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Nation’s Top Selling Vehicles Top Rollover List

Author / Coordinator:  
January 1960

Most of the manufacturers are household names. Only In A Jeep. Built Ford Tough. Chevrolet – Like A Rock. And there’s a good chance one or more of them are in your garage right now. But what you don’t know is they may be putting you and your family in serious danger of a rollover accident.


The following describes the histories of the some of the top manufacturers and models notorious for rolling:


Fifteen-passenger Vans


Fifteen-passenger vans typically have seating positions for a driver and 14 passengers. They are widely used by churches and community organizations to take members on short trips and outings. Colleges use them to drive sports teams to games. Many businesses also employ the vans for transporting commuters.


It is estimated that 500,000 of the vans are in use in the United States. The vans include certain models of the Ford Econoline or E-Series, such as the Ford E350 and Club Wagon E350, the Dodge Ram Wagon B350 and Ram Van/Wagon B3500, the Chevrolet Express 3500 and the GMC Savana 3500 and Rally/Vandura G3500. Ford builds and sells most 15-passenger vans in the U.S.


In lawsuits by injured passengers and families of loved ones who have died, it has been alleged that the vans are defective because they are unreasonably likely to rollover during foreseeable driving conditions.


Greater Risk of Rollover Accidents In Loaded Vans

On June 1, 2004, Dr. Jeffrey Runge, head of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), issued a warning to users of 15-passenger vans because of an increased rollover risk under certain conditions. Similar warnings were issued in 2001 and 2002.


The safety agency reported that 15-passenger vans handle similarly to large sport utility vehicles when lightly loaded. But when filled with passengers, or driven above 50 miles per hour, the vehicles become substantially more unstable than SUVs or pickup trucks. Large vans are five times more likely to roll over when filled than when only the driver is in the vehicle, the report said.


History of the Ford Bronco II Rollover Problems


As a result of the gasoline shortages of the late-1970s, the automotive industry attempted to make its fleet more fuel efficient. Pursuant to governmental regulations and consumer demands, Ford decided to introduce a new compact pickup truck and sports utility vehicle (SUV), the Ranger and the Bronco II, respectively.


The Ford Bronco II was the originator of rollover problems for Ford. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s the Ford Bronco was at the time the "True Rollover King" in the USA.
Ford elected to make the Bronco II a derivative vehicle of the Ranger because only a moderate investment would be required, making the Bronco II more profitable than other alternatives presented. As a derivative vehicle the Bronco II shared the same assembly line with the Ranger and was practically identical from the “B” pillar forward.


Ford Ranger Pickup Truck Rollover Problem


The past and present models of the Ford Ranger pickup truck have been the center of legal disputes for years. Many lawsuits have been filed concerning the Ford Ranger pickup truck’s high rollover propensity, excessive amount of roof crush to the roof pillars or roof supports and significant excessive seatbelt slack (looseness) problems with the shoulder belt. Other factors include suspension problems contributing to poor steering and handling, poor directional control due to inadequate or malfunctioning shock absorbers and overly high center-of-gravity which gives in to a high tendency of rollover.


Ford Ranger – Rollover & Suspension Problem


The original Ford Ranger Pickup was designed to replace the Ford Courier pickup, a downsized pickup manufactured by Mazda and sold in this country with a Ford label. Ford’s decision to replace the Courier was based on the anticipated CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) rulemaking that would have excluded domestically imported vehicles from industry calculations.

Most Ford Ranger Pickups have a Twin I-Beam and Twin Traction Beam suspension system used since the early 1970’s. This suspension system has been a noted problem in many rollover cases, due to the fact that the Twin I-Beam can actually enhance the jacking or lifting during sideway movement during a hard braking, steering/avoidance maneuver. This jacking or lifting increases the height of the center of gravity, helping to encourage a rollover which is just the beginning. When the pick-up rolls onto its roof, often the weak roof pillars collapse, trapping or crushing down onto the seated upright occupants with catastrophic consequences. The force of the vertical compression onto the occupants can result in severe head/brain damage, spinal cord damage and bursting fractures to the spinal cord, causing quadriplegia, paraplegia, closed head injuries and even death.


Ford Ranger Roof Collapse or Roof Crush


The roof supports were not designed to act as a roll bar, as the industry states that rollovers are not foreseeable events, and are not capable of being tested and reproduced in a controlled testing environment.  In examination of the inside of such roof supports, they were found to be hollow, made up of nothing but folded/corrugated light gauge metal. It was not designed to withstand the force of a rollover, even though Ford knew by their own tests that these pickups had a high propensity to roll, and that the roofs will collapse in many of the rollovers.




The issue of rollover first made national news in 1980 when CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a report on the Jeep CJ, the model for many early SUVs. The report showed footage of an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety test in which the vehicle rolled over while executing a "J" turn (a sweeping right turn followed by a straight-on path; I.E. a quick turn to avoid an object in its path). Despite the rollover risk, Americans flocked to the Jeep. With slumping sales, other automakers took notice.


As Jeep continued to play a major role in the SUV market, the rollovers of Jeep vehicles continued as well. After an avalanche of bad press and more rollover lawsuits of Jeep CJ-5 and Jeep CJ-7, Jeep marketed the Jeep Wrangler to "fix" the problem and provide a new image to the sport utility department. Unfortunately, the Jeep Wrangler also had rollover-related problems. Jeep then once again had to make changes to their new Jeep Wrangler which did in fact make it more stable and reduce the number of rollovers (and ultimately a reduction in the number of lawsuits). Jeep then started to market a much sportier and family-friendly model of the Jeep – Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. This strategy was a huge success to the Jeep division of Chrysler. As more and more people bought the ever popular Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Grand Cherokee and even the Jeep Grand Wagoneer Limited, the numbers of rollover accidents and roof crush injuries remained. Surprisingly, Jeep came out with another SUV, named the Jeep Liberty, a short sporty mini SUV built to compete with the RAV4 and Ford Escape class of vehicles. Jeep Liberty rollovers started as well. Only time will tell if the Jeep Liberty rollover problem will be resolved or not.


Suzuki Samurai Rollover Concerns


When Suzuki unveiled the Samurai, safety experts were shocked that they would have introduced a vehicle with the same rollover tendencies as the AMC Jeep CJ-5 and CJ-7. However, American Suzuki Motor Corporation defended the attacks, charging that the testing procedures used by Consumer Reports and others were biased and completely inaccurate. In fact, Suzuki called such statements concerning the Samurai’s high propensity to rollover as defamatory. Suzuki claimed that the rollover tests used were altered to cause the Samurai to rollover. Consumer Reports responded that there were no alterations in the test, as it is the same test used to test Samurai’s competitors.


Suzuki Samurai Rollover Propensity – Recall Proposed


The Samurai was marketed and sold as a vehicle designed for the highway, not off-road use. In fact, the advertisement for the car-buying public depicted the Samurai as a great vehicle for highway trips and work commutes. The problem, however, was the vehicle had a high center of gravity and unstable driving characteristics which made it unsuitable for day-to-day commuting. The high ground clearance, short wheelbase, narrow track and stiff suspension made the Samurai somewhat tricky to handle in normal accident avoidance maneuvers.


Soon after the first Samurais started to rollover and cause injuries and deaths, consumer groups demanded the recall of the Suzuki Samurai. The recall debate started after the vehicle was given the "not acceptable" ruling by Consumer Reports. A recall unfortunately cannot fix the problem since it is inherent to the overall design. "The only way to fix it is to make the vehicle longer, wider and heavier," petitioned The Center for Auto Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The recall was eventually denied, but the agency agreed to establish a rollover standard for cars and light trucks. Suzuki continued to sell and market the 1989 model year with sales as low as 2,000 units per month compared to 10,000-12,000 per month a year earlier.  


Allegations in Federal Lawsuit of Ford SUV Rollover Risks


The Ford Explorer is the successor to the Ford Bronco II. In the late 1980s, Consumer Reports published an article that was critical of the Bronco II’s safety performance and advised consumer to avoid purchasing the Bronco II. The Explorer was introduced to the U.S. market in 1990.


Plaintiffs allege that Ford’s internal testing revealed that the Explorer, like the Bronco II, had significant handling and stability defects. Testing showed the Explorer was prone to rollovers when equipped with tires inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressure. An internal Ford Test Report showed that the Explorer lifted two wheels off the ground while cornering at 55 miles per hour due to a combination of the vehicle’s high center of gravity, fully inflated tires and suspension system structure. In so-called "J-turn testing," the Explorer rolled over in 5 of 12 tests, while the Chevrolet Blazer (the Explorer’s main competitor) and even the problematic Bronco II experienced no similar rollovers.


In a June 15, 1989, internal memo to Ford management, Ford engineers recommended eight design changes to address the rollover problem and improve the safety of the Explorer. These alterations would have taken ten months or more which would have delayed the planned launch of the Explorer. So Ford management directed the engineers to make only those minor changes that would not affect production deadlines. Ford understood that such minor changes would not correct the stability and handling problems identified during the Explorer’s development.


If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of a vehicle rollover, it is crucial that you talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. If have immediate concerns or just need someone to talk to, call Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben now at 1-800-752-4265 for a free consultation.

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