Automotive Fleet Testing

Fleet testing is an important part of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) program in developing new automotive technology and in qualifying fuels and lubricants. A major SwRI goal is to help clients bring new products into the marketplace and keep them there in response to regulation and competition. Fleet testing is often the final important phase of vehicle research that provides proof of performance and comparative data under actual operating conditions. The Institute offers a combination of expertise, comprehensive services, and state-of-the-art test facilities to clients in all segments of the automotive industry. The SwRI automotive fleet laboratory is certified to ISO-9002, and it is accredited for ISO/IEC Guide-25, "General Requirements for the Competence of Calibration and Testing Laboratories."

SwRI has been actively involved in all aspects of fleet testing for nearly 50 years. Bumper-to-bumper fleet evaluations include:

  • Air conditioning systems
  • Automatic transmission fluids
  • Axle lubricants
  • Body trim
  • Brakes
  • Coolants
  • Crankcase oils
  • Electronics and electrical systems
  • Engines
  • Evaporative emissions
  • Exhaust emissions
  • Exhaust systems
  • Fuels
  • Paints
  • Steering
  • Tires
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SwRI provides fleet testing services using many different makes and models of cars, both foreign and domestic.

Typical Programs

  • Evaluations of lubricants and additives such as engine and gear oils for deposit formation, anti-wear properties, fuel efficiency improvements, and longevity
  • Evaluations of fuel formulations and additives for intake valve and combustion chamber deposits, injector cleaning, fuel economy improvements, and specification qualification
  • Durability and performance tests of prototype components and systems such as air conditioning systems using ozone-safe refrigerants, emission control systems and components, and drivetrain technology
  • Tire testing, including passenger, truck, and agricultural tires
  • Noise evaluations
  • Electromagnetic interference testing
  • Evaluations of hydraulic fluids, transmission and rear axle oils, and agricultural and industrial tractor fluids for braking and power transmission
  • Evaluation and testing of car care products such as waxes, polishes, vinyl dressings, and tire cleaners
  • Evaluation of competitive vehicles
  • Evaluation and testing of fluids and fluid additives such as coolants, brake fluids, and automatic transmission fluids
  • Frequent opportunities for multiple testing or "piggyback" tests for various clients using the same fleet of vehicles at a shared cost
  • Durability and performance testing of CNG systems
  • Availability of mileage accumulation dynamometers
  • Development and research services
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Vehicles on the mileage accumulation dynamometers are run at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The state-of-the-art mileage accumulation dynamometer facility provides rapid, cost-effective vehicle testing, accommodating up to twenty cars or light trucks.

Test Procedures

  • General Motors automatic transmission service fill fluid specification, DEXRONŽ-IIIE
  • Ford Motor Company automatic transmission service fill fluid specification, MERCONŽ
  • Allison C-4 and TES-295 heavy-duty transmission fluid specification
  • Caterpillar powershift transmission fluid specification
  • Intake valve deposit test for gasolines [ASTM D 5500 and California Air Resources Board (CARB)
  • Port fuel injector deposit test for gasolines (ASTM D 5598 and CARB)
  • Acceleration tests (SAE)
  • Fuel economy (SAE light- and heavy-duty)
  • Noise testing
  • Other published procedures specific to project requirements
  • Client-proprietary procedures
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SwRI engineers gathered vehicle performance data on engine system durability for a fleet of modified Blue Bird TC/2000 buses. The buses, powered by John Deere 8.1-liter compressed natural gas engines, averaged daily mileage accumulations of 750 miles.

Test Planning

SwRI uses its more than five decades of experience in automotive testing and evaluation to assist in the planning of short- or long-term fleet testing activities. Test planning services include:

  • Development of a test plan that realistically meets client needs
  • Statistically designed test plans
  • Complete description and explanation of test services
  • Review of format for presentation of test results and evaluations
  • Recommendations based on purpose of testing and evaluations
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A one-mile track at SwRI is frequently used for driveability, octane measurement, or mileage accumulation tests. An eight-mile track is also available for high-speed testing.


The SwRI automotive fleet laboratory uses the most current diagnostic equipment to keep test fleets operating at maximum performance levels. All routine and specialized maintenance is performed in-house by highly trained technicians. Data acquisition systems are available for use in programs requiring temperature, pressure, or position measurements. Additional facilities and equipment include:

  • Borescope video recording
  • Chassis dynamometers
  • Cold temperature cell for vehicles
  • Customized instrumentation
  • Drivetrain torquemeters
  • Electronic automotive monitoring system
  • Emissions laboratory
  • Fast-fill CNG fueling
  • Fuel economy measurement systems
  • Twenty mileage accumulation dynamometers
  • On-site and off-site test tracks
  • Optical and microwave fifth wheels
  • Shift feel computer o Towing dynamometer


The Institute's experience is in increasing demand by the automotive industry, partly because SwRI offers:

  • Ability to redirect effort
  • Adherence to realistic time schedules
  • Confidentiality
  • Custom testing to specific client needs
  • Impartial comprehensive reports
  • Multidisciplinary team approach
  • Quotes without obligation
  • Rapid response to inquiries
  • Special facilities
  • Step-wise approach to limit costs
  • Strong quality assurance program
  • Test plan consultation
  • Trained staff
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The Institute recently constructed a 6,000-square foot blending facility in which SwRI staff members blend automotive fuels in seven large-capacity stainless steel tanks. The facility includes a temperature-controlled room for storage of 55-gallon drums of fuel or fuel additives.

Support to the fleet test program is available from the Institute's extensive research and development capabilities in:

  • Emissions
  • Automatic transmission fluids
  • Gasoline and diesel engine lubricants
  • Petroleum products
This brochure was published in December 1996. For more information about automotive fleet testing, contact Michael Lochte, Manager, Fleet and Field Evaluations, Fuels and Lubricants Research Division, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-5430, Fax (210) 681-6858.

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