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Wheelchair Vans

Wheelchair Vans

Guide To Selecting a Wheelchair Van

Buying a wheelchair van is a major investment and there is no room for error. This article is intended to help wheelchair van buyers to select the right wheelchair van for their needs. To get the scoop on wheelchair vans, we turned for advice to John Pedersen, President of Adaptive Experts. Pedersen has 10 years of experience evaluating and training disabled drivers and helping disabled drivers to select the right wheelchair van.

New versus Used
Whether to buy a new or used wheelchair van is actually more complicated than with a regular car, as you have three choices:

  • New wheelchair van, newly converted OR
  • Used wheelchair van which you will convert OR
  • Used wheelchair van which has been previously converted for someone else.

    Pedersen said, "We assume that a wheelchair van will have a lifespan of 10 years and that the adaptive equipment inside (lifts, power seats etc) may have an even shorter lifespan."

    If you will buy a used van with the intention to convert it, don�t buy a van more than three years old. First, few companies will be willing to convert them, as they don�t carry the parts for older wheelchair vans. Second, as the van has a limited lifespan it makes little sense to invest in the conversion of an aged wheelchair van. Wheelchair Van Interior

    If you do intend to buy a used previously converted wheelchair van, ask the dealer or seller to provide an itemized list of options. Then together with a conversion evaluation you or your evaluator can determine if it will work for you and what is necessary to add.

    No matter what kind of used vehicle you buy, check if there is a warranty and even better if it is a certified used vehicle. A certified used vehicle has been inspected, repaired, and then covered by an extended warranty. Have the wheelchair van looked at by an ASE certified mechanic to get an independent opinion. It is always best to drive the van together with your mechanic before buying. Obtain a copy of the title and do a title search to see that there is not a lean on it. At CarFax, for $20, you can see if the van has a clean title history or identify serious problems such as salvage history, odometer fraud, flood damage and more. CARFAX helps millions of consumers and thousands of car dealers avoid buying used cars with costly hidden problems. Every CARFAX report that confirms a clean title history is backed by a Clean Title History Guarantee.

    Nevertheless, Pedersen says "compare how much money you will save on buying the wheelchair van, versus the cost you will have in upkeep of the wheelchair van and the adaptive equipment. It is not just the cost of maintaining the wheelchair van but also the cost of maintaining the equipment. Consider if the money you will save by buying an older wheelchair van, will compensate for the likely costs of maintaining the van and adaptive equipment in the wheelchair van." Also, a wheelchair van which has been recently converted will have state of the art technology.

    Minivan and Full Sized Van

    Minivan versus Full Sized Van
    "In my experience people prefer minivans possibly 9 to 1 over full sized vans" said Pedersen. One of the reasons is that ramps are used on minivans and lifts are required on full size vans. "People prefer ramps to lifts", said Pedersen. "you feel more secure on a ramp than on a lift, and while it is rare, I have been called to assist people who have become stuck on their lifts." Another factor is that the cost of converting a full sized van is higher. It usually costs around $17,000 to convert a full sized van compared to $15,000 for a minivan. Since they are smaller, minivans may be easier to drive and park for some people. Minivans are usually front wheel drive, giving more traction in slippery conditions, and most full sized vans are rear wheel drives. Pedersen said that there are many more conversions packages available for minivans than for full sized vans, giving consumers more options. Pedersen informed us that conversions packages for full sized vans are primarily available for the Ford E-250 shown in the photo above.

    The factors speaking in favor of a full sized van is that there will be more room inside for the wheelchair user, passengers and cargo. There is also more headroom allowing many assistants to walk around without stooping. Full sized vans are also more powerful and can tow larger loads should that become necessary.

    Raising Roof versus Lowering Floor
    "Nearly everyone who will drive from their wheelchair will require a lowered floor" said Pedersen. Wheelchairs are higher than standard vehicle chairs and in order to see properly, the floor will nearly always be lowered. Standard drop on full sized vans is 6 inches, but 8 or 10 inch drops are also available. On minivan, the drop is generally 10 or 12 inches. Raising the roof makes it more convenient to enter the door.

    Internet versus Local Dealer
    Buying from a dealer on the internet is very attractive. Depending on where you live, in your area there are likely only a few dealers that can offer you a converted wheelchair van. While if you turn to the internet you can get offers from hundreds of dealers nationwide. You are much more likely to find a bargain via the internet than locally.

    However, converted wheelchair vans are not like regular cars. As the body has been changed and there is a lot of electronic equipment inside, there is much more to go wrong and if it does go wrong it is much more convenient to discuss the problem with someone nearby rather than someone located far away. A local dealer will probably be much more responsive to your needs than someone on the other side of the country, since the dissatisfied buyer who is located in town will have a bigger impact on a dealer�s reputation than someone thousands of miles away. No matter where your dealer is located, consider choosing an NMEDA QAP accredited (National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association Quality Assurance Program) dealer. NMEDA QAP accreditation means:

  • They are required to maintain four types of insurance for liability purposes. 
  • They need to have certified welders on hand if they perform any type of structural modifications to vehicles. 
  • These dealers are required to have their technicians certified in the equipment they sell, install and service. 
  • They must keep records of all adaptive work.
  • They are required to undergo an inspection/audit process at least annually by an independent engineering firm to ensure compliance to the NMEDA Guidelines and the requirements listed above. 

    There are currently three types of accreditation:

  • Mobility Equipment Installer
  • Structural Vehicle Modifier
  • High Tech Driving System Installer

    Make sure your dealer is not only accredited by NMEDA, but accredited to do the kind of work you need to have done on your vehicle. NMEDA has a database of accredited dealers on its websites.

    If you do buy via the internet from a dealer:

  • Request references and check them.
  • Make sure to request a certificate of product liability insurance, in case the vehicle fails resulting in bodily injury.
  • Confirm in writing that the specific vehicle you are purchasing can and will have local warranty service at a specific location and make sure that location is certified to make repairs and modifications.

    Different people will require different accessories. But there are three things that Pedersen recommends to nearly all of his clients:

    Remote Start: "Remote start has several advantages", explained Pedersen, "comfort as well as security". Obviously, it is more comfortable to get into a warm wheelchair van than a cold wheelchair van and this can be more important for a disabled person than an able bodied person. But more importantly when the vehicle is turned off, access equipment such as lifts and ramps must run off the battery. If the battery is not strong and the day is cold, activating the access equipment can drain the battery. In certain cases the vehicle may not start and once inside the disabled person can be stuck. With remote start the power in the battery is first used to start the vehicle and once running, the engine powers the access equipment. There is no chance for the disabled operator to enter a dead vehicle and no chance to be stuck inside.

    Remote control activation: "With remote control activation the disabled person can activate the ramp or lift while still in the house or when coming down the street", says Pedersen, "It usually takes 30-60 seconds for the ramp or lift to fully deploy. Many of my clients are very temperature sensitive." But depending on where you live this may not be just about comfort but also safety. Waiting outside of a vehicle for 30-60 seconds may not be safe in some areas.

    Cell Phone: "For obvious safety reasons, I advise all of my clients to have a cell phone with them at all times. Breakdowns happen all of the time". Make certain the cell phone has necessary emergency telephone numbers stored in the address book, such as AAA, Police, Ambulance, your doctor, etc.

    An Evaluation
    Do you go it alone or do you use the help of an evaluator to select the right wheelchair van for you? Pedersen believes that nearly everyone who purchases a wheelchair van should use an evaluator as there are so many things that need to be selected and there is little room for error. What are some of the things that evaluators do to help you select the right wheelchair van conversion for your needs? They determine:

  • Detailed itemized adaptive equipment prescription
  • Body stability
  • If there is a need restraints or side supports
  • If there is a need for back and neck support
  • Best way to tie chair down
  • If the driver is able to make a transfer to a seat
  • If there will be sufficient head clearance
  • Elipse: where to eyes line up in relations to windshield to see if they can see everything that needs to be seen, such as lights
  • Whether or not there is an option to kneel the vehicle down (more for paraplegics) this lowers the angle and allows to come up the ramp.

    Most Common Mistake
    When asked about the most common problems or biggest mistake, Pedersen said, "The consumer will sometimes purchase a vehicle prior to an evaluation and end up buying something that does not work well for the adaptive controls that they need. We will sometimes even have consumers purchase a vehicle that won't work at all, wasting a lot of money. There are a lot of details that could go wrong without an evaluation such as not fitting in the door, wrong height behind the wheel, scooter won't fit on lift, wrong type of control, etc. The cost of an evaluation is tiny in comparison to the cost of a vehicle purchase. After a mistake is made, it is costly to rectify, especially if it is the wrong vehicle in the first place."

    How do you select an evaluator?
    According to Pedersen, the best way is to choose an evaluator certified by the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) via the ADED website. Pedersen said, the combination of education and experience required just to take the exam, is very high and the exam itself is intensive. The ADED requires either:

  • An undergraduate degree or higher in a health related area of study with 1 year full time experience in degree area of study and an additional 1 year full time experience in the field of Driver Rehabilitation.
  • Four year undergraduate degree or higher with a major or minor in Traffic Safety and/or a Driver and Traffic Safety Endorsement with 1 year full time experience in Traffic Safety and an additional 2 years of full time experience in the field of Driver Rehabilitation.
  • Two year degree in a health related area of study with 1 year experience in degree area of study and an additional 3 years full time experience in the field of Driver Rehabilitation.
  • Five years of full time work experience in the field of Driver Rehabilitation.

    In addition to this all members of Pedersen's Adaptive Experts team are Occupational/Physical therapists with expertise as licensed driving instructors. This might be something to look for as well.

    When asked about funding Pedersen said, "For funding sources states have the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, or Department of Rehabilitation Services, or workforce centers. They will typically assist in evaluation, training, and cost of adaptive equipment costs. Also county social service or human services programs will often-times assist depending on county and state. There are grants available that are typically state administrated varying widely by state. A majority of funding is workforce related to assist the consumer in being able to become employed. A good resource for the consumer to find funding is through state agencies, and advocacy associations (Alzheimer association, MS Society, Traumatic Brain Injury assn, Muscular Dystrophy assn, etc.)"

  • Many, if not all of the car manufacturers have programs which offer financial assistance towards the cost of installation of adaptive equipment on new car purchases. Click to see the program for: Toyota, General Motors, Chrysler, Ford. We have not listed every manufacturer's program, but nearly all of them have similar programs. If your manufacturer is not listed here, ask them.
  • There may be local service organizations (such as the Lions, Elks, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus or Rotary Club) that would help fund a vehicle or vehicle modification.
  • If you have been injured on the job, workers compensation may pay for vehicle adaptation.
  • Veteran�s benefits often cover vehicle modifications.
  • Liability insurance usually covers vehicle adaptations if you have been disabled in an accident.
  • Some state vocational programs may pay for vehicle modification for work related purposes. Click to find the Vocational Rehabilitation agency in your state.
  • Some local governments may be able to help. Just a few examples are: Atlanta, Georgia, Quebec.
  • Many states offer loans for assistive technology. Click here for a list of State Loan Programs.
  • Some people may be eligible for tax credits for modifications. In many states a doctor's prescription will exempt your purchase from sales tax. If buying a wheelchair van out of state, check the rules in the state where the wheelchair van is located as state tax can effect your price.
  • Ask at your local Center for Independent Living to see if they know of a funding source. Click here to find addresses of Centers for Independent Living.

    About John Pedersen
    John Pedersen is the owner of Adaptive Experts, the largest driver rehabilitation program in the USA. Adaptive Experts is staffed by Medically Licensed Occupational Therapists, who are also licensed driver trainers. They have a total of 16 offices in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois. They are also one of only a few companies in the country able to provide quadriplegic driver evaluation and training with high-tech electronic joystick driving controls.

  • The content of this article is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced without permission of the owners of Wheelchair.

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