When it comes to purchasing a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
That’s because everyone has different needs. What works for you may not work for other people who use wheelchairs. You’ll also need to consider where other people in the vehicle are going to sit. In fact, there are a bunch of questions to ask before getting a new van or vehicle!
If you’re in the market for a new (or new to you) vehicle and need some help, here are a few things to consider as you make your big purchase:
What Are You Looking For?
With so many vans on the market today, it can be overwhelming to navigate all the options. According to Mobility Works there are several questions you should be asking:
- Who will be the main driver of the vehicle: the person using a wheelchair or someone else? If you’re the adaptive driver, some vans allow you to drive from your wheelchair while others allow you to transfer into the existing driver's seat. All vans allow for at least one passenger and a place to put a wheelchair, but not all are created equal. If you’re not going to be the driver, where is the passenger/caregiver going to sit and where is the wheelchair going to go?
- What are the dimensions of the wheelchair? This is important because it will determine how you enter the vehicle, whether it’s from the side or the back. The height, width, and weight of the wheelchair need to be considered as well, plus any accompanying mobility equipment. Seating positions may be limited for larger or taller people.
- How many people can the van hold and who will be the main passengers? If you have a caregiver, family, and friends that will be riding with you, you’ll want to make sure the van can accommodate all your passengers.
- Where will the vehicle be parked: on the street or in a garage? It wouldn’t make sense to have a side-entry vehicle if your garage isn’t wide enough to allow someone to exit. If you park on the street or in a driveway, it might be OK to exit on the side or from the back.
- What are the main features you want and need? If you want the latest technology that a new car has to offer, you might want a navigation system. You may also need power seats, sliding doors, and backup cameras. You may also be considering all the fancy stuff like a sunroof and satellite radio.
- Are you on a budget? If you’re having trouble deciding between a new and used vehicle, budget is a huge consideration. You might look into buying a used vehicle from someone you know or an owner who can tell you the key features and any quirks. There are definite red flags you should be looking for when purchasing a car, such as damaged or faulty parts like the transmission.
What’s Out There?
In the past few years, different types of wheelchair accessible or modified vehicles have come and gone because the manufacturer has either gone out of business or merged with other companies, making it more difficult to find what you need that’s close in proximity to where you live.
“Some popular models like the full-sized Ford Econoline vans that were approved for drop-floor conversions, and the Honda Element, with doors that worked great for anyone who wanted to transfer into the driver’s seat and then load a wheelchair behind the seat — have been discontinued,” writes Michael Collins of New Mobility.
The good news is that in 2018, manufacturers are continuing to “improve safety and convenience of accessible vehicles and accessories that have been around for years.” Plus, at 600 members strong, the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association in the U.S. and Canada are introducing “accessibility in some new vehicles that have not previously been modified.”
Some new models on the market today:
- VMI’s Honda Pilot Northstar SUV offers 360-degree maneuverability and is designed with the caregiver in mind. It is currently the newest and largest wheelchair accessible SUV.
- BraunAbility’s MXV Ford Explorer is another wheelchair accessible SUV with “Tilt N’Go” seating.
- Toyota Sienna has six different conversions including Braun Power Infloor, Braun Power XT and VMI Northstar Access 360. Also, check out this fancy Toyota mobile-friendly vehicle we wrote about in a previous blog post.
- Dodge Grand Caravan is one of the first wheelchair accessible vans. There are several conversions including the AMS Legend, AMS Edge, and AMS Edge II.
While these may be some of the slicker models out there today, there are many more options to choose from with lots of intricate features. It will take doing your homework and consulting with professionals experienced in wheelchair-specific vehicles. The purchase of a new vehicle is a big-ticket, long-term decision. Beyond bells and whistles, functionality is probably your most important consideration.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allied-mobility/6425479713/