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What Vehicle Selection 101 Is All About

Mobility is one of the most important privileges any human being can have in today’s society. And today, finally, we have the necessary technology to convert vehicles for the physically challenged so that they might exercise that privilege.

However, the mobility industry is concerned that consumers are unaware of the products available that will help them regain their freedom. The industry understands that a person who has not been exposed to such equipment prior to their injury or disability will have a difficult time conceiving of the myriad of options available to them.

The main purpose of the Vehicle Selection 101 guide is to educate. If you are not part of a system that regularly deals with disabilities (like the Veterans’ Administration, Vocational Rehabilitation or Worker’s Compensation), the potential for wasting time and money is enormous. This guide will give you all of the information you need (and then some) so that you can become an informed consumer.

When purchasing an accessible vehicle, it is easy to get lost in all of the options and forget (or avoid) the critical elements that will make the difference between a good decision and a great one, or a good decision and a bad one.

Purchasing an accessible vehicle is all about managing trade-offs. There are very few people who can easily afford everything they want, and those who can still want to make sure they are getting the most for their money. This makes knowing what you are getting and what you are giving up very important. Following are the various options available, all with a brief summary on utility, performance and price.

Before you decide on a specific vehicle or piece of equipment, please read our Vehicle Selection 101 guide. If you have any further questions, please contact us by calling 508-697-6006 or e-mailing sales@ai1.com. We are more than happy to help!

Accessible Full-Size Vans

Space and dimensions are extremely important when making a vehicle accessible. There are several key dimensions to consider: Is the entrance tall enough for the person to enter when seated in his wheelchair? What kind of headroom will the person have once inside the vehicle? How many and what kind of seats can be used while the wheelchair is secured in the vehicle? If the wheelchair user is driving, what is their field of vision while seated?

Accessibility modifications have been made to full-size vans for years. To allow for maximum entry height and headroom, these vans most often have lowered floors and/or raised roofs. Doors are often raised in conjunction with the roof to enable a wheelchair user to enter the vehicle without having to bend over or tilt back. This additional height provides 56” to 64” of clear entry. Floors are lowered for the same reasons. The difference here is that you can often pick up the additional height without having to raise the roof or doors. Lowered floors work great in situations where you would like to garage the vehicle and a raised roof would make the vehicle too high. In comparison to Chrysler’s most popular minivan conversion, lowered floors in the Ford E-series vans add up to four more inches of doorway clearance and interior headroom. Also, a lowered floor can be used in conjunction with a raised roof and doors for a very tall individual.

Weight-carrying capacity is also another distinct benefit to full-size vans. While a Dodge Grand Caravan can carry up to 1,230 pounds, a full-size Ford can hold up to 3,448 pounds and has a towing capacity of 5,000 lbs or more (when properly equipped). Consider equipment . . .passengers . . . the weight of your wheelchair . . . it all adds up.

The Ford full-sized E-Van is the most extensively converted full-size van in the industry. Lifts can either be installed in the rear or the side of the vehicle, and are either stowed inside the van or underneath the van. Automotive Innovations can provide a lowered floor in the mid-passenger, front passenger and driver areas. Lowered floors are available in 6” and 9” drops.

For larger or taller clients and those who are seeking more weight-carrying capacity, greater interior room for both people and cargo and better ground clearance from their accessible vehicle, a full-size van is the only way to go. There is a lot of room in these vans and the weight-carrying capacity is significantly higher than in a minivan, so you can pretty much bring along whatever and whomever you want. One thing to keep in mind is that garaging may be an issue, depending on your home. Please refer to the vehicle dimension chart on the last page when measuring your garage.

Full-Sized Ford Van Conversions

Ford vans, the most extensively used full-sized vans in the industry, are ideal for a raised roof, raised doors and a variety of lowered floor modifications. Because lowered floor conversions on Ford full-size vans are a Automotive Innovations specialty, we will include a thumbs up or thumbs down rating system on whether this particular model is appropriate for mobility conversions.

2007 - 2012 Ford E-150 RV Converters and Clubwagons

In 2007 the Ford Motor Company reintroduced the E-150 RV Converter and Clubwagon. Major chassis differences included an increased overall weight-carrying capacity of 8,600 lbs. GVW and improvements to the vehicle’s suspension and ride quality. These positive changes are now standard on the E-150 chassis, and combined with the successful FMVSS compliance testing in September of 2007 and October of 2008, the popular E-150 is a great candidate for mobility conversions.

2007 - 2012 Ford E-250 RV Converters

The 2007 Ford E-250 RV Converter now comes with a 9,000-lbs. GVW rating, up 400 pounds from previous years and is suitable for all lowered floor conversions.

2009 - 2012 Ford E-350 Clubwagon

The Ford E-350 5.4-liter gasoline engine regular-length Clubwagon is available for full lowered floors, and boasts an improved ride quality since the 2009 model change.

Other Accessible Full-Size Vans

Ford Transit Connect 2010-2012
Automotive Innovations has created a truly affordable entry-level accessible conversion on the Ford Transit Connect. The conversion is a manual rear-entry ramp and a lowered floor with additional seating for up to five ambulatory passengers. From a mobility standpoint, this vehicle is excellent for care givers and the simplicity of the manual ramp design provides ease of use and little in the way of maintenance to perform. The vehicle itself is fuel efficient and rated at 22 MPG city/ 25 highway and its size makes it a very agile alternative for those not comfortable with driving full sized vans. The lowered floor and reduced ramp angle mean that the wheelchair passenger has greater visibility and the caregiver has greater ease when loading and unloading the wheelchair. The electrically releasing restraint system further enhances the experience by eliminating the need to crawl or reach over seats to release the front restraint straps. Second row seating is comprised of an OEM three person bench that uses a two position driver side seat and a single passenger side seat either of which can be flipped forward for more space. These last two features make this conversion ideal for use as a Taxi particularly with respect to flexibility and ease of use.

Chevrolet and GMC Full-Sized Vans 2006-2011
These vans are unavailable for a drop-floor conversion as a replacement fuel system is not available. However, these vans are suitable for a raised roof and raised doors.

Mercedes Sprinter 2004-2012
The Sprinter has superior door entry and interior heights when compared to other full-sized vans. The Sprinter is also available with an OEM option in which both side cargo and rear cargo doors are raised. Because of this option, there is no need to additionally modify the vehicle with a raised roof or raised doors, which makes them ideal candidates for a side-entry wheelchair lift. However, the Sprinter is not a good candidate for a lowered floor, thus making the vehicle much more suitable for an attendant situation. It does, however, cost quite a bit more than a Ford full-size van.

Nissan NV Van 2012
In mid-2011 Nissan announced their entry into the full-size van market with the NV van. The 2012 model year has been released as a cargo version only; the passenger version should be released in 2013. These vans also have very generous entry and interior heights and are available in a standard-height top and a factory hi-top. These vans have not yet been evaluated for lowered floor possibility.

Wheelchair Lifts for Full-Size Vans

There are different types of commonly available wheelchair lifts that come in several variations to suit different vehicles. All are capable of lifting 600 pounds or more. To choose the appropriate lift, you need to know the wheelchair’s dimensions (overall length and width), the distance from the top of the wheelchair occupant’s head (or headrest, whichever is higher) to the floor, and the total weight of the wheelchair and its occupant. The most common is the platform lift. The wheelchair is driven onto a platform, and it is then raised to the van’s floor level. The wheelchair is then driven off the platform into the van, and the platform moves into a vertical position to stow inside the van door. About seven feet of clearance is needed next to the van to get a wheelchair in and out. This can be reduced to about five feet if the lift has a “side entry” platform that allows the wheelchair to move on or off the side as well as the end. While other lifts are mounted inside the van, those that mount underneath save space inside and keep the entry and exit through the side door clear. These lifts cost about twice as much as other lifts and may be difficult to deploy at a curb. Other considerations are exposure of the lift to hazardous road and weather conditions and the reduction of the vehicle’s ground clearance. For more information on full-size wheelchair lifts, please feel free to contact us at 508-697-6006.

Available Wheelchair Lifts for Full-Size Ford Vans

The VMI/Ricon Clearway Wheelchair Lift offers an exclusive split-platform that folds vertically, allowing unobstructed access upon exit and entry whether or not the lift is deployed. The driver’s line of sight is also unobstructed for optimum safety. Dual power cylinders ensure smooth, reliable operation, even for heavy wheelchairs and scooters.The strong all-steel frame and powerful hydraulic pump allow quick, reliable operation of the lift.

The VMI/Ricon KlearVue Platform Lift offers a unique horizontal fold to allow an unobstructed view from inside or outside the vehicle without requiring a raised roof or lowered floor. No vehicle modification is needed thanks to advanced engineering that allows a longer 51” platform to fit in a shorter 48” door.

The VMI/Ricon Reliant Wheelchair Lift features a wide range of platform sizes and can accommodate a mobility device up to 51”. With a welded all steel frame, a powerful hydraulic pump, and a simple electrical system for trouble-free operation, Reliant lifts are a solid, strong and proven mobility solution. It features patented technology that securely locks the platform in the stowed position, automatic inboard/outboard roll stops, a non-skid platform, and convenient handrails with a control switch for lowering and raising the lift.

The VMI/Ricon Unilite Wheelchair Lift features an internal swing door operator and sliding door operator, a powered rollstop with mechanical latch, and handrails with control switch. The Unilite also features a built-in manual back-up system and may be equipped with an optional remote control.

The VMI/Ricon Slide-Away Platform Lift features strength and space in one easy-to-use package. When in use, the sliding second tower travels toward the front of the vehicle to provide the strength and stability only available in a dual post lift. And when not in use, the sliding second tower travels towards the rear of the vehicle, leaving the side door unobstructed or able-bodied passengers and providing full use of the front passenger seat.

The VMI Fiorella F500 Platform Lift is the newest platform lift in the VMI line of mobility transportation solutions. Fiorella has manufactured wheelchair lifts for more than 15 years and distributes in 47 different countries.This Fiorella platform lift features a unique design that is attuned to the specific needs of disabled individuals. Customer experience is the primary focus behind the engineering and creativity that goes into each and every F500 platform mobility lift.

The Braun Vangater Series Wheelchair Lifts are fully electric in operation, for both the fold/unfold and up/down cycles. Lift operation is controlled by the standard hand-held control, the on-lift controls, or the optional remote control. The Vangater Series is designed for installation in the side doors of domestic full-size vans. A model is also available for installation in minivans. With the compact tri-fold platform, the lift occupies minimal space inside the vehicle.

The Braun UVL Series Wheelchair Lifts are electric in operation for both the in/out cycle and the outboard roll stop. The up/down cycle is hydraulic in operation. All functions are controlled by the standard hand-held control or the optional remote control. The UVL Series is designed for installation at the side door of domestic full-size vans. Installation of the UVL requires modification to the van’s drive shaft.

The Braun Millennium Series Wheelchair Lifts are the true workhorses of the BraunAbility line. Designed for installation in the side or rear doors of domestic full-size vans, three standard models with platform lengths up to 51” ensure there is a lift to fit your needs. With dual hydraulic lifting arms, you’ll come to rely on the lift’s strength and dependability day after day, year after year. The Millennium also has a side-entry cut option on the platform for easier loading/unloading in tight places (not available on the Century).

The Braun Century Series Wheelchair Lift is an economical solution to personal mobility. Like the Millennium Series, the Century Series lifts are fully hydraulic in operation, for both the fold/unfold and up/down cycles. Lift operation is controlled by the standard hand-held control, the on-lift controls, or the optional remote control.

Driving Aid

Driving controls, called driving aids in the modified vehicle industry, must be appropriate for individual needs and abili- ties. It is highly recommended you be evaluated by a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS).

Driver Station

In order for a wheelchair user to drive, they will either need to transfer to the driver seat, or they need to drive from their wheelchair using a power automatic wheelchair lockdown devise.

Transferring to the driver seat is accomplished by the use of power transfer seat bases which allow a passenger or driver to get to the front seats from inside the van’s middle area. These seats swivel 90 degrees and move up, down, forward and back. For more information, please visit www.vantagemobility.com or www.bdindependence.com.

If the wheelchair user will be driving from their wheelchair, the need a way to secure their wheelchair in place while driving. The power automatic lockdown system contains an anchored device mounted on the floor of the vehicle and its connecting part mounted to the bottom of the wheelchair. The wheelchair occupant guides the two pieces together, and when they are properly locked, an audible click is heard. Some electric models also contain an alarm system that will have a buzzer or light to indicate the system is not properly locked in place. An vehicle occupant restraint system (seat belt and lap belt) will have to be used to secure the wheelchair user in their wheelchair. EZ Lock and Q’straint are the industry leaders in electric wheelchair securement systems, and more information can be obtained by visiting www.ezlock.net and www.qstraint.com.

Hand Controls

Hand controls allow drivers to operate gas and brake controls by hand instead of foot. Original pedals are not affected, so the vehicle can be driven normally by other drivers. The vehicle should also have power brakes and power steering.

The most popular mechanically operated hand controls “push-right angle” that uses a single horizontal rod that pushes towards the pedals for brake and down towards the lap for acceleration. Other popular styles include a “twist-grip” hand control that works like a motorcycle throttle, and a “push/pull”, pushing down for brake and pulling up in the opposite direction for acceleration.

If a wheelchair user isn’t able to use standard hand controls due to issues with strength or range-of-motion, there are several options for power-assist systems from EMC, Wells-Engberg, and Guidosimplex.

To choose between these hand controls, you must evaluate the unique operating characteristics of each control and decide if they are right for you. For example, the push-right angle pull hand control uses mostly upper arm muscles and requires space between the knee and the steering wheel to operate. On the other hand, the twist-grip control uses mostly wrist muscles for acceleration. Whatever hand control you choose should not cause you to tire quickly.

Getting the proper fit between the vehicle, driver and hand control is the key to proper function and comfort. The driver must fit comfortably inside the vehicle while allowing sufficient space for the hand control to work. But don’t overlook something more basic. First, the driver needs to decide if the transfer into the vehicle and stowing the wheelchair is too much work. If it is and it keeps you from going places, then you need to try a different vehicle. There is no magic formula for finding a new car; just the fun and frustration of searching for the right vehicle.

Hand control installation is critical to both fit and safety. Installers make sure the hand control is adjusted properly and out of the way of the knees and feet. They also make sure all parts are tightened properly, no wires are pinched and, where possible, the airbag system is operational. Also, hand controls can be adjusted so they are not too close to the steering wheel or door. On some models, the amount of travel and strength needed to push the accelerator can be adjusted. The force needed to brake, however, is almost always controlled by the resistance built into the car’s brake system.

Foot Controls

The left foot accelerator is recommended by driver evaluators for drivers to accelerate using their left foot. It is equipped with a guard to prevent the driver from inadvertently resting their right foot on the accelerator pedal. The left foot accelerator incorporates a quick-release mechanism and is easily removable without tools for ambulatory drivers. A doctor’s prescription is necessary prior to the installation of this foot control, and subsequent training is required. Pedal extensions help drivers who cannot reach these foot controls without sitting too close to the driver’s air bag. Gas and brake extensions ranging from about an inch to 12 inches are possible.

Pedal guards are required by driver evaluators to be used with foot controls. The guard protects drivers from inadvertently resting their feet on or under the gas or brake pedal. A quick-release mount allows ambulatory drivers to easily remove the device without tools and have full use of the pedals. Please not that left foot accelerators may not work in a full-size Ford van due to space constraints to the left of the brake pedal.

Voice Controls

A typical driving system for a quad would include a hand control for the primary controls, gas and brake, and a steering device for the steering wheel. Secondary controls, like gearshift, wipers and headlights, can be found on strategically located switch pads.

Wheelchair Tie Downs

A wheelchair’s brakes are never enough for a wheelchair user to be safely secured while driving or being transported in a vehicle. For either the driver or passenger position, there are two types of systems to safely transport a wheelchair and its occupant: manual and electric restraints. The most common manual wheelchair tie-down is the four-point system, consisting of four straps that attach to the wheelchair and the van floor. A ratchet mechanism is included to tighten the straps. This system, when properly used, will safely secure almost any wheelchair. Because it is not practical for the wheelchair occupant to operate this tie-down independently, it is used only for wheelchair users in an attendant situation. When using this system, it is very important to ensure the tie-downs are not connected to any movable part of a wheelchair. Q’straint makes the QRT MAX, which is the first securement system that can self-lock and self-tension itself automatically. It is designed with a low profile to allow most wheelchairs to move into place without obstruction and can be operated with one hand.

Electric Wheelchair Restraints

The electric restraint system contains an anchored device mounted on the floor of the vehicle and its connecting part mounted to the bottom of the wheelchair. The wheelchair occupant guides the two pieces together, and when they are properly locked, an audible click is heard. Some electric models also contain an alarm system that will have a buzzer or light to indicate the system is not properly locked in place. No matter the system used to secure a wheelchair and its occupant for travel in vehicle, the wheelchair occupant must always wear a vehicle seat belt and/or shoulder harness to properly secure the wheelchair occupant to the wheelchair, which is in turn securely mounted to the vehicle floor. EZ Lock and Q’straint are the industry leaders in electric wheelchair securement systems.

Proper Use of Wheelchair Tie-Downs and Occupant Restraint Systems

Motor vehicle transportation, whether in public or private vehicles, is so vital to employment, access to quality healthcare and community interactions that transportation safety for people who are not able to transfer out of their wheelchairs is often a secondary consideration. This doesn’t need to be the case. Although motor-vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the U.S., readily available technologies will significantly enhance transportation safety for wheelchair-seated travelers. The safest choice for wheelchair users is to transfer to the vehicle seat whenever possible and practical, so the seatbelt system provided by the vehicle manufacturer can be properly used. The unoccupied wheelchair should then be secured or stored in a cargo area.

For wheelchair users who cannot feasibly transfer, safe transportation requires using after-market equipment to (1) secure the occupied wheelchair facing forward in the vehicle, and (2) provide an effective crashworthy seatbelt for the person in the wheelchair. Commercial products that accomplish both goals are called Wheelchair Tiedowns and Occupant Restraints Systems often referred to as WTORS, Those that comply with SAEJ2249 Wheelchair Tiedown and Occupant Restraint Systems for Use in Motor Vehicles, which involves passing a relatively severe frontal crash test, should always be used.

The most common type of WTORS uses a four-point strap system to secure the wheelchair. These tie-downs are very effective and can secure a wide range of wheelchair types, but they require that another person attach and tighten the straps. For these systems to work properly, all four straps must be used as instructed by the manufacturer. Using four- point strap tie-downs is much easier if the wheelchair occupant has a crash-tested wheelchair that complies with ANSI/ RESNAWC19, Wheelchair for Use as Seats in Motor Vehicles. This voluntary standard requires wheelchair frames to include four easily accessible brackets for attaching the tie-down straps. If the wheelchair does not comply with WC19, four structural points on the wheelchair base or seat frame must be identified and used to secure the wheelchair.

Wheelchairs can also be secured to the vehicle using docking-type devices that allow wheelchair users to secure their own wheelchairs. These devices are commonly used by people who drive from their wheelchairs and require the addition of adaptive hardware to the wheelchair for engaging with the docking device mounted to the vehicle floor.

No matter how the wheelchair is secured to the vehicle, a properly used and positioned crashworthy seatbelt, consisting of pelvic and upper-torso belts, is absolutely essential. Seatbelts are by far the most effective occupant restraint system for protecting occupants in crashes and reduce the risk of total injuries by more that 50%. They prevent occupants’ ejection from and minimize injurious contact within the vehicle.

To be most effective, the lap belt must be placed low on the pelvis near the top of the thighs, and the shoulder belt should cross the middle of one shoulder and the breastbone and connect to the lap belt near the occupant’s hip.

While wheelchair securement and occupant restraints are important, a growing body of evidence suggests a large proportion of serious injuries to wheelchair-seated travelers is due to a lack of proper seat belt use and/or improper positioning of the seatbelt. In many cases, wheelchair features such as armrests and wheels can interfere with proper seatbelt routing and placement, and care must be taken to ensure that seatbelts are properly used and positioned. This

Driving Aids may require placing the lap belt between the back of the armrest and the seatback post, or threading the lap belt’s end through openings below the armrest before attaching the belt to the vehicle’s anchor points. It is also important to place the seatbelt buckle in direct contact with the occupant and not where it may contact rigid wheelchair components during a crash. Never route seat belts outside the large wheels or over armrests.

Most driver evaluation programs utilize vehicles with hand controls and steering devices to instruct their clients. Most programs operate a fully modified van for people who drive from their wheelchairs. This van may have a raised top as well as a lowered floor. It may also have a powered cargo door and a remote control entry device.

After entering the vehicle, the evaluator can determine if you will drive from your wheelchair or from a power seat. The power seat base moves electrically into position next to you so that your transfer may be comfortable and safe. Generally, if you can transfer, you should drive from the van seat, which is bolted to the floor. If you cannot transfer, an electric wheelchair tie down can be added along with special stabilizing belts to secure you and your wheelchair behind the steering wheel.

Article courtesy of Paralyzed News, a publication of the Paralyzed veterans of America.

Vehicle Selection Questions & Answers

Prior to making an accessible vehicle purchase, the following should be considered:

1. Your wheelchair or scooter

The size, dimensions and features of your wheelchair or scooter can greatly influence the vehicle and equipment that will work best for you and can therefore have a huge impact on the cost of your adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications. It is always preferable to contact a dealer and discuss your needs and desires for your vehicle prior to purchasing your wheelchair or scooter. If you already have your wheelchair or scooter, inform your dealer if you plan on buying a different one soon. This will allow your dealer to recommend adaptive equipment that will accomodate your current and future wheelchair or scooter.

2. Will I be using the vehicle independently or with full-time assistance?

The answer to this question will greatly change what vehicles and equipment will be appropriate for you. If you have full-time assistance, you can probably save money by buying manually operated products as opposed to automatic products. If you will be using the vehicle by yourself, your mobility dealer can help show you all of the products available to ensure your independence.

3. Will I be driving the vehicle with adaptive equipment or riding as a passenger?

Driving a vehicle with adaptive controls can vary from relatively simple and inexpensive modifications such as spinner knobs and hand controls to more complicated and sophisticated controls that could cost as much the vehicle. The process of driving a vehicle with adaptive controls is a serious matter and needs to be undertaken in a very thorough manner with which only industry professionals can help you.

4. How do I learn to drive from my wheelchair?

Many major rehabilitation centers offer complete driver evaluation programs, which are certified by their state’s department of motor vehicles. This includes a pre-driver evaluation, behind the wheel lessons and assistance in licensing. Pre-driver evaluations include testing eyesight, motor control, judgment and reaction time.

Driving programs stress that a consultation with your physician is necessary to make sure that you are physically and psychologically prepared for the driving experience. If you are evaluated too soon after your injury, there is the danger of recommending too much equipment and, consequently, spending money on adaptive equipment you will not need in the future. After a traumatic experience, such as a spinal cord injury, there is a great deal to relearn. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself too soon, even if you feel that you might be prepared.

Most driver evaluation programs utilize vehicles with hand controls and steering devices to instruct their clients. Most programs operate a fully modified van for people who drive from their wheelchairs. This van may have a raised top as well as a lowered floor. It may also have a powered cargo door and a remote control entry device.

After entering the vehicle, the evaluator can determine if you will drive from your wheelchair or from a power seat. The power seat base moves electrically into position next to you so that your transfer may be comfortable and safe. Generally, if you can transfer, you should drive from the van seat, which is bolted to the floor. If you cannot transfer, an electric wheelchair tie down can be added along with special stabilizing belts to secure you and your wheelchair behind the steering wheel.

5. Where and how am I going to use my accessible vehicle?

Consider issues such as road conditions in your usage area, weather, number of passengers and cargo weight and size requirements.

6. Where do I find adapted vehicles?

Most driver education programs have a list of adapted vehicle suppliers in your area. These companies will either modify a vehicle you already own or they will provide you with a complete modified vehicle. Too often, people go to the local auto dealership and buy whichever car or van the auto salesperson recommends without considering whether or not it can be modified for their needs. The auto salesperson may think he has the best vehicle on the market, but he usually does not understand as well as an adaptive equipment distributor a disabled person’s special needs.

Due to the cost of conversion, the time spent doing your homework will ultimately pay off in savings. Extras, such as middle captain’s chairs and front overhead consoles in vans, may go to waste if you purchase them from an auto dealer and then learn that they must be removed to adapt the vehicle.

The vehicle you purchase must have suspension that is heavy enough to accommodate the weight of conversion, your wheelchair and all of your occupants. A heavy-duty electrical system, heavy-duty service options and factory-installed power accessories are all important features to purchase on your van. Visit your local mobility dealer before making a vehicle purchase. In addition to knowing which vehicles are most easily modified, they often purchase many vehicles from dealers and know where to shop for the best buys. Some mobility dealers have demonstration or pre-owned vans that may suit your needs with little modification.

7. Do I want a full-size or a minivan?

Both full-size and minivans come in many shapes and sizes. If you will be driving from your wheelchair, additional questions will arise. You need to decide if you want a lowered floor, or a raised top and doors for entry. Because these options may involve removal of the gas tank and increasing the overall height of the vehicle, it is best to consult your mobility dealer before making any decisions.

In recent years, lowered floor minivan conversions have become available to disabled motorists. The 10-inch lowered floor allows a wheelchair user access to both the driver and front passenger areas. This vehicle may employ a system that lowers it within inches of the ground and then unfolds a ramp for entry and exit. Lowered floor minivans, like Braun Entervans, let you sit in the front passenger position and see out of the van’s windows. These minivans will fit into standard height garages, but they still require approximately eight feet of access space – the same as a full size van with a platform lift. A discussion of the pros and cons of each vehicle with your mobility dealer can be valuable.

What You Should Tell Your Mobility Dealer
You should know how tall you sit in your chair, measuring from head to ground. You should also know the overall length and width of your chair. If possible, use the chair you intend to travel in when you visit the dealer, and be sure to let the dealer know if you plan on purchasing a different wheelchair in the foreseeable future.

These dimensions will help your dealer determine the modifications you need. For example, the door height of a standard unconverted full size van is 48 inches; the minivan average is 44 inches. There is no easy way for a person in a wheelchair to use either type of vehicle without it being converted. Knowing these door heights and your height will tell the dealer to what level the vehicle needs to be converted. Please use the Wheelchair Dimensions diagram in this guide to accurately find your measurements.

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Remember, it is easier to change at this stage than after the vehicle is built. When you visit the mobility dealer, there should be some vehicles available for you to get into. This is an ever-changing industry, and new products are being introduced every day. Your local mobility dealer will be knowledgeable about today’s products. You should certainly ask for references and to examine the work that the dealer has done in the past. Ask if they have any customers with a vehicle that is similar to the one you are planning to purchase.

Ask about service and warranty programs. How long does the warranty last? Does the warranty include parts and labor? Have they, their sales representatives and their technicians attended manufacturer’s sales and service schools within the last three years?


Paying for Your Conversion

A new vehicle, including modifications for your needs, can be an investment of $25,000 to $95,000. In some cases, you may be eligible for assistance. If you are a Veteran, contact the VA. Your state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or Division of Development Services may also provide financial assistance. If you have private insurance, either health or workman’s compensation, check your eligibility with your insurance carrier. Many automobile dealers can finance the mobility package along with your vehicle and provide you with a monthly payment plan at competitive interest rates. Your mobility dealer may know of other local sources of funding.

A doctor’s prescription is accepted in most states to exempt the purchase of your adaptive equipment from sales tax. Consult a qualified tax accountant regarding any income tax credits. Major vehicle manufacturers have rebate programs that help pay for modifications.

After you have evaluated all of your options, you are ready for the purchase. A van must be custom-fitted to you, just like your wheelchair. With professional guidance, a good evaluation of your personal needs and research of the adaptive equipment that is available, your van purchase will be a learning experience that will lead you to an even more independent and productive life-style.