Safety issue surrounding assembled “Lego” cars

Safety is paramount in automobiles irrespective of cars designed for racing or for normal road use. Cursory look at the cars on the roads of Singapore tells a story of significant advances in thinking and innovation that translated to a form and shape of a car atypical of those seen in earlier years. Specifically, segmented parts of the cars revealed that they are modular in design, able to be modified in short time to fit the evolving needs of the car owner.

How do you identify cars embedded with this innovative approach in car design? One giveaway is the segmented lines on the rear bumper, which can be flexibly fitted with new designs such as ones sporting aerodynamic features capable of providing more downforce to the rear wheels. Additionally, the front part of the car where the engine sits also allows further customization in the form of aerodynamic front winglets attached to the underside of the front bumper.

Looking at the curvature of the cars from the aesthetics perspective, these innovative “Lego” assembled cars do look comfortable, with a sizeable interior volume appropriate to the purpose of the car. Specifically, a sports utility vehicle, manufactured in this modular format, does come endowed with space appropriate to the use mode of the vehicle. Typically, irrespective of the use purpose of the car (e.g., a compact sedan or a sports car), these assembled cars are very large and heavy compared to standard offerings from the major car manufacturers present in the Singapore market. Being heavier and significantly larger than other cars on the roads meant that severe causalities could result in either front end or rear end collisions with these cars.

One must ask: why is there such a trend where different parts of a car could be customized to the owners’ specifications through fitting necessary parts to a common chassis and undercarriage? One major reason could be the desire of car manufacturers to offer more choices to consumers, by allowing them to customize their cars while without inflating the price of the resulting car by a significant margin such as to make the car unaffordable.

Another reason lies in the technical challenge of shaping the sheet metal used in making cars to high curvature version suited for post-modern design of cars, which is well received in many European and Asian markets as well as in America. Hence, by compartmentalizing cars into different modular parts, less demand is placed on high end metallurgy necessary to shape large pieces of metal into high curvature variants necessary to fit the contours desired by the car designers for aerodynamic purposes.
My personal opinion on the assembled “Lego” cars is that they are plain unsafe, because the segmented lines on the car that allows the flexible fitting of different modular car parts reduce the mechanical stiffness and strength of the car, which endangers the passengers during small accidents, that usually would not result in fatalities. For example, in a rear end collision, the rear bumper of the car would disintegrate into sharp pieces that pierce the front part of the other car in the accident. Road safety regulations around the world require crash test certificates for every make and model of car before allowing them on the roads. Thus, the same applies for assembled “Lego” cars. However, given their poor mechanical strength and unsafe design, assembled “Lego” cars would most likely fail crash tests, and thus, should not be allowed on the roads anywhere in the world.

Category: materials, mechanical engineering, design,
Tags: road safety, modular design, cars, crash tests, mechanical strength, material choice,

Acknowledgement: Ng Wenfa thank Seah Kwi Shan for co-authoring this blog post.



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