UNDERSTANDING CARS

Car Technology Guide

With so many new technologies and features available, this guide can help you decide which ones to focus on, when you're shopping around for your new car.

Motor manufacturers are constantly competing with each other to develop new technologies that will gain an edge in the market.

As a result, cars are becoming safer, more economical, more environmentally responsible and more comfortable.

Toyota, for instance, invests over $1.5 AUD million worldwide, every hour on research and development to refine existing technologies and systems and to develop new and better systems and features. You can read more about Toyota innovation here.

With so many new technologies and innovations, it can be confusing working out what they are all for and what they do, especially with the fondness that many manufacturers have for using highly technical language and acronyms to describe them. You'll find clear explanations and definitions in our glossary here.

The features that cars are equipped with vary from model to model, with different names often given by different manufacturers to the same features.

It's hard enough working out what each feature or technology does, let alone whether it's something you really need.

When it comes to these new features, it's worth asking yourself some simple questions, including:

  • Is it an essential or a luxury?
  • Will I ever really need it?
  • Why should I consider it?
  • Do all manufacturers include it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Is it relevant to the way I will be driving or how I will use the car?

But help is at hand. To make it easier for you to work out which features are important to you and your lifestyle, and to make sure you get the car that's really right for you, we've included the following below:

  • A brief description of the kinds of technologies available
  • Our Jargon Buster with definitions of terms and abbreviations

Safety

This is probably the most important aspect of car technology – for everyone. It's particularly important if you are a new driver or have a young family.

Even if you are an experienced driver, you can never be sure that someone else on the road won't involve you in their accident.

So whatever your lifestyle and whatever car you choose, it's worth making sure it's equipped with the best safety features and technology you can afford.

The car industry refers to two kinds of safety – passive and active.

Passive safety features

These features are designed to minimise injuries in the event of a collision. They include:

Dual stage SRS airbags[B4]

Dual-Stage (or dual deploy) technology effectively makes them into 'smart' airbags[B4]. This means they may inflate partially or completely, or not at all, depending on the speed at impact and the weight of the person in the seat.

Before you buy, find out how many airbags are fitted as this will vary from model to model. Some models have as many as ten, including a driver's knee airbag and a full-length curtain airbag. These are important as they help provide extra protection against the sort of injuries that typically occur in collisions.

When it comes to airbags, generally speaking the more there are, the better.

Crumple zones

Crumple Zones are designed to absorb crash energy and thus help minimise the effect of an impact on the driver and passengers.

In Toyota vehicles, there are crumple zones in both the front and rear. This feature is combined with a protective shell and frame, and both are designed to direct crash energy away from you. Together, they create Toyota's famous Safe-T-Cell structure.

Not all makes offer such comprehensive protection. So before you decide on a car, especially if it's a used one, it's a good idea to check.

Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) seats

Basically, the name says it all. These seats are designed to hold you in such a way that in the event of a collision from behind, the whiplash effect is greatly reduced.

Whiplash injuries can occur in even minor, low speed collisions. Toyota, for example, now includes WIL seats for driver and front passenger in most new models.

Active safety features

These features are designed to help prevent accidents from happening in the first place. These include:

Anti-skid brake system

Also known as ABS brakes, this system is an invaluable safety aid. It helps to prevent skids and helps keep you in control when braking on a corner or in wet or slippery road conditions.

Many drivers consider ABS brakes a mandatory, for good reason. Some models also have safety features, which work with ABS to keep you even safer. These include Brake Assist (BA), which adds brake force in an emergency if needed, and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). EBD makes sure the wheels with the most grip receive the most brake force.

Traction control

A very effective safety aid that helps prevent skidding and keeps you in control during acceleration on slippery or uneven road surfaces.

It's well worth including on your wish list of desirable features.

Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)

Many accidents are caused by skidding during cornering when the road has been made slippery by rain, mud, oil or ice. Vehicle Stability Control helps you stay in control in situations like this, reducing the risk of skidding and maximizing the grip of your tyres.

Blind Spot Monitor[B4]

This will flash a warning in your side mirrors if you indicate to change lanes while another vehicle is detected travelling in your blind spot.

As many accidents occur during lane changes, this is a really useful safety aid. It is especially so for new drivers who may not be as alert to the dangers of car blind spots.

Reversing camera[B4]

It's distressingly easy to bump into something that's below your eye line while reversing, and the result can be catastrophic.

A reversing camera[B4] helps make reversing safer when small children are around, avoid expensive dings and helps you fit into awkward parking spaces.

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