How to Select a Handicap Accessible Vehicle

Once you have made the decision on what wheelchair is right for you, the next step is to decide how are you going to get you and your new wheelchair from point A to point B. For many wheelchair users being able to stay mobile is not just about getting around the house, but getting to and from work, running errands, visiting friends and relatives, etc and having your wheelchair with them the whole time. Standard vehicles are not designed to safely transport a wheelchair bound individual and their chair. As such it is usually necessary to buy or have made a mobility modified vehicle.

Like power wheelchairs, mobility modified vehicles have many options. It is important that you get the right vehicle for your needs. Here are some common questions you should ask yourself before purchasing a vehicle:

Should I buy a New Converted Vehicle, a Used Vehicle I will have Converted, or a Used Vehicle someone else has Converted?

The first thing to consider when looking at used converted vehicles is that the average lifespan for the vehicle is 10 years, with the mobility adaption equipment sometimes even having fewer years before a breakdown. A used vehicle more than a few years old is a bad investment unless you get an amazing deal on it as it will breakdown soon. Also, if you are planning to convert a used vehicle the vehicle cannot be more than a few years old as most conversion companies no longer carry the necessary parts to convert older vehicles.

When evaluating a used vehicle for mobility conversion do all the normal things you would do when buying a used car:

  • Find out if the vehicle is still under warranty or is a Certified User Car
  • Have the vehicle inspected by a quality mechanic
  • Get a CarFax or similar report based on the vehicle title

Work with a mobility conversion shop to evaluate your options. Break out all of the specific mobility conversion items you need for your vehicle and understand the pricing. Compare getting a new vehicle with those options vs. a used vehicle with existing options along with expected lifespan and make your decision.

Should I buy a Full Size Van or a Mini Van?

The big difference between mobility converted Full Size and Mini Vans is that Full Size Vans require a wheelchair lift, while a Mini Van uses a wheelchair ramp. Most wheelchair users feel more secure on a wheelchair ramp and there is always the very small chance that a wheelchair lift will fail leaving you stuck on your lift.

Other advantages of the Mini Van are:

  • Low average conversion price - Mini Vans usually cost ~$15,000 to convert while Full Size Vans usually cost ~$17,000
  • Better traction - Most Mini Vans are front wheel drive, which give better traction than real wheel drive vehicles (Most Full Size Vans are rear wheel drive)
  • Smaller size - Mini Van's smaller size allows for easier maneuverability and parking
  • More options - Since Mini Van's are the most popular choice there is a wider array of options, so it is easier to get the customized vehicle you want

The advantages of a Full Size Van over a Mini Van are:

  • More room - The greater size of the Full Size Van gives the user more room for themselves, their wheelchair, passengers and cargo, along with extended headroom
  • Pull power - Full Size Vans are normally more powerful than Mini Vans which allows them to haul and tow larger loads if required

Should I lower the floor or raise the roof in my vehicle?

Everyone's needs are different in this area and are dependent on vehicle size, wheelchair size, user size and personal preference. Almost everyone who will drive the vehicle from their wheelchair will need to lower the floor of their vehicle. When seated in a wheelchair you are almost higher than a standard vehicle chair, so in order to see out of the vehicle properly the floor will need to be lowered. 6 to 10 inch drops are common for converted vehicles. Raising the roof has the advantage of making the vehicle easier to enter for the user and passengers.

What options should I get on my mobility converted vehicle?

These are the two most popular additional conversion options for vehicles:

Remote Start - Remote start is a very important function for a disable person using a mobility converted vehicle from both a safety and a comfort standpoint. Vehicle access equipment such as lifts and ramps are automated and are powered by the vehicle. If the vehicle is turned off these features are powered by the vehicle battery. If your battery is weak or it is a cold day out, utilizing the access equipment off of the battery may completely drain the battery. This may cause the vehicle not to start or even worse trap the user inside the vehicle as the access equipment would no longer be working due to the battery being drained. The comfort advantage to a remote start feature is that the vehicle heater would be running before you entered the vehicle. If you live in a cold climate and have health issues, this could be the difference between a pleasant driving experience and a potentially unhealthy experience.

Remote Control Activation - Remote control activation allows the vehicle user to activate access equipment or other features of the vehicle from a distance. The access device to the vehicle generally takes 30 to 60 seconds to fully extend and be ready for vehicle access. For comfort and safety reasons a remote activation is a great addition. If you live in a cold or unsafe environment being able to instantly enter your vehicle and not loiter outside can be very helpful.