IIHS Tests Show Major Minivan Safety Flaws

As part of it’s yearly crash safety testing, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety tests minivans and this year the testing yielded alarming results.

The Nissan Quest, Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna, and Dodge Grand Caravan were all tested for protection in small overlap front crashes and showed, “the worst possible outcomes for this type of crash, with only one vehicle performing acceptably.”

That’s a pretty scary statement, especially for families which are often the passengers in such vehicles.

Of the group, the IIHS gave the Quest, Town & Country and Grand Caravan a rating of “poor.” The exception to the disappointing pattern is the 2015 Toyota Sienna, which earned an “acceptable” rating.

“Minivans are popular among parents, a group that tends to be safety conscious, but we’ve only seen two so far that offer decent protection in small overlap crashes,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.

IIHS 2015 Toyota SiennaThose two, the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey performed acceptably in the small overlap test, which, “replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or a utility pole.”

Toyota modified the front end of its 2015 Sienna specifically to perform better in the testing process. However, it didn’t hold up that well in the test (see right). IIHS recorded 5½ inches of intrusion at the upper door hinge pillar and instrument panel [video]. The crash test dummy’s head contacted the front airbag but immediately slid off the left side. In terms of restraint, IIHS found the safety belt also allowed the dummy to move too far forward. Positively, the Sienna’s side curtain airbag deployed and had, “sufficient forward coverage to protect the head from intruding structure.”

IIHS 2015 Nissan QuestNissan’s Quest performed markedly worse with intrusion (see left) with 2 feet coming forward at the lower hinge pillar including the 16 inches the brake pedal moved toward the driver [video]. This intrusion caused the test dummy’s left leg to be trapped between the seat and instrument panel, and its right foot was caught between the brake pedal and toe pan. Following the tests, technicians had to cut the entire seat out and then use a crowbar to free the right foot. Because the dummy was held in place by the intrusion, when the airbag deployed, it was shoved into the face of the vehicle occupant. The forces measured all along the dummy’s left leg, from the thigh to the foot, were very high, in some cases exceeding the limits of the sensors.

After experiencing a crash in a Nissan Quest, as simulated by IIHS, “A real person experiencing this would be lucky to ever walk normally again,” Zuby points out. A broken right femur also would be possible. The Quest’s poor rating applies to 2011-15 models.

IIHS 2015 Chrysler Town and CountryChrysler and Dodge’s minivan offerings are twins and both also had intrusion issues (see right) during its testing but fared slightly better than the Quest with intrusion measuring only 15 inches. However, during the crash, “the skin on the dummy’s left lower leg was gouged by the intruding parking brake pedal, and its left knee skin was torn by a steel brace under the instrument panel.” The dummy’s head didn’t fare much better, barely making contact with the front airbag, “before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel, as the steering column moved to the right.” Also, the door sill and the steering column both moved in toward the driver. The side curtain airbag deployed but lacked sufficient forward coverage. As with the Quest, measures of forces that would cause injury showed that many were “off the scale.”

Because of the duality in construction of the minivans, the IIHS results apply to the 2008-15 Town & Country and the 2008-15 Grand Caravan. (They also apply to another, discontinued twin, the 2009-12 Volkswagen Routan.)

images courtesy of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety
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