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Pothole Protections: Mother wants to know what car manufacturers are doing to combat pothole problem


News4 travels to Detriot where we learn more about how to protect cars from potholes
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 6:23 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Middle Tennessee drivers are no strangers to potholes.

We often talk about what states and cities need to do to fix the roads, but did you ever wonder what car manufacturers do to protect you behind the wheel?

It’s a question Smithville resident Rebecca Stewart wanted the answer to.

“I still am leery every time we hit a pothole in this car. It scares me,” Stewart said.

Stewart can’t get the sight of her side airbag out of her head.

Stewart’s stepdaughter and husband were driving in Murfreesboro when they said they hit a pothole, releasing the airbag inside of her Nissan Pathfinder.

The incident made her question not just her car’s durability, but every manufacturer out there.

“It’s almost like what I do is watch for potholes on the road, to make sure I’m not gonna hit ‘em,” Stewart said. “Manufacturers need to make sure things are correct before they put them out on the road.”

News4 Investigates reached out to multiple car companies, the manufacturer Stellantis, which produces vehicles including Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat, among others, not only responded but also gave News4 an in-depth and exclusive look at how they test potholes on their cars.

It took us about 50 miles west of Detroit to a small town named Chelsea where Stellantis houses a team of 900 employees who spend hours testing vehicles on a very special road.

“We do all kinds of others things to vehicles to challenge them, to break them on purpose to learn where they fail and make them even better before we go into production,” David Eichberger said.

Chelsea Proving Ground near Detroit, Mich.
Chelsea Proving Ground near Detroit, Mich.(WSMV)

Eichberger is the head of the Chelsea Proving grounds. He allowed News4 Investigates to ride and drive on Chalma Road in a Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

“We know exactly how many potholes are here. We know how deep they are,” Eichberger said. “These are engineered potholes and we run over them a certain number of times.”

Eichberger said they meticulously study and analyze potholes in different sizes and at different speeds to make sure the vehicles are durable.

Stellantis tests vehicles on a specially designed road - Chalma Road - that has different size...
Stellantis tests vehicles on a specially designed road - Chalma Road - that has different size potholes.(WSMV)

“It really starts backwards. We know how many potholes we need to hit,” Eichberger said. “We share that information with all of the design engineers. They design the parts to beat the test and exceed the test so that when it comes time where the vehicle is built with physical parts, we can test it and make sure that it passes the test.”

To pass that test, Stellantis vehicles go through another phase in the lab.

News4 Investigates will dig deeper into how engineers take data from the proving grounds to their computers to determine now just how vehicles can withstand potholes, but other road hazards before you get behind the wheel.

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