Converted vehicles and be fun and seem luxurious. The most common type of converted vehicle is the conversion van, but conversions can also be made to limousines, campers, and for special needs use. When a motor vehicle is manufactured, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards require that it be built so as to reasonably protect the occupants in case of a crash. This crashworthiness requirement is met by the design and component parts of the vehicle.
All crashes involving motor vehicles produce energy, or force, which can harm the occupants if these forces get into the occupant compartment. The design standards required by the FMVSS allow the occupants to “ride down” the forces in a crash. The restraint system (seat belts and airbags) can be very effective in protecting people in a crash. Likewise, the sides, front, and roof of a motor vehicle are all designed to absorb the energy of a crash.
Unfortunately, when motor vehicles are converted, such as in a conversion van, the vehicle can lose some of these design and manufacturing elements that are intended to protect the occupants.
For example, it is popular to replace the seats in a van with more luxurious-looking captain’s chairs. This modification can affect the efficacy of the restraint system. It can also result in a situation where the converted and modified seating lacks the strength of the original design. Other modifications or so-called up-grades, such as raised roofs, enlarged windows, and decorative panels can also reduce the crashworthiness of the vehicle.
Conversion companies may not be as stringently regulated as automobile manufacturers. They want to sell as many converted vehicles as possible and in order to do so, they make luxurious modifications that look great and can be fun.
Unfortunately, these modifications can eliminate the basic safety features that are designed into the vehicle. Some vehicle manufacturers have approved converters but may not apply the same kind of quality control protocols to their converters as they do to themselves. Sometimes non-approved converters will buy new vehicles and make their own modifications. In this situation, there is even less scrutiny.
One type of modification that can be particularly questionable from a safety perspective is the raised roof. These look good and provide more headroom but this alteration changes the basic structure of the vehicle.
In a crash, the raised roof can separate from the vehicle creating a dangerous portal through which the occupants can be ejected. The roof of a van is designed to be made out of steel but most aftermarket raised roofs and made out of fiberglass, a much less sturdy material.