Passengers vans can roll over.

NBC news has a shocker: Passenger vans are unsafe when they are fully loaded. The story reports that 670 have been killed and 1300 have been injured in the last two decades in rollover crashes.

I was coming back to CA from Las Vegas a few years ago when I saw the aftermath of a passenger van crash. There were bodies all over the place. Seven of the ten occupants were killed. It seems that every year I hear about van crashes up in the San Juaquin Valley that kill farm workers.

I’ve driven vans and have ridden in them. I’ve seen them on the road. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but don’t people know that heavily-laden vehicles tend to be unstable? On the other hand, look at the claimed number of SUV rollovers. I’ve ranted about people not knowing how to operate their vehicles before.

It’s really very simple: Know your vehicle. A van is not an SUV is not a sedan is not a Porsche. A Porsche can take very sharp curves at very high speed (according to my empirical data :wink: ). A van can’t. You should be able to feel the difference between your loaded vehicle and your unloaded vehicle. You should be aware that there is a placard on the door frame or a note in the owner’s manual that states the gross weight of the vehicle, and that it’s unsafe to exceed that limit. If you don’t overgross the vehicle, you reduce the risk of a high-speed blowout. You should pay attention. Pay attention to the road, to other drivers, to what your vehicle is doing and how it reacts to control inputs. If you pay attention, you’ll probably not have to make a maneuver that will upset the vehicle.

In other words, drive smart. Then we won’t have to have the news report the obvious.

I do think it would be better if car manufacturers would make an effort to lower the center of gravity of vehicles that really have no good reason to ride high off the ground. A prime example of the right way to do that is the Jeep Cherokee. It was designed specifically as a passenger SUV, unlike vehicles such as the Blazer and Explorer, which started life as pickup trucks and were converted into SUVs through some subpar creative engineering.

My friend drives a Cherokee. For a month last year, he was driving his sister’s Toyota 4Runner while the Cherokee was in the shop. When riding with him in each vehicle, it was really clear that the Cherokee was much more stable than the 4Runner. There is a big difference in the stability of different brands of the same class of vehicle, depending on how it is designed.

Interestingly, for 2002 Jeep dropped the Cherokee and replaced it with the Liberty, which is so top-heavy that Auto Week managed to roll it over in their normal handling tests. Are these designers dishonest, or just stupid?

Supposedly one of the things that will come out of the DaimlerChrysler merger is that the Dodge Ram Van will be phased out and replaced by the Freightliner Sprinter, which is a European style cargo van. The European vans such as the Sprinter and the Ford Transit appear to have a lower chassis than the American Rams and Econolines, so perhaps they will rack up better safety records if they become popular here in the US.

Personally, I’m a big fan of station wagons. I drive an '86 Pontiac Parisienne Safari. It gets better gas mileage than a Ford Explorer and carries three more people or much more cargo, and you’d be hard pressed to roll it over. The only way the SUVs beat it is with their 4WD/AWD systems. Some manufacturer needs to come out with a big, rugged 4WD station wagon; sort of a larger-than-life 1992 Subaru Loyale. I’d buy one.

-Andrew L

      • Only ten occupants? Man, what amateurs. A few years back in the St Louis area there was a crash on the news of an “extended” passenger van that was carrying two adults, and like 19 younger kids. A friend’s parents had the same size van and I remember us all looking inside it and counting the number of people we thought we’d be able to seat in it, and we kept coming up like 8 or 9 people short. Apparently, the adults were in the front seats, and the kids were in the back seats and cargo area, and every kid had at least another younger kid on their lap, plus a few more tossed on top third-world style.
        Absolutely hysterical. - DougC

I believe I read somewhere (having trouble locating anything to back this up, but I swear I read it! If somebody can help me out here I would be much obliged.) that Jeep plans to lower the newer model Liberties by an inch to avoid these rollovers in the future.

I think that the big danger with SUVs is that people do expect them to handle the same way as cars and make no accomodations otherwise. Those full size vans are just horrible to drive too; I couldn’t believe how hard it was to move one of them around town. I’d hate to have one for a daily driver, that’s for sure.

Red Menace-

Yes, according to an article on Auto Week that I can’t link directly to because you have to sign up to access it, Jeep did recently lower the suspension of the Liberty in order to “improve the ride”. Yeah right. And Ford replaced the Pinto gas tanks to make the fuel go in more easily.

-Andrew L

I drove GMC and Dodge 15 passenger vans as a vanpool driver. I felt at ease driving both and neither really felt top heavy. And most days we carried 13 to 15 adults. I did have to perform a few evasive manuvers (idiots driving 25 mph pulling into the carpool lane while I was going 60) and the vans never came close to rolling. I was a passenger in a vanpool when the driver fell asleep and ran off the road going about 70 mph. Us in the back were tossed around a bit but the van stayed on all 4 tires.


I own a full size van which I used to drive daily. It has never felt top heavy to me and I’ve never come close to rolling it. I also know some guys who drive them for a living and I’ve never heard any complaints.

Jeeps and such, which actually are somewhat easier to roll than a passenger car, are not designed for high speed maneuverability. I know people who have rolled these, but they never said it was the vehicle’s fault.

I have a Jeep Cherokee. All Jeeps have to drive the tough Rubicon Trail, and the Cherokee did it. So did the Liberty, but the Liberty was broken so badly that they had to make some serious repairs before it could go on – in spite of a team of rock stackers who went ahead to make it easier for the Liberty to drive the trail.

As far as the Cherokee goes, I take it offroad from time to time. It works quite well, although the stock Goodyear Wranglers slip a little in the mud.