Honda Odyssey shines, Nissan and Chrysler minivans fail crash tests

Family-hauling minivans do poorly in insurance industry crash test

Several minivans – including the Nissan Quest, the Chrysler Town & Country and its twin, the Dodge Grand Caravan -- don’t do a good job of protecting occupants in crashes and failed recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests.

The Honda Odyssey was the only van among those tested to get a “good” rating and Toyota’s Sienna tested at the “acceptable” level, the insurance group reported Thursday.

“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’ chief research officer.

The safety research group put all the vans through the small overlap front crash test, in which 25% of a car's front end on the driver's side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph, with test dummies onboard. It simulates a wreck in which the front corner of the car hits another car or solid object

These crashes are tough on minivans, Zuby said, because they are typically built on car platforms but are wider than cars. As a result, more of the vehicle is located outside the main structure. Minivans also are heavier than cars.

Such small overlap crashes account for nearly a quarter of frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury, according to the institute.

In the test, researchers study whether the occupant compartment resists intrusion of collapsing car parts and structures. Using test dummies, they check to see whether safety belts prevent a driver from pitching forward, and ascertain whether side curtain air bags block a head from hitting the dashboard, window frame or objects outside the vehicle.

Honda didn’t lose much time claiming bragging rights.

“As the only minivan to offer the highest possible IIHS-rated protection in small overlap crashes, car buyers can look to the Honda Odyssey to securely and safely transport what’s most important – their families,” said Art St. Cyr, vice president of auto operations at American Honda Motor Co.

The Toyota van did well, but had some flaws, IIHS researchers found.

There was significant intrusion of vehicle structures into the cabin and the dummy's head contacted the front airbag but immediately slid off the left side. The safety belt also allowed the dummy to move too far forward. But the side curtain airbag deployed and had sufficient forward coverage to protect the head. Data from the dummy showed that there would be a low risk of any injuries in a crash of this severity.

The structure of the Nissan Quest nearly collapsed completely in the test.

The dummy's left leg became trapped between the seat and the instrument panel and its right foot was caught between the brake pedal and the toe pan. Following the tests, technicians had to cut the entire seat out and then use a crowbar to free the right foot, IIHS said.
 
"A real person experiencing this would be lucky to ever walk normally again," Zuby said.

The Chrysler Town & Country's structure also collapsed around the dummy, he said.

“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 head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off and hitting the instrument panel, as the steering column moved to the right,” the IIHS report said.

A human would have suffered injuries to the left hip, left knee and left lower leg.

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