Each year, thousands of consumers purchase what are known as "conversion vans." These are vans that have been altered after manufacture to add a raised roof and such items as TVs, VCRs, video games, captain's chairs, and in some vans even fold-out beds.

When consumers buy these types of conversion vans, their primary purpose is to have a vehicle to take their entire family on long trips in what they believe is relative comfort and safety. Unfortunately, these conversion vans have a serious safety flaw which could result in the death or serious injury of the occupants if the van rolls over.

Normally, full size passenger vans and some smaller vans leave the factory with steel roof panels and roof supports welded to the frame of the van. The problem is that to make the conversion, conversion companies are simply cutting the original welded steel roof panels off the van and removing the roof supports. The steel protection is then replaced with a raised roof, made only of fiberglass.

More importantly, and more dangerously, the conversion companies attach the fiberglass roofs to the vans with a series of sheet metal screws. The automotive industry has not used screws to attach a roof to its vehicles in more than 80 years.

If the vehicle rolls over in a crash, the conversion roof provides almost no protection. Unlike steel, which can bend or stretch under pressure, the fiberglass fractures and may even shatter when it strikes the road surface. In many rollovers, the entire fiberglass roof may simply be knocked off because the sheet metal screws either pull through the fiberglass or are sheared off by the impact.

As a result, young children who are often sitting on the floor of the van playing video games or watching movies or seated in the back of the van without the protection of lap belts are ejected, suffering serious injuries or death.

When using a conversion van, consumers must remember that no matter how homey the van appears, it is not a home, but a vehicle. All passengers, especially those in the rear part of the van, should be in a seat with the lap and shoulder belt fastened.

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