friction

Car Dynamics – Sliding and Overturning

In this post we will take a look at car performance in curves. Of central importance for our considerations is the centrifugal force. Whenever a body is moving in a curved path, this force comes into play. You probably felt it many times in your car. It is the force that tries to push you out of a curve as you go through it.

The centrifugal force C (in N) depends on three factors: the velocity v (in m/s) of the car, its mass m (in kg) and the radius r (in m) of the curve. Given these quantities, we can easily compute the centrifugal force using this formula:

C = m · v² / r

Note the quadratic dependence on speed. If you double the car’s speed, the centrifugal force quadruples. With this force acting, there must be a counter-force to cancel it for the car not to slide. This force is provided by the sideways friction of the tires. The frictional force F (in N) can be calculated from the so called coefficient of friction μ (dimensionless), the car mass m and the gravitational acceleration g (in m/s²).

F = μ · m · g

The coefficient of friction depends mainly on the road type and condition. On dry asphalt we can set μ ≈ 0.8, on wet asphalt μ ≈ 0.6, on snow μ ≈ 0.2 and on ice μ ≈ 0.1. At low speeds the frictional force exceeds the centrifugal force and the car will be able to go through the curve without any problems. However, as we increase the velocity, so does the centrifugal force and at a certain critical velocity the forces cancel each other out. Any increase in speed from this point on will result in the car sliding.

We can compute the critical speed s (in m/s) by equating the expressions for the forces:

m · s² / r = μ · m · g

s = sqrt (μ · r · g)

This is the speed at which the car begins to slide. Note that there’s no dependence on mass anymore. Since both the centrifugal as well as the frictional force grow proportionally to the car’s mass, it doesn’t play a role in determining the critical speed for sliding. All that’s left in terms of variables is the coefficient of friction (lower friction, lower critical speed) and the radius of the curve (smaller radius, more narrow curve, smaller critical speed).

However, sliding is not the only problem that can occur in curves. Under certain circumstances a car can also overturn. Again the centrifugal force is the culprit. Assuming the center of gravity (in short: CG) of the car is at a height of h (in m), the centrifugal force will produce a torque T acting to overturn the car:

T = h · C = m · v² · h / r

On the other hand, there’s the weight of the car giving rise to an opposing torque T’ that grows with the width w (in m) and mass m of the car:

T’ = 0.5 · m · g · w

At low speeds, the torque caused by the centrifugal force will be lower than the one caused by the gravitational pull. But at a certain critical speed o (in m/s), the torques will cancel each other and any further increase in speed will result in the car overturning. Equating the above expressions, we get:

m · o² · h / r = 0.5 · m · g · w

o = sqrt (0.5 · r · g · w / h)

Aside from the coefficient of friction, the determining factor here is the ratio of width to height. The larger it is, the harder it will be for the centrifugal force to overturn the car. This is why lowering a car when intending to go fast makes sense. If you lower the CG while keeping the width the same, the ratio w / h, and thus the critical speed for overturning, will increase.

Let’s look at some examples before drawing a final conclusion from these truly great formulas.

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According to caranddriver.com the center of gravity of a 2014 BMW 435i is h = 0.5 m above the ground. The width of the car is about w = 1.8 m. Calculate the critical speed for sliding and overturning in a curve of radius r = 300 m on a dry asphalt road (μ ≈ 0.8).

Nothing to do but to apply the formulas:

s = sqrt (0.8 · 300 m · 9.81 m/s²)

s ≈ 49 m/s ≈ 175 km/h ≈ 108 mph

So with normal driving behavior you certainly won’t get anywhere near sliding. But note that sudden steering in a curve can cause the radius of the your car’s path to be considerably lower than the actual curve radius.

Onto the critical overturning speed:

o = sqrt (0.5 · 300 m · 9.81 m/s² · 3.6)

o ≈ 73 m/s ≈ 262 km/h ≈ 162 mph

Not even Michael Schumacher could bring this car to overturn.

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How would the critical speeds change if we drove the 2014 BMW 435i through the same curve on an icy road? In this case the coefficient is considerably lower (μ ≈ 0.1). For the critical sliding speed we get:

s = sqrt (0.1 · 300 m · 9.81 m/s²)

s ≈ 17 m/s ≈ 62 km/h ≈ 38 mph

So even this sweet sport car is in danger of sliding relatively quickly under these conditions. What about the overturning speed? Well, it has nothing to do with the friction of the tires, so it will still be at 73 m/s.

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This was an excerpt from More Great Formulas Explained. Interested in more car dynamics? Take a look at my post on How to Compute Maximum Car Speed. For other interesting physics articles, check out my BEST OF. I hope you enjoyed and drive safe!

How To Calculate Maximum Car Speed + Examples (Mercedes C-180, Bugatti Veyron)

How do you determine the maximum possible speed your car can go? Well, one rather straight-forward option is to just get into your car, go on the Autobahn and push down the pedal until the needle stops moving. The problem with this option is that there’s not always an Autobahn nearby. So we need to find another way.

Luckily, physics can help us out here. You probably know that whenever a body is moving at constant speed, there must be a balance of forces in play. The force that is aiming to accelerate the object is exactly balanced by the force that wants to decelerate it. Our first job is to find out what forces we are dealing with.

Obvious candidates for the retarding forces are ground friction and air resistance. However, in our case looking at the latter is sufficient since at high speeds, air resistance becomes the dominating factor. This makes things considerably easier for us. So how can we calculate air resistance?

To compute air resistance we need to know several inputs. One of these is the air density D (in kg/m³), which at sea level has the value D = 1.25 kg/m³. We also need to know the projected area A (in m²) of the car, which is just the product of width times height. Of course there’s also the dependence on the velocity v (in m/s) relative to the air. The formula for the drag force is:

F = 0.5 · c · D · A · v²

with c (dimensionless) being the drag coefficient. This is the one quantity in this formula that is tough to determine. You probably don’t know this value for your car and there’s a good chance you will never find it out even if you try. In general, you want to have this value as low as possible.

On ecomodder.com you can find a table of drag coefficients for many common modern car models. Excluding prototype models, the drag coefficient in this list ranges between c = 0.25 for the Honda Insight to c = 0.58 for the Jeep Wrangler TJ Soft Top. The average value is c = 0.33. In first approximation you can estimate your car’s drag coefficient by placing it in this range depending on how streamlined it looks compared to the average car.

With the equation: power equals force times speed, we can use the above formula to find out how much power (in W) we need to provide to counter the air resistance at a certain speed:

P = F · v = 0.5 · c · D · A · v³

Of course we can also reverse this equation. Given that our car is able to provide a certain amount of power P, this is the maximum speed v we can achieve:

v = ( 2 · P / (c · D · A) )1/3

From the formula we can see that the top speed grows with the third root of the car’s power, meaning that when we increase the power eightfold, the maximum speed doubles. So even a slight increase in top speed has to be bought with a significant increase in energy output.

Note the we have to input the power in the standard physical unit watt rather than the often used unit horsepower. Luckily the conversion is very easy, just multiply horsepower with 746 to get to watt.

Let’s put the formula to the test.

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I drive a ten year old Mercedes C180 Compressor. According the Mercedes-Benz homepage, its drag coefficient is c = 0.29 and its power P = 143 HP ≈ 106,680 W. Its width and height is w = 1.77 m and h = 1.45 m respectively. What is the maximum possible speed?

First we need the projected area of the car:

A = 1.77 m · 1.45 m ≈ 2.57 m²

Now we can use the formula:

v = ( 2 · 106,680 / (0.29 · 1.25 · 2.57) )1/3

v ≈ 61.2 m/s ≈ 220.3 km/h ≈ 136.6 mph

From my experience on the Autobahn, this seems to be very realistic. You can reach 200 Km/h quite well, but the acceleration is already noticeably lower at this point.

If you ever get the chance to visit Germany, make sure to rent a ridiculously fast sports car (you can rent a Porsche 911 Carrera for as little as 200 $ per day) and find a nice section on the Autobahn with unlimited speed. But remember: unless you’re overtaking, always use the right lane. The left lanes are reserved for overtaking. Never overtake on the right side, nobody will expect you there. And make sure to check the rear-view mirror often. You might think you’re going fast, but there’s always someone going even faster. Let them pass. Last but not least, stay focused and keep your eyes on the road. Traffic jams can appear out of nowhere and you don’t want to end up in the back of a truck at these speeds.

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The fastest production car at the present time is the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. Is has a drag coefficient of c = 0.35, width w = 2 m, height h = 1.19 m and power P = 1200 HP = 895,200 W. Let’s calculate its maximum possible speed:

v = ( 2 · 895,200 / (0.35 · 1.25 · 2 · 1.19) )1/3

v ≈ 119.8 m/s ≈ 431.3 km/h ≈ 267.4 mph

Does this seem unreasonably high? It does. But the car has actually been recorded going 431 Km/h, so we are right on target. If you’d like to purchase this car, make sure you have 4,000,000 $ in your bank account.

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This was an excerpt from the ebook More Great Formulas Explained.

Check out my BEST OF for more interesting physics articles.

Sources:

http://ecomodder.com/wiki/index.php/Vehicle_Coefficient_of_Drag_List

http://www.mercedes-benz.de/content/germany/mpc/mpc_germany_website/de/home_mpc/passengercars/home/_used_cars/technical_data.0006.html

http://www.carfolio.com/specifications/models/car/?car=218999

A tunnel through earth and a surprising result …

Recently I found an interesting problem: A straight tunnel is being drilled through the earth (see picture; tunnel is drawn with two lines) and rails are installed in the tunnel. A train travels, only driven by gravitation and frictionless, along the rails. How long does it take the train to travel through this earth tunnel of length l?

The calculation, shows a surprising result. The travel time is independent of the length l; the time it takes the train to travel through a 1 Km tunnel is the same as through a 5000 Km tunnel, about 2500 seconds or 42 minutes! Why is that?

Imagine a model train on rails. If you put the rails on flat ground, the train won’t move. The gravitational force is pulling on the train, but not in the direction of travel. If you incline the rails slighty, the train starts to move slowly, if you incline the rails strongly, it rapidly picks up speed.

Now lets imagine a tunnel through the earth! A 1 Km tunnel will only have a slight inclination and the train would accelerate slowly. It would be a pleasant trip for the entire family. But a 5000 Km train would go steeply into the ground, the train would accelerate with an amazing rate. It would be a hell of a ride! This explains how we always get the same travel time: the 1 Km tunnel is short and the velocity would remain low, the 5000 Km is long, but the velocity would become enormous.

Here is how the hell ride through the 5000 Km tunnel looks in detail:

The red, monotonous increasing curve, shows distance traveled (in Km) versus time (in seconds), the blue curve shows velocity (in Km/s) versus time. In the center of the tunnel the train reaches the maximum velocity of about 3 Km/s, which corresponds to an incredible 6700 mi/h!