Driving through Death Valley is really spectacular in its own way. The landscape is very different from any of the other national parks you will come across in United States. Although the percipitation here is very low, we were lucky enough to get a few rain drops on our windscreen on the way out.
It happens every year. If you are lucky enough you can spot a lot of identical cars, some covered with strange squiggly patterns (to frustrate automotive paparazzi). We saw test drivers and engineers from BMW and Range Rover this year testing their cars in the heat of Death Valley. Some of the cars are stock models already in production. Others are prototypes of new models.
The reason why they test cars in Death Valley is that grade over the distance in the heat can't be duplicated anywhere else in the world which makes that particular road a great place to test brakes and cooling systems. It costs nearly $1 million to ship the cars and equipment there so the auto makers have to have great arguments to conduct their tests there.
The landscape and driving conditions in Europe are so different from those in the U.S. that manufacturers build some mechanical differences into the cars intended for the different markets. BMW, for instance, does not test cars for the European market here. That is done in Granada, Spain.
You would think that the test drivers would be pushing the cars to their limits, racing down the highway as fast as possible, but that is not the case. What they want to test is how the cars perform when driven as as actual owners would use them.
As an example, people in Death Valley will stop and leave their cars idling with their air conditioners running, which increases the idle speed while they walk around taking pictures. Temperatures in the engine and fuel system will rise for a time when the engine is turned off after getting hot, then there is the chance of bubbles forming in the fuel resulting in what’s called vapor lock. That is another thing they test for in the heat of Death Valley.
In fact, the only thing they do not test the cars for in the U.S. is high-speed driving. This they do in South Africa on a special 109km road where they can drive up to 248km per hour.