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What You Look For Before Buying Your Next SUV

May 18, 2008
Before you write down that check for the SUV you want to buy, it is best to get some education on the subject of rollover accidents. In fact, rollover accidents are a great concern to the National Highway and Transport Safety Agency (NHTSA), which is attached to the United States Department of Transportation.

This is not to say that you should not but the SUV you have been dreaming about. Just read on.

Rollovers are accidents when a vehicles ends up on another side. And each vehicle class has a rollover rating from the NHTSA.

* Five stars - has a risk of rollover of less than 10%;

* Four stars - has a risk of rollover between 10% and 20%;

* Three stars - has a risk of rollover between 20% and 30%;

* Two stars - has a risk of rollover between 30% and 40% ; and

* One star - has a risk or rollover of over 40%.

It should not be surprising that sedans usually get a five or four star rating from the NHTSA, while taller vehicles like SUVs will likely get three stars or less. Minivans usually get a three-star rating.

The NHTSA ratings are based on "Static Stability Factor", which is essentially a measure of how top heavy a vehicle is. Essentially, taller vehicles, which have a higher center of gravity, have a greater chance to rollover.

Before rollover ratings were popularized by the NHTSA, driving experts rated the rollover resistance of a vehicle using the moose test. Under the moose test, a vehicle's stability is tested during a sudden evasive maneuver, usually towards the other lane (which is to avoid a moose suddenly appearing before your vehicle's path). The vehicles that were easier to control during the sudden lane changes rated higher in the tests.

Although the NHTSA ratings and moosetests would point to taller vehicles or those with a higher center of gravity being less resistant to a rollover accident, a lot still depends on the driver for safe motoring. In fact, the NHTSA once stated that all vehicles can rollover.

Since there is little motorists can do about the rollover ratings (since these are based on tests), what they can do is improve their skill and knowledge about vehicle control dynamics (a subject only taught in performance driving schools).

In the subject of vehicle control dynamics, a motorist is taught how to keep his vehicle balanced under all road conditions, and to avoid imbalance that could lead to loss of control or accidents (like a rollover).

To simplify matters (but we will write more on this subject later), a vehicle is balanced when its weight is equally distributed on all four wheels (when it is traveling), and there is no abrupt load transfer to the front (like during hard braking) or when the vehicle leans to one side (like what happens when a vehicle enters a turn too fast).

To keep a vehicle balanced, always observe the following:

* Travel at the appropriate speed so you can avoid the following:
Sudden lane changes (requiring quick steering inputs)
Sudden braking
* Always brake along a straight line (especially during hard braking situations)
* Brake early as possible (to avoid abrupt load transfer from the rear to the front of the vehicle)
* Always slow down and shift to the appropriate gear before entering a turn (do not step on the brakes and turn the steering wheel simultaneously)
* Be aware of road adhesion conditions (slippery and the like) and adjust speed appropriately
* Keep tires properly inflated at all times

It is also advisable to look as far as possible when driving (but not ignoring what is immediately ahead) so you can judge road conditions ahead and apply the necessary steering, braking or deceleration measure to keep your vehicle balanced.

Likewise, when a vehicle is to be loaded with lots of passengers and cargo, make sure this is well distributed over the vehicle. Do not load too much on one side, nor too much at the rear.

What we are saying here is the safety of a vehicle largely depends on driver skill, since it is a given that the most stupid driver on the road can rollover a vehicle that has a five-star rating from the NHTSA. Don't be one of them.
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