Vulcanodon was named by Michael Raath in 1972. The name points to the fact that the skeleton was found in a small body of sandstone that is sandwiched between two lava flows, and emphasizes the peculiar knife-shaped teeth that are now known to belong to a theropod. The species name, karibaensis, refers to the place of discovery on a small island in Lake Kariba.
Vulcanodon was a small sauropod, measuring approximately 6.5 m (21 ft) in length. As one of the earliest and basal most sauropods, it is important for understanding the early evolution of this group. Sauropods descend from basal sauropodomorphs, which were primitively bipedal. While Vulcanodon already was fully quadrupedal , its limb proportions were intermediate between those of its prosauropod ancestors and those of later, more derived sauropods. Its forelimbs were much more similar to later sauropods than basal sauropodomorphs because they are straight, much more gracile, and the proximal end of the ulna is v-shaped. Unfortunately, no skull or neck of Vulcanodon is known, although it is otherwise very well-known.