Going under the hood with AAA as auto club releases annual car guide

If you’re in the market for a new car, AAA is releasing its annual car guide Thursday, giving drivers an unbiased understanding of the latest automotive technology.

Reporter Zach Lashway from News4JAX sister station KPRC in Houston visited AAA’s Automotive Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into providing us with the most up-to-date information on vehicles so we can find the car that best suits our needs.

It’s where the rubber meets the asphalt, and Zach was granted access to the historic Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

“That Mustang Mach-E in a little more than nine seconds traversed this course. Not only do we look at that time, but we also look at ease of operation of that vehicle and perception of control,” said Megan McKernan, group manager of Automotive Services for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

McKernan explained the slalom is one of 12 categories each vehicle is evaluated on.

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“Fuel economy, visibility, ease of entry and exit, cargo capacity, again it’s looking at the everyday components of a vehicle,” McKernan said. “One of the studies we conducted here at this facility was our pedestrian study. We were looking at vehicles, that are set up with pedestrian detection systems that are supposed to apply the brakes automatically if they detect that pedestrian. What we found with that study was those systems don’t work 100% of the time.”

In order for a vehicle to be featured in the annual car guide, it must be a hybrid, all-electric, plug-in hybrid or an all-new vehicle for the model year.

McKernan said if premium fuel is required, you really should use it.

“Check your owner’s manual and find out if it is recommended or required,” McKernan said. “If you’re driving a pickup truck and you’re towing a trailer and your vehicle says premium recommended, you probably should use premium.”

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At AAA’s automotive research center in downtown Los Angeles, McKernan explained that the auto club was one of the very first emissions labs in California and now has a four-wheel-drive chassis dynamometer.

“The dynamometer is essentially a treadmill for a vehicle, and that allows us to measure the emissions of the vehicle. If it’s gasoline, for example, or look at the range if it’s an EV,” McKernan said.

Also controlled inside the dynamometer is the temperature, which can range from 20 to 95 degrees.

“It really has a dramatic decrease on the range when you go that cold or extremely hot,” McKernan explained.

In addition to vehicle evaluation, the AAA car guide covers the latest automotive topics for the times we’re traveling in.

“Nobody was buying vehicles when the pandemic started, and so then they waited a year, and everybody wanted to buy them at the same time, and there’s just not the supply,” McKernan said. “If you don’t have to buy a car right now, probably waiting this out until prices subside is the best (advice).”

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Each year the car guide features 55 to 65 vehicles. The 2022 edition is available online Thursday and in select AAA offices.

McKernan also said the chip shortage making headlines the past couple of years is not speeding away any time soon.

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