The more testing is done on the car and the more practice the team has before a race, the better the car and team will do. A good rule of thumb is to plan to try to get the car complete to the point you can drive it around a parking lot at least two months before a race event, and complete enough to drive on public roads (with at least a partially functional solar array) at least a month in advance.
Dealing with PoliceEdit
Depending on where you're testing, the police may not like you driving around outside of a race event.
- Drive around your university campus first. The campus police probably know about the solar car and will just smile and wave.
- Get the car licensed. Most DMVs will register it as an experimental vehicle. Get a VIN plate if you can. Carry the license plate in the lead vehicle at all times. Carry insurance paperwork with the plate.
- Try to look like a caravan; the police may be less inclined to pull you over if it looks like the solar car is being escorted, but they'll probably pull you over in a heartbeat if it looks like it is alone. Lead and chase vehicles NEED to have big flashing yellow lights on top, and probably should have solar car team signs on them.
- If the police try to pull you over, don't try to "stop as a caravan" like you would if, say, a tire went flat on the solar car. Instead, chase should slow down and pull over immediately, the solar car should pull over as soon as shoulder/speed permits, and lead should maintain the usual position in front of the solar car. Chances are the police car is trying to pull over the solar car specifically, and will not appreciate it if the chase vehicle "blocks" him.
Bugs Found / Time | |* * | * | * B| * U| * G| * S| * | * F| * O| * U| * N| * D| * | * | * | * | |__________________________________________________ HOURS OF TESTING
Notice the graph above does not go to zero. There will always, always be bugs left in the system waiting to be found.
No mater what you might think, the electrical system your team designs and builds will not be perfect. As soon as parts are done, start bench-testing them. However, bench testing can only do so much; many of the issues that will crop up will probably be related to the wiring and connectors of the as-installed systems. EMI issues, high current flowing in odd directions under regenerative braking, parts that come loose under high vibration, etc. are all issues that will not crop up until you drive the complete car around town and take it up to highway speed for several hours. It's better to find out these issues well before the race, rather than two days into the race.
Pretty much every solar car event details certain maneuvers that the car must physically be able to do in order to qualify: slalom course in X amount of time, figure-8 in Y amount of time, can do a U-turn of less than Z meters in diameter, etc. Hopefully this was taken into account when the car was being designed, but the only way to be sure is to go out, find an empty parking lot, set up some cones, and do it. It's better to find out someone calculated something wrong early, rather than spend a sleepless night machining new steering stops during inspection.
Cross country race events range from 1000 miles to 2500 miles long, over some fairly rough terrain. It's a good idea to test the solar car at highway speed for a significant fraction of the race mileage (say, 50%) simply to make sure that the car will hold together. Don't be afraid to break the car. Chances are that you've expended a lot of blood, sweat, and tears designing and building the car, and you may be afraid to put your baby in harm's way out on the open road. This is entirely understandable, but it's gotta hit the road sometime, and any experience or data gained from highway testing is incredibly valuable, especially if the team members attending the race have not raced a solar car before.
The most important thing your team will get out of driving the solar car around is personal experience in how driving the solar car works. Learning how the radios work, how to communicate over them, what to do when things go wrong, etc.