New cars are coming off the assembly lines made of lighter, but stronger stuff.
But they pose a fresh challenge: How easily can rescuers get you out of a serious wreck?
Automakers and fire-rescue experts say many new cars are structured mostly with advanced steel alloys known as boron and martensite. They’re materials resistant to crumpling, unlike 'old steel.'
But they’re also resistant to ‘cutting and spreading' on the rare occasions drivers may be trapped.
Innovative minds such as Ron Moore, training chief of the McKinney, TX, fire department, are hard at work trying to solve this dilemma.
"There is a boron header here, but it's a single layer," Moore said as he clambered over an badly -- and intentionally -- damaged Chevrolet Volt that served as a teaching prop at this week's FireHouse World Expo in San Diego.
The convention brought 7,000 fire-rescue personnel from all over the West to town, dozens of whom attended Moore's training seminar for some 'learning moments'.
"And," Moore continued, gesturing down toward the Volt, "my saws all could get through that."
Not so with a double-boron layer.
The 'up-armored' Volt proved quite a tussle for Chicago firefighters last year in a demonstration sponsored by General Motors and recorded for a GM video news release.
Powerful new cutters and spreaders helped 'crack the nut'.
"It's a great car for me to buy for my family and put them in," said Scott Crouch, a member of the Ontario, CA fire department as he surveyed the leftover wreckage. "Not so great if I've got to cut someone out of it ... for us, we're having to teach our guys work-around techniques."
Such as, for example, if a side post on an advanced-steel car is caved in by a broadside collision, and only old Jaws of Life are available.
"We get inside the car and use pushing equipment to push it back out," Moore explained. "So we just have to think different ways of doing the same task."
Firefighters say those double layers of advanced structural steel are the thickness of two dimes. But more than a match for all but the most recent cutting tools.
Badly injured drivers, facing the Jaws of Death, can only hope those tools are on-scene.
Or the 'work-arounds’ are fast and effective.
Even as state of the art cutting tools become more available, with price tags of up to $5,000 apiece, they can be daunting investments for a lot of fire departments.
Meantime, in the case of OnStar-equipped models that get in major wrecks, first responders will be forewarned that an uber-steel vehicle is involved.
"And the whole objective there," said George Baker, Manager of Public Policy "is to give them a heads-up, before the dispatch is executed, so that they send the right rigs to the scene. And the folks that have had the training."