Here is the Van:

15 Passenger vans are one of the most used type of transportation for colleges, church and community groups.  What a great concept one vehicle which allows a small group to all travel together, but there is one small problem they are extremely unstable and have a tendency to roll over.  NHTSA research shows overloading 15-passenger vans both increases rollover risk and makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.  Tire pressure can vary on front and back tires that are used for 15-passenger vans. This is why the agency urges vehicle users to make certain the vans have appropriately-sized and load rated tires that are properly inflated before every trip. Taking into account the fact that tires degrade over time, NHTSA recommends that spare tires not be used as replacements for worn tires. In fact, many tire manufacturers recommend that tires older than 10 years not be used at all.

Following are safety tips for anyone planning a trip in a 15-passenger van:

  • Never overload the vehicle.
  • If you are a passenger, make sure you buckle up for every trip.
  • If you are an owner, make sure the vehicle is regularly maintained.
  • Owners should have suspension and steering components inspected according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and replace or repair these parts as necessary.
  • Owners should ensure that vehicles are equipped with properly sized and load-rated tires.
  • Owners should also make sure drivers are properly licensed and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van.
  • Before every trip, drivers should check the tires for proper inflation, and make sure there are no signs of wear or damage. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner’s manual and on the door pillar.

Here is the Scam:

The 15 passenger van is unstable.  The van rolls over. The van has caused severe injuries and deaths.  The government and manufacturers know it and rather than fix the problem, they try and warn the user and when that doesn’t work blame the user.  I know you are thinking “Come on Brent, they told the users about the issues what else do you want them to do?”  Glad you asked, but first let’s talk about the “warnings”.  For my engineer friends out there (and anyone with common sense) if you can correct a dangerous condition you are to do so; If you can’t correct the condition — you build in as much safety as you can and if you can’t do either then (and only then) you warn the users. So why have the manufacturers skipped the first two and moved straight to the warnings.  Simple answer is because NHTSA and courts have let them.  So let’s talk about these warnings and what they really tell us: 

1st:   NHTSA research shows overloading 15-passenger vans both increases rollover risk and makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.   Now that is a warm and cozy feeling that in any handling maneuvers the van is unstable and has an increased rollover risk.  So don’t overload it right.  So what does that mean?  I have had the pleasure of deposing a Ford engineer who explained it to me.  All you have to do is look in the owner’s manual and find the vans maximum weight.  Simple.  So now I know, but how do I know how much I have in the van?  Well he explained you take the empty weight of the vehicle as you have it and then you take it to a scale or weigh station and weigh it.  Then you have your starting empty weight.  Now each time you have a person get in the van you get their weight and add that along with any luggage or any other item that is brought onto the van.  Add all that up and then you have the total (don’t forget to do so with a full tank of gas) now you have your total weight which you should then verify by driving to a scale to make sure it is correct (some people may not be completely honest about their weight).  So that is all you have to do to make sure the van is not overloaded.  So where do you find the empty weight or the max weight to use as a reference. Apparently not on the specs page at or in the owners’ manual.  According to a 2007 E-150 XLT Passenger van has curb weight (empty) of 5186 lbs. and a gross weight of 8500 lbs.  This means that leaves 3314 lbs. of people and stuff you can put in or on the van before it is overloaded.  So if you load up the van with a church group, their bags and coolers of water and soda and you are almost guaranteed to be overloaded.  This is because the van was originally designed as a cargo van and not a passenger van and the engineers did not design it to have seating positions for 15 people.  In addition to the actual weight you have an issue with the distribution of the weight.  Instead of it being on the floor of a cargo van, you the majority of the weight being raised up off the floor to seat level and above causing the van to become top heavy greatly adding to the instability.  So taking all that into consideration – it is pretty much a miracle if you do not overload the van if you are using it to it full 15 passenger capacities.

Now I know the manufacturers engineers and NHTSA is smarter than me and figured all this out a long time ago, so what did they do?  Change the design by making it more stable and increasing rollover resistance? Nope.  They tell you to:

“Buckle up.” That way when it rolls over you may survive – if the roof doesn’t crush, if the windows don’t come out and have you going outside, if you are not hit by something flying around the van, etc., etc. 

“Make sure van is maintained.”  Code for we know this is an unstable van and any little issue is going to make a very bad design completely insane.

“Make sure proper tires.”  Code for even though we know it rolls over with the tires we recommend this will give us something else to try and point blame.

“Make sure drivers are properly licensed and experienced.”  What the heck does that mean?  The only license required is a regular drivers’ license which is who normally drives them.  Again this is another after the rollover we can blame the driver for “faulty response” which means our professional test drivers have rolled these vans, but we except you inexperienced driver to do better than our highly paid and trained test drivers.

“Make sure to check tires and pressure before each trip.”  Code for that way when it rolls over and we come out for the inspection we can again blame the driver because one tire was 3psi lower than it should have been.  Oh and by the way, do not use the spare to replace a tire on the van because it probably is defective due to aging. 

These vans are dangerous and will rollover in almost any use when loaded as the manufacturers intended by their design.  They sell them as these great safe vehicles for taking up to 15 people and their things places knowing that they have a high potential to rollover.  When the rollover they know will occur does, they then blame the driver because he/she should have known how dangerous it was.

The solution is not to try and warn and then blame the users when the vans rollover, but to correct the know defect and danger.  Until that is done, it is unfortunately going to continue to kill and maim the drivers and passengers of the 15 passenger vans.