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Students Participate in Baja Car Contest

The Baja SAE team at the Caterpillar Demonstration and Learning Center.

A team of engineering students participated in the international Baja car off-road competition held last week in Peoria, Illinois.

The students didn’t win the contest, but what they learned from building the Baja car from scratch was immense, said Shawn Chester, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering who advises the Society of Automotive Engineers at NJIT. The local chapter, which has 50 members, fosters an atmosphere that inspires members to be innovative and creative, said Chester.

The Baja team of seven students, a mix of electrical engineering and mechanical engineering majors, worked on the car for the past year. They used CAD programs such as Solidworks to design the Baja car, which looks like a one-seat dune buggy. Then they used engineering analysis to assess the frame’s strength and see if it could withstand the heavy loads and impacts encountered in off-road conditions such as potholes, cracks and large rocks. After the engineering analysis was complete, the team bent and welded steel tubing into a frame. Then they dropped in the motor, the transmission and added the wheels. It’s a relatively simple car that nonetheless requires the team to call upon advanced engineering and design skills.

The team also had to make oral and technical presentations to a panel of judges, when engineering design and analysis aspects become central to the competition.

“The Baja car is so beautiful because it’s so simple,” said Chester. “It’s like a car from the 1950s, where you look at the engine and understand the parts and may easily work on them.”

Most importantly, designing and building the car allowed the team to apply the theory they learn in class to a real-world project.

“We might talk about gear ratios in class,” said Chester, “but when the students work with gears they are putting theory into practice. And that is the best learning experience they can have.”