Minivan crash test 'among the worst we've ever seen'

IIHS crash test results
IIHS crash test results   

A new series of crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed troubling results for minivans that are often perceived as some of the safest vehicles on the road.

One crash test in particular was described by a lead executive at IIHS as "one of the worst crash tests we've ever seen."

That comment summarized the small overlap crash test for the Nissan Quest, which wound up getting a poor rating from the IIHS.

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"A person experiencing this would be lucky to ever walk normally again," said Dave Zuby, Executive Vice President of the Insurance institute. "The corner of the driver's door was pushed in two feet during the crash. As a result, the floor and instrument panel pinned the dummy into its seat. We had to remove the seat to cut the dummy out of the vehicle."

The Nissan Quest minivan during the IIHS safety test
Source: IIHS
The Nissan Quest minivan during the IIHS safety test

Zuby added that IIHS engineers had to use a crow bar to free the dummy's right foot.

When asked about the crash test results and comments from IIHS, Nissan spokesman Steve Yeager said, "Nissan will continue to review these and other results from IIHS testing as we seek opportunities for improvements."

Yeager points out the Quest has received good ratings from the IIHS for other crash tests including front moderate overlap and side impact tests.

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The latest crash tests check how minivans handled small overlap collisions where the front corner of a vehicle hits another vehicle of an object like a tree or street light.

Odyssey shines, Sienna acceptable

Of the five minivans crashed by the Insurance Institute, just two received positive reviews.

The Honda Odyssey did the best, receiving a "good" rating, while IIHS rated the Toyota Sienna as acceptable.

"It's not encouraging that just 40 percent of the minivans did acceptable or better in these tests. Especially when you consider how many people drive these vehicles," said Zuby.

The Odyssey and Sienna are both top safety picks by IIHS.

Minivan crash test results disturbing
Minivan crash test results disturbing   

Two other models, the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country were rated as "Poor" by the Insurance Institute, though Zuby said those models did not do as poorly as the Quest.

Chrysler Spokesperson Eric Mayne said, "No single test determines overall vehicle safety. Chrysler Group minivans meet or exceed all government-mandated safety requirements. They are unchanged, structurally, from previous model-year vehicles that received the highest performance ratings bestowed by the IIHS in tests simulating the four main crash types — side, rollover, rear and moderate-overlap front."

Small overlap tests nearly complete

Minivans are the latest segment of vehicles to go through small overlap crash tests with the Insurance Institute.

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Over the last two years, IIHS has put dozens of different vehicles through similar collisions, seeing how different models react when the driver's side front corner hits another vehicle or object at 40 miles.

It is one of the most common and potentially deadly accident scenarios facing drivers.

While Zuby had scathing remarks about the Quest, he would not comment on how passengers elsewhere in the minivan would have handled a similar accident.

"We did not see how children sitting in the second or third row would have been impacted by this crash," he said.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.