Piston Slap: Visibility's Unintended Rube Goldberg Effect?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap visibilitys unintended rube goldberg effect

TTAC Commentator Volvo writes:

Why does the design of most newer vehicles have very poor driver visibility for objects close to the car? This is pretty much all around but especially the rear. I find the current design even makes it difficult to judge front and rear bumper distance from an object. This definitely was not the case for most cars prior to 1995.
  • Is it to lower drag?
  • Safety mandates?
  • Just design esthetic?

Sajeev answers:

Yes, yes, and sometimes a little bit yes. But mostly it’s your second guess: Safety mandates.

That’s because manufacturers force their product engineering/design teams to work on a budget. (Well, duh!) If outside influences (like pedestrian safety standards or mandatory backup cameras) deem a change, can they make it comply without throwing the budget out of whack? Or totally blowing the budget?

Let’s make up a totally hypothetical scenario:

  1. When safety mandates require a taller cowl and front fascia (or hood) to protect pedestrians from bouncing/slamming heads on the engine, that could very likely increase frontal area. Then designers do anything to lower wind resistance elsewhere: Air Curtains, flat faced wheels, buffalo butt trunks, etc. which likely took valuable resources/cash away from the R&D budget. And maybe thicker pillars (cheaper to make) saved cash while passing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216.
  2. From there, C-pillar needs to be ridiculously fast to complete a very strong, affordable arched roof pillar design. I mean, if it works for bridges
  3. But then visibility suffers. So they make larger side-view mirrors (more drag?) with blind spot monitors: originally pure concept car fodder, but now cheap and easy to implement. Since cell phones have cameras, why not have enough of those eyeballs so cars have optional 360-degree viewing?

And, of course, automakers claw back profit on high-margin safety options, so maybe everything works out. It’s quite the Rube Goldberg affair, but honestly, as we all age, these electronic gizmos make our lives easier no matter how much glass we get…

…provided we can afford to buy, repair, and replace these systems after a collision.

It’s a bizarre world, but it ain’t gonna change: we keep everyone happy with this balancing act. Best and Brightest?

[Image: Shutterstock user Denise Lett]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 11, 2019

    Those enormously fat, incredibly shallow-angle roof pillars are responsible for driving people out of sedans and into CUVs. Instead of a car with pillars that block your view of pedestrians, a windshield that distorts your view, seats an inch off the floor, rear headroom unsuitable for adults despite the sedan being incredibly long, and a trunk so tall you can't see the kid you're about to back over, a CUV gives you great sightlines, upright seating with headroom front and rear, a near-vertical rear window for ample cargo and passenger space, and proper walls-o-glass all around...though you will still back over that kid. So naturally, manufacturers are now ruining CUVs too with fastback rooflines (wrong, BMW) and gun-slit windows (wrong, Mazda). I currently drive a 2018 Chevy Volt -- probably the absolute nadir for driver visibility and a packaging efficiency. Fat pillars, near-horizontal front and rear glass, tall butt. I have half the safety nannies and I wish I had all of them, because I'm pretty sure I won't know what I've hit until I've hit it. On the other hand, because it's one of the few cars engineered for North America only, it doesn't have the tall flat nose all cars have now to meet European pedestrian safety standards -- there's something alluringly retro-future about a 1990s-style plunging aero beak.

  • Frantz Frantz on May 11, 2019

    I embrace the tech. I use my passing mirrors really just to confirm what I already know. I generally keep good situational awareness of who is around me, especially ahead of any lane changes. There hasn't be a time when my blind spot system didn't tell me someone was there that I didn't know. I'd be 100% okay with replacing side mirrors with side cameras.

  • Chris P Bacon It would be really nice if car sites like TTAC helped people find way to avoid these prices. It seems like stories like these just say "suck it up and pay the markup". No. In many cases, you don't have to. I just ordered a Wrangler 4xe and got Chrysler Affiliates price. That 1% under invoice. I know this is the price I got because I sat at the computer in the dealer's showroom and build the Jeep. i got Chrysler Affiliate pricing through my employer. Your employer doesn't offer it? Join treadlightly.org. For $100 membership, guess what? You get Chrysler Affiliate pricing! Want a Ford, but think you can't get X-Plan? Think again! Join EAA.org. X-Plan is included with their membership. A dealer in my area is offering Costco members a $1500 incentive. I'm guessing that has something to do with Costco's car buying service, so there must be some value to be found in that program.Will all dealers honor these discount plans? No. Then that's not the dealer you want to work with anyway. Find another place to shop. It would be nice if TTAC (or any car site) did a little leg work to show readers how to actually save on a car purchase.
  • KOKing I car-sat an A32 while its owner was out of the country, and the then whiz-bang VQ motor was great, but the rest of it wasn't any better than a XV10 or XV20. Definitely the start of its downward slide, unfortunately.
  • Norman Stansfield Why are leaf springs still a thing on this truck?
  • Syke The expected opening comments. Have had mine for two years now, the car has done exactly what I want out of it, and a little better. I'm quite happy with the car, haven't had to adjust my driving style or needs in the slightest, and . . . . oh, did a mention that I don't give a damn what today's price at the pump is?Probably going to go for a second one in the coming year, the wife's happy enough with mine that she's ready and willing to trade in the Nissan Kicks. Eventually, the not often used van will end up getting traded on a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, basically ensuring that we don't use gas for anything except the occasional long trip.And the motorcycles.
  • Bobbysirhan I've never found the Allegro appealing before, but a few years of EV rollouts make it seem downright desirable.
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