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A Look At How Safety, Comfort Features In New Cars Increase Weight

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Brian Champagne
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The familiar Beatles song “Hey Jude” hit the U.S. market in 1968, the same year the Toyota Corolla did. It packed a few more basics than the Volkswagen Beetle it came here to compete against and weighed about 1,500 pounds.

Toyota loaned us their 2021 Corolla. It’s really nice. Nicer than the original with three times the power, 10 airbags, power windows, mirrors, etcetera, and it brakes for you and steers to keep you in your lane. But it gets about the same gas mileage. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.

“My name is Bob Wardle and I work at Northrop Grumman. I do advanced programs, so I’ve spent a career doing R&D on rockets.”

But it helps.

“Newton’s second law is that force equals mass times acceleration,” Wardle said. “So when something weighs more, it takes more to accelerate it to a given speed.”

The 2021 Corolla weighs roughly double the original.

“I actually thought the newer car be lighter than the older car,” Wardle said. 

And not to pick on the Corolla, all cars that pile on extra features are piling on the pounds with them. An anti-lock brakes controller alone can put on 25 pounds.

And while none of us with pretty faces want to throw out our airbags to save a few pounds, it may help to avoid those pretty, bigger wheels.

“Something that weighs more is going to take a little more energy, and because it is something that you are spinning up there is angular momentum you’re adding to it besides the velocity down the road,” Wardle said 

And besides the gas mileage you give up having more steel than rubber, a heavier wheel makes every bump heavier.

Applying rocket science to a Toyota Corolla:

“The equations for accelerating and decelerating a car are the same ones in a way that we use for rockets,” Wardle said. “It’s just we have a variable mass because we’re spitting mass out the back end of it.”