is to improve the braking of the car. This can be cheaply done with the use of high friction pads, OEM fitting vented and drilled disks and synthetic brake fluid. It is better to upgrade the brakes to a larger size and go with a 6 pot caliper where possible.
Drum brakes on the rear should be removed and replaced with disc brakes and it is also advisable to upgrade to braided brake hoses. For tips on braking mods read our uprating your brakes article.
Tyres (US Tires) are also a major safety consideration. The compound used and tread pattern both have a major impact on the cars grip and handling. Most countries specify a minimum legal tread depth. For track and competition use you should get some proper track tyres. Slicks are best in the dry and we find V groove patterns work best in the wet. Always ensure that your tyres are set to the correct pressure.
Glass is also a problem and many tracks insist that lenses are taped off to prevent shards from causing damage or injury in the event of a breakage, especially in forms of motor sport where contact tends to happen. Often windows are replaced with perspex which has additional weight saving properties.
Each time the car is used and certainly before a track day or spirited drive drivers should ensure the car is in perfect condition. An oil change, brake fluid and tyre pressure check along with a visual inspection of all sub frame load bearing areas and suspension mounts needs to be made. Brake pads should have sufficient depth left in them and the discs should be free of distortion cracking and other wear related imperfections.
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