Auto Safety and the Laws of Unintended Consequences, Pt 2

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on September 7, 2013

(Continued from Part 1)…

The demise of the old Caprice has created a ripple effect that is still present today.

The Crown Victoria, though relatively simple, had drawbacks, such as a somewhat cramped interior and a complex overhead cam engine. While there is nothing wrong with overhead cam engines, the additional complexity of one or more cam shafts in the cylinder heads mean that the cost of engine maintenance could be higher compared to that of a pushrod engine.

I had been told that while most engines were designed with tolerances that are measured in thousandths of an inch, the “modular” V8 used in the Crown Vic had tolerances that are measured in ten-thousandths of an inch. Such tight spaces require thin motor oil in order to thoroughly lubricate the engine. Either out of habit or a refusal to follow Ford’s service manuals, some cars had been serviced with thicker engine oil – oil that could not reach every part of the engine; the end result being an almost trademark cloud of black smoke that billows from the tailpipes of many Crown Vics.

The new Charger and Taurus have even more cramped interiors, plus sloping rear windows that severely restrict the size of the trunk openings – a very important feature of a utility vehicle that must carry a large amount of equipment. In addition, The Taurus and Explorer have complex drive-trains which may prove expensive to maintain once the warranty expires. Two options on the Taurus and Explorer are all-wheel drive and a twin-turbo engine.

These are very complex systems which could prove costly to fix once the vehicle’s warranty expires – and with municipalities squeezing as much life out of their vehicles as possible, plus the regular abuse that these vehicles must endure, odds are that an expensive repair bill may become the rule rather than the exception.

As for the new, Australian-built Caprice, the sticker price has proven too expensive to justify purchasing for many municipalities.

As cramped as the interiors in this new generation of police vehicles may be, a new development may render all of these cars useless as police vehicles: the center air bag.

Designed to inflate from the inside-facing edges of the front seats, any equipment mounted between the seats – the traditional and only place to mount the majority of aftermarket equipment in these vehicles — could prevent these new air bags from inflating properly, and inflicting more damage to the vehicle occupants than if those air bags did not exist.
Side curtain air bags create two problems: prisoner cages must be designed to allow for unimpeded inflation, and any wires and cables that are run between the roof panel and the headliner must be routed in a specific manner for the same reason. As police vehicle interiors are redesigned, so must the air bags – and the prisoner cages.

With more intrusive government mandates that are implemented in the name of safety and fuel efficiency, a possible new option may become necessary on new fleet vehicles: a passenger seat-delete option.

The sizes of new cars may be diminishing due to conflicting safety and fuel economy standards – requiring new safety features on automobiles usually mean that the weight of those new cars will increase, making reaching higher fuel economy standards more difficult.

By removing the front passenger seat, carmakers could offset the weight gains that follow the addition of new, extra parts, and this could free-up space needed by equipment that could no longer be installed between the driver and passenger seats.

This possible arrangement creates a series of very big problems.

A one-person car would mean the end of two-officer cars, ride-alongs, and an unnecessary difficulty for field training officers to work with new officers.

When new mandates are imposed on the auto industry, especially in the name of safety and fuel economy, the politicians and bureaucrats who push for these changes either choose to ignore or are somehow unaware of the fact that cars and trucks are used as much more than just people movers. A car could also double as an office, a miniature moving “truck,” or even a makeshift camper. When government officials refuse to pay attention to the needs of Americans as motorists, chances are that they are not paying attention to Americans at all.

Image: A 1992 Ford Crown Victoria S (P72 Police Interceptor) recently decommissioned from Clovis Unified School District Police in California; author: Hot pursuit p71; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Topics: Auto Safety, Air Bags, Regulation

Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for