You’ve seen our slick commercials before putting a spotlight on strength, power and durability. You know the ones. A Ford Explorer owning a loose dirt road that cuts through the forest in hairpin turns. A Focus mastering a wintry road so cold that body panels shimmer with layers of ice. Fords powering through mud and sand, down country roads and through potholed city streets.
All that imagery isn’t just being created for your viewing pleasure. We believe every one of our vehicles—car, SUV and truck—must be durable and reliable enough to safely, comfortably carry our customers through the toughest driving conditions imaginable.
Grueling practice for extreme automotive athletes
To make sure a new Ford car, SUV or truck is, in fact, tough enough for that oval, blue emblem, it gets put through a gauntlet of punishing tests. We shake them. We freeze them. Then we roast them. There’s the loose gravel hill to overcome, the skid pad to master, the water and mud baths to endure, the pothole course to complete. Afterwards, it’s on to the wind tunnel to operate in both freezing and broiling gusts.
And those are just a few of the moving vehicle tests. When the vehicle is parked, there’s a whole other set of tortures to survive. Doors, trunks and hoods are repeatedly slammed. A months-long saltwater shower that would dissolve a bicycle tests corrosion resistance.
Next come the machines, which shake a vehicle to find squeaks, probe it for unwanted emissions, dissect the engine to make sure it performs as engineered and mimic the most bone-rattling road conditions a driver could encounter. There’s driving over cold snow, hot sand and bowling-ball-sized rocks. It’s enough to send the most extreme athletes to the showers.
Ford engineers, mechanics, test drivers and technicians examine the vehicles from headlights to taillights to make sure they won’t let our customers down in the most extreme conditions on Earth. The proof of our work comes out in consistently high owner satisfaction ratings.
Keeping the competitive edge
It’s not just our cars and SUVs that must run the gauntlet. Even though we’ve been offering the toughest trucks on the market for decades, it doesn’t mean that previous top marks allow them to skip the test. And with this year’s introduction of a brand new F-150, we knew we’d have to prove to longtime customers that we weren’t going soft by going next-generation. So we doubled down to show off the beating the truck’s high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy body and steel frame could take.
An acid bath was added to salt sprays to test aluminum’s improved corrosion resistance over steel. One test on the aluminum body panels simulated six years of use in six weeks. In the end, test models endured 10 million cumulative miles and thousands of hours of torture.
In just one hardcore test performed every year, Ford engineers bring prototype cars, trucks and SUVs to a specially designed building at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. Inside the McKinley Climatic Test Facility, a range of prototype vehicles go through cold-start and idling trials in freezing temperatures.
“We started yesterday at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and we’re just going down 20 degrees a day,” says Kirk Parrish, Ford’s temperature control supervisor. “We’ll go all the way to minus 40. We’ll make sure all our systems are functioning properly at those temperatures.”
Gasoline calibration engineer Richard Shimon said tests are specifically geared to meet customer expectations of performance whether the vehicle is in Northern Canada or the Mojave Desert.
“We test every engine and every application, from a Fiesta to a Focus to a Super Duty,” said Shimon from under a heavy parka inside the facility. “We test a variety of fuel properties to make sure the cars start and behave as the customers expect. We have vehicles from North America, South America, Asia-Pacific that we bring here to Elgin Air Force Base to assure they meet all of the customer expectations.”