Versatile plastics hold the key to a host of safety and performance breakthroughs in today’s automobiles and make up roughly 10 percent by weight but 50 percent by volume of new cars. Most of what you touch and feel inside your car today is made with plastics, from the seat cushions to the dashboard to the carpeting. And then there are plastic bumpers, door panels, mirrors, wipers and more on the exterior.
Why this switch to plastics? Safety is a big driver:
- Nylon air bags and seat belts made of industrial strength polyester have saved countless lives
- Fragile glass headlamps have been replaced with tough, shatter-resistant polycarbonate
- Dashboards, doors and other interior surfaces are cushioned with soft plastic foams
- Tough plastic foams inside key structures throughout the car absorb impact and provide strength in a crash
- Plastic bumpers and crumple zones cushion the blow in a collision
- Safety glass – a layer of plastic sandwiched between two sheets of glass – helps reduce injuries in a crash
And safety advances continue to evolve. Carbon fiber reinforced plastics, which are increasingly used in autos, can absorb 6 to 12 times more crash energy than traditional materials. Automakers are creating nylon seat belts that expand like air bags in a crash. Some glass windows and sunroofs are being replaced with tough polycarbonate. And tires continue to improve, providing greater traction and handling.
Innovative plastics are expected to continue replacing other materials for many reasons, including improved design and reduced weight to increase fuel efficiency. But at the end of the day, it’s the safety innovations made possible by plastics that bring us a bit more peace of mind … and help our loved ones arrive safely.