How safe is the Vanagon?

Ron Salmon writes:

The '85 parts Vanagon in my driveway went through a building at about 40 mph. (Coincidentally, the building the P.O. drove through was his own place of work; he just happened to be passing by it on his way home when he skidded off the road.) The van is severely damaged; if you looked at it, you might think someone died in it. There is very little remaining of the left front of the van. But the driver/passenger area remained pretty much intact. The only thing that actually ended up in the driver's "safety zone" was the (collapsable) steering column. The driver "walked away" with severe bruises and a few stitches; that's it. From what I understand, the building didn't fare so well; it was closed for two weeks for repairs. This isn't surprising when you consider that VW buses have used "roll cage construction" since 1968. Then again, the Vanagon does not have the latest safety features like ABS and airbags. I guess it comes down to, how safe is safe enough? No one can predict the future.

Joel Walker writes:

My insurance company, USAA (which is supposedly quite a good company), rated the Vanagon as B+ in side collisions, and D (i think) in frontal impacts. (the best being A+, which is like a Mercedes-Benz, and the worst being F-, which is a Yugo). Their data showed that in frontal impacts (head-on), the driver would sustain injuries from the steering wheel and most likely have his feet broken. In anything OTHER than head-on, the height of the bus significantly reduced injuries ... the other car would hit the frame BELOW the passengers or drivers.

This is pretty much borne out by the wrecked vanagons (and buses!) in the junkyards: not much damage to the seating area (in the ones i've seen), but lots of damage to the side-body and the bumper-crush-whatever. If you want to get a little gorey, I've yet to see a bus/vanagon with blood stains in the driver area ... but I've seen lots of american cars and others with terrible damage and blood all over the driver/passenger area. For those of you who have never been to a junkyard, let me encourage you to go ... epsecially to those yards that let you walk around. It's quite a learning experience, to see which cars hold up and which ones don't. It's interesting to see the Mercedes and Volvos all smashed up in front or back, but with almost NO damage to the driver area."

Tim Smith writes:

Funny you should mention this, just today I got a nice VW vanagon brochure from someone in South Africa. It shows a vanagon impacting the test wall. Usual wrinkle finish, but I would say that the dash hasn't moved more than half a foot, meaning you'd survive comfortably.

Safety test photos

Tim Smith provided these images showing a Vanagon crash test and the components that protect the passengers in a Vanagon.

Vanagon protection components
Vanagon crash test


Helmut Zeidler provided these Volkswagen safety test photos from Germany. The first set of photos shows the Vanagon, while the second set shows the EuroVan.

Figure 1: Vanagon crash test

Figure 2: Dummy condition after a crash test

Figure 3: Crash rails in a Vanagon

Figure 4: EuroVan crash test

Figure 5: Dummy condition after a crash test

More information


Copyright © 1997–2017 Ron Lussier. All Rights Reserved.

vanagon.com is not affiliated with Volkswagen of America, Volkswagen AG, or Westfalia AG. 'Vanagon' and the VW logo are trademarks of Volkswagen.