Wheelchair users can get around with the help of a wheelchair accessible van. Whether the user intends to drive the van or act as a passenger, there are many options available.
When comparing wheelchair vans, consider pricing, customer service, vehicle features, warranties and availability. When buying a wheelchair van, make sure to consider whether you prefer a side entry or rear entry option. Ask the company you’re considering buying from if they have any available discounts. Last of all, make sure to test drive the wheelchair van to confirm it’s a good fit for you. The best wheelchair van companies will be happy to let you take one of their models for a spin.
There are two types of entry configurations: side-entry and rear-entry. The entry location impacts wheelchair seating positions, parking options, the ability to accommodate other passengers, and storage availability.
Advantages of a side-entry configuration include: ability to drive from a wheelchair or sit in the front passenger position in a wheelchair or driver position; enter and exit curbside away from traffic; and more storage space. Disadvantages of this style are that it requires a handicap parking space or extra room for ramp deployment and that some driveways are not wide enough to accommodate the vehicle. Side entry vehicles can accommodate 5 passengers at most.
A rear-entry configuration can be used for attended applications in which the wheelchair occupant is not driving the vehicle but rather riding as a passenger. Rear entry vehicles are simpler, much less costly, require virtually no extra maintenance. Ride and drive quality are very similar to an unconverted vehicle. They will fit into any garage. Other advantages of a rear-entry vehicle are that, with the exception of parallel parking, no extra room is required for a ramp, and the side passenger doors aren’t blocked. In addition, mid-passenger seats can be mounted next to the wheelchair position. Other advantages include more ground clearance and more room for long wheelchairs and/or leg rests. One manufacturer (FR Conversions) makes a 48″ wide RE ramp. The widest in the industry which can handle virtually any wheelchair.
Rear entry vehicles are often converted from good used vehicles into a “Used / New” configuration which is much more affordable and places a wheelchair accessible vehicle within reach of many in need who otherwise could not afford one. It is a great ‘starter” vehicle for consumers who are unsure of which configuration would work best and is a good entry point from a wheelchair carrier to one where transferring is no longer necessary.
Limitations of the rear-entry style are the requirement to enter and exit from a traffic area although no special parking space is required. The inability to drive from the wheelchair and/or have the wheelchair in the front passenger position and less storage space are disadvantages. Rear entry vehicles are available in two configurations. Long cut and short or taxi cut. The long cut handles two wheelchairs the short cut one.
Types of access
Ramp based modifications are most commonly performed on minivans. In order to provide access for the wheelchair user, the floor on side-entry vehicles is lowered 8–12 in (203–305 mm). In rear-entry configuration, the floor is not lowered but rather removed, and a composite or steel tub is inserted.
Ramps come in two styles—fold-up or in-floor—and two operating modes—manual or motorized. Fold-up ramps fold in half and stow upright next to the side passenger door in a side-entry configuration or inside the rear access doors in a rear-entry configuration. Fold-up ramps present a lower ramp angle than in-floor ramps; however, in side-entry configurations, they are in the way of the passenger entrance when stowed. In-floor ramps slide into a pocket underneath the vehicle's floor and are only available for side-entry configurations.
Folding ramps are available in manual or motorized versions for both entry configurations. Older style applications may also have a “kneeling feature” that reduces the angle of the ramp by compressing the suspension of the van on the ramp side, newer ones using complex geometry eliminate the need for kneeling to meet ADA standards although they may employ a retracting system as an option, that eliminates the stress of compressing the suspension.
Some other advantages of the fold-out ramp for the side entry vehicle are that an unaccompanied wheelchair driver can “Self-Rescue” in the event of a system failure and not become trapped in the vehicle; ramp deployment onto a sidewalk or over a curb is sometimes only possible with a fold-out ramp because it will deploy out and over the curb; in very snowy climates the ramp remains inside the vehicle, away from the weather. A secondary disadvantage of the side entry fold-out ramp is that they rattle inside the vehicle.
The primary advantages of the in-floor ramp configuration are that ambulatory passengers have access to the vehicle from the curb side of the vehicle; and the ramp is stowed under the floor. The possible disadvantages are that the ramp is not able to overcome or deploy onto higher curbs, snow and ice may be retained in the ramp”tray”; not all models are ADA compliant because of the ramp's side edge height; self-rescue may not be possible.
Minivans that are most frequently converted:
- Dodge Grand Caravan & Chrysler Town & Country new production of these will end on early 2020. The Dodge Grand Caravan was the most common converted vehicle because of cost and length of the production run, the success, of the chassis. They will continue to be converted in the “Used / New” space for years to come.
- Chrysler Pacifica, replacing the Town and Country and the more popularly priced Voyager (2020) are currently available and expected to replace the volume and position of the Grand Caravan in the wheelchair accessible conversion space.
- Toyota Sienna is the second most converted chassis. It is due for some major updates in subsequent model years but is expected to retain its position in the market with several conversion configurations.
- Honda Odyssey, a distant 3rd in market share in the market, is available from several converters in a side entry, in floor configuration and considered by some to be the most “upscale” of the chassis adapted for wheelchair use.
Full size vans require lifts in the form of a platform that can be raised and lowered from inside the vehicle down to the ground outside. They have a bigger platform and higher load capacity so they are suitable even for heavy electric wheelchairs with a heavy occupant (more than 600lbs in all).
If you’d like to drive a wheelchair conversion van, truck or car, you may need to see a Certified Driver for evaluation. Your consultation will result in a prescription that lists the precise equipment you will need and may result in driving lessons with the new equipment.
A new wheelchair van can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000. Wheelchair van prices can be broken down into the price of the van itself and the cost of additional modifications. The cost of a van can ranges from $20,000 all the way up to $70,000. The cost of handicap van modifications ranges from $15,000 to $30,000. This might seem like a lot, but these modifications require highly skilled, careful engineering.
Grants are available to help offset wheelchair van costs. Availability varies by state, as does the amount offered. Certain charitable organizations can also help, as can Veterans Affairs programs.
- Will Medicare pay for a wheelchair van? No
- Will Medicaid pay for a wheelchair van? It depends on the state. Most states do not. Nebraska does not.
- Is a wheelchair van tax deductible? Yes, the conversion portion of the wheelchair van
It’s important to purchase your wheelchair van from a long-time trusted business such as Kohll’s Rx. The company should be able to assist with financing and trade-ins. The company also shouldn’t be too pushy with you because it’s not as simple as purchasing a regular vehicle. The wheelchair must fit you and work with your disability. You and your family will continue or begin to have independence if you chose the right wheelchair van with the assistance of a reputable wheelchair van company such as Wheelchair Vans of Kohll’s!