Please Stop Saying Cars Aren’t Built Like They Used to Be

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “cars aren’t built like they used to be” I’d have enough money to send at least a few of them for some physics classes. It’s true, cars really aren’t built the same way anymore, and what people mean by that is they aren’t made out of the same materials like steel. It’s not because manufacturers are trying to save a few extra bucks in the cost of materials either, it is genuinely a good thing that cars aren’t just giant blocks of steel with leather seats anymore.

The physics of a car accident

Fifty years ago, when cars were still made mostly of steel and other heavy materials, you could crash a car and continue driving it for years to come. Whether you hit a pole or another car, the vehicle just didn’t seem to crumple under the weight and power of the accident. To many people, this meant quality because, at some point in time, we started relating how well a car survived an accident to how good a car was.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather be the one to survive an accident — not my car. Modern-day cars are designed to absorb as much of the impact from an accident as possible to help minimize the forces exerted on the car’s occupants. While your car’s chances of making it out of the accident are now lower, your chances are higher.

Heather Barclay, an accident investigator with the Fullerton Police Department | Mindy Schauer/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register, Getty Images

It’s true, they aren’t

Composites have been readily replacing the use of steel and other metals for many parts of modern-day cars. Everything from the body to the car’s actual chassis can be built out of composites without compromising structural rigidity. Steel is becoming less common in cars, and composites like carbon fiber are growing in popularity for more reasons than one.

Rescue workers are on duty at the scene of the accident on Motorway 4 | Björn Walther/picture alliance, Getty Images

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The crumple zone

Modern days cars aren’t designed to survive bad accidents — they are designed to protect the car’s occupants. This is because the car’s body and structure absorb the force of the impact, so the passengers don’t have to. Older cars from the 1950s, for example, would fare well through an accident, and owners could boast that they had merely a scratch. In fact, cars from that time could handle accidents a lot better, but unfortunately, the occupants of the vehicle were left to absorb the impact of the accident, causing more harm than necessary.

A red VW convertible after a roll-over crash sitting in a lot

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So simply put, yes, we know that cars aren’t made the way they used to be. But instead of saying that as a bad thing, it’s really something that we should be grateful for. In fact, it might be time to change our mentality and stop saying that altogether.