Minivans Fare Poorly in Tests Mimicking a Collision


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said on Thursday that three minivans had failed its 'small overlap' front crash test, with one van experiencing the deepest intrusion into the passenger compartment of any vehicle ever evaluated in the test.


The organization, which is financed by the insurance industry, said the minivans showed 'the worst possible outcomes' for this type of test, including indications of what would be severe leg injuries to the driver in the Nissan Quest.


The Chrysler Town & Country and the Quest both earned the lowest overall rating of Poor; by extension, the Dodge Grand Caravan, which is nearly identical to the Chrysler, got a Poor rating as well. A fourth minivan, the Toyota Sienna, earned an Acceptable rating.


The group grades on a scale of Good, Acceptable, Marginal and Poor.


With this most recent round of testing, the group has now evaluated all the conventional minivans on the market except for the Kia Sedona, which was recently redesigned. The Honda Odyssey, which was tested in 2013, received the highest rating of any minivan, a Good, on the small-overlap test. A smaller van, the Mazda 5, received a Poor rating when it was tested this year.


The small-overlap test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or a solid object like a tree or utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle's front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 miles per hour.


'Seeing the results for the Nissan Quest and the Chrysler Town & Country just emphasizes the reason for doing the small-overlap front testing,' David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer for the insurance group, said in a telephone interview. 'Both vehicles earn Good or Acceptable ratings in all of our old tests, but it's clear they are not providing broad-spectrum protection for frontal crashes.'


The group began conducting the small-overlap test in 2012 because its research found that those crashes accounted for about 25 percent of serious and fatal injuries in vehicles that had earned a Good rating in the organization's older moderate frontal overlap test.


'On the basis of these crash tests, I don't think people should run out and get rid of their Nissan Quest,' Mr. Zuby said, adding that the other crash tests showed that the model still offered 'pretty good crash protection.'


He added: 'But the new crash test is a very good reason for somebody not to buy a new Quest. They should instead look at the Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna, which offer much better protection in this test as well as the others.'



The group says it is difficult for any vehicle to do well in the small-overlap test because the impact bypasses the front-crash-absorbing structure in most vehicles. That makes it difficult for the crumple zone to absorb crash energy before it reaches the passenger compartment. As a result, the compartment can collapse. Of the 134 vehicles tested since 2012, 30 have failed the test and 42 have received a Good rating.


The test may be especially difficult for minivans because they are usually built on car platforms but are much wider than cars, the group says, so more of the front of the vehicle is beyond the main crash-absorbing structure.


The structure of the Quest was pushed in nearly 24 inches at the lower part of the windshield pillar. Mr. Zuby said the intrusion in small-overlap crash tests ranged from 1 ½ to 19 inches. The Quest's parking brake pedal was pushed 16 inches toward the driver.


In the Quest, the crash dummy's left leg was trapped between the seat and the instrument panel, and its right foot was caught between the brake pedal and the floor, which was pushed up toward the pedal. After the tests, technicians had to cut out the seat and use a crowbar to free the dummy's right foot.


The forces measured by sensors along the dummy's left leg, from the thigh to the foot, were very high, in some cases exceeding the limits of the sensors.


'There is virtually no chance that a real person would have walked away without severe fractures of the bones of the leg,' Mr. Zuby said. 'Putting those bones back together and getting someone to walk normally again is unlikely.'


The Town & Country's structure collapsed as well. 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,' despite the deployment of the knee airbag. The report said that a person in a crash that severe would most likely suffer injuries to the left hip, knee and lower leg.


Even though Toyota had modified the front structure of the 2015 Sienna to improve small-overlap protection and it was the best minivan tested, the insurance group said the Sienna's structure was still 'subpar.'


The results for the Town & Country and Grand Caravan apply to the 2008-15 model years (and to the discontinued 2009-12 Volkswagen Routan). The Quest's results apply to 2011-15 models. The Sienna's rating applies only to 2015 models.


The group did not include the Sedona in this round of testing because Kia said it was planning to make improvements to the vehicle to improve small-overlap crash protection.


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