Sirus Automotive's Guide to Buying a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
Do I Need A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
If transferring from your wheelchair to you car seat has become difficult for you or your carer, then a wheelchair accessible vehicle will make travelling much quicker and easier for you. However, prior to viewing any vehicles it is highly recommended that you book a driver assessment at one of the many centres around the UK, to find out exactly what type of controls would be suitable for your individual needs.
The reason for this assessment prior to visiting a conversion specialist is that the demonstration models many companies use have standard push/pull hand controls, which may not be suitable for your requirements. The driving assessment centres are able to assess all aspects of your strength and dexterity in safety on their static rig to establish what would suit you best.
The RDAC website has a list of the 17 assessment disabled driving centres across the country.
What is A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, also known as WAVs, are vehicles that have been converted so that wheelchair users can travel up front in the vehicle, either as a passenger or a driver. There are a variety of types of conversion available in the new and used vehicle market. The size, shape and design of WAVs varies depending on the make and model used for the conversion and the company that has converted the vehicle.
Where Do I Start?
WAVs come in a range of makes, models and sizes. Before you start looking it is a good idea to draw up a check list of the things that are important to you and make a note of the absolute must have requirements and key factors.
The key factors are things like:
- Your wheelchair: Weight, length, width and height
- The seated height of you in your wheelchair
- Space for luggage or additional equipment you may need to transport.
- Whether you need space for regular passengers.
- Are your circumstances and wheelchair likely to change in the future?
- The type of activities you will use your wheelchair accessible vehicle for
- Where do you usually park and is their sufficient space?
- How easy it is to manoeuvre and how confident you feel driving the vehicle?
- Do you have to work to a weekly fuel budget?
- Is your vehicle for long mainly motorway journeys, or shorter round town trips?
- Kerbs and rear space access
- If you travel as a passenger in your wheelchair would you prefer to sit up front with the driver.
Options for Getting In and Out of your Vehicle
All WAVs are fitted with either a ramp or lift, at the rear or side of the vehicle.
A ramp is the most common, and easiest way to access your wheelchair accessible vehicle. The ramp can be automatic or manual, where the carer physically unfolds the ramp. Some manual ramps can be spring loaded to make them easier to raise and lower. Thought should be given to the angle and length of the ramp, where you will park and make sure you test both entering and exiting the vehicle as you intend to during normal everyday usage to ensure that you have no difficulties.
If your carer has difficulty pushing your wheelchair up a ramp then some of the larger WAVs can be fitted with a lift. However, these can be more expensive which may make your Motability payments higher. You must also take into consideration that lifts require an annual service, although this cost should be covered by your Motability lease.
Most Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles will have had their floor lowered into order to allow enough headroom for the wheelchair user. This is an important feature to consider with regards to road visibility when driving and ground clearance - the driver should drive more carefully over speed bumps etc.
Always check recommendations for the quality of previous conversions and if owners have encountered any problems with any aspect of the conversion. Obviously problems do occur with all vehicles, so another really important aspect to check out is the after-sales service and customer care. If you can find them read customer testimonials, or ask the company if they can supply you with some examples.
Things To Do
- Check you can see out of all the windows as you would need to when driving on the road
- Can you hear you passengers? Take someone with you on the test drive.
- Does your carer need to get access to you and your wheelchair during journeys and does the layout of the car allow this?
- If you require seats for passengers ask the converter about the size of seat you can have, as sometimes the extra seat can be quite small and not suitable for your requirements.
- Ask about the restraining/locking system used and whether it is suitable for your requirements
- Ensure you check that your wheelchair can get easy access without any tight manoeuvres which may cause you to damage the interior.
- Get the most out of your test drive and take a passenger/s, visit your local supermarket, your house, your usual roads and trips to ensure that you are happy with all aspects of the vehicle.
- Practice getting in and out of the vehicle a few times to ensure you are happy with all aspects of entering and exiting the vehicle.
- Don't be afraid to practice using the conversion features whilst you are with the converter. It's important you are happy with all aspects of the conversion.
- Consider the fuel and running costs and discuss with the converter whether you would be better with a diesel or petrol model taking into account the types of journeys and mileage you do.
Most of all, make sure you are happy with all aspects of the vehicle before placing your order. Buying a car is one of the most important purchases you will make and the converter you are dealing with should be happy for you to take your time to make that decision.
You can find a list of WAV manufacturers in the UK on the Motability website. Here you can also find helpful information on the Motability Scheme, details of eligibility and the types of allowance available.
Images and videos courtesy of Sirus Automotive