How to identify and source the ideal accessible vehicle for your needs
Buying an accessible vehicle for a school, local authority or any organisation can be a daunting and stressful process. But if you put in the groundwork at the outset, you should find that everything, including your vehicle, runs a lot more smoothly.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the type of vehicle that will be right for you, so it’s essential you do your research before talking to potential suppliers. You may well be overwhelmed by the range of options online so try to work out your ideal specification first. What are the key things you require from the vehicle? How will you use it and what features are essential to you? If you know before you start searching that you need, for example, a 16-seater accessible minibus with a long wheel-base and an underfloor tail lift, that’s up to six years old with a mileage of no more than 80,000, you will save a lot of time. Then you can enter these details into accessible vehicle supplier websites or discuss them with selected suppliers.
Sales people often find that potential buyers have unrealistic expectations of the kind of accessible vehicle they can afford. For example, if you’re seeking a brand new 16-seater wheelchair accessible minibus but you only have £25,000 to spend, you are going to be way off the mark. So don’t waste everyone’s time; be pragmatic about the sort of vehicle you can acquire with the budget you have to work with. Be prepared to settle for an older model with a higher mileage if it means finding a vehicle that meets your specification.
Let your passengers have their say
The needs of your passengers should be at the forefront of your decision making, so let them have their input into the process. For special schools in particular, it is a good idea to consult pupils and their families about what features they would like and what they feel they may need from your next accessible vehicle. Would they prefer a wheelchair tail lift or a ramp to access the vehicle? Is side-step access essential to help passengers with limited mobility board the vehicle easily?
Putting together a survey can be an excellent way of gaining insightful information from users. You can encourage them to list, and perhaps rank, the specification items that are important to them, such as climate control, parking sensors, layout and type of access.
New or used?
A new vehicle becomes second-hand the moment you drive it off the forecourt. Its value drops instantly and will only depreciate year on year. As a result, the used option is a popular choice for organisations looking to save money whilst still acquiring an accessible vehicle that should serve them well for a long time.
Used accessible vehicles may have wear and tear issues, and will have mileage on the clock, but there are huge savings to be made by buying used rather than brand new. You could grab a “virtually new” accessible minibus, perhaps just too or three years old, in excellent condition and with low mileage, or pay thousands more for a new model.
There are, though, many benefits to buying a new accessible vehicle, as long as you have the required budget. If you want the best and have sizeable funds to work with, buying brand new is an option you should definitely explore. New vehicles offer you the latest technology and features, and zero wear and tear, so you can be safe in the knowledge that the vehicle has not been poorly looked after or suffered any hidden damage. You will not encounter any unforeseen technical problems or in the unlikely event that you do find faults with your new vehicle, the manufacturers warranty will cover any issues you identify.
Accessibility, layout and seating
Safety is key when assessing the accessible vehicle you are buying. Is the specialist wheelchair equipment up to standard for your wheelchair passengers? Is there enough space on-board for the number of disabled passengers you are transporting? These are vital factors you must consider. Evaluate the type of accessible equipment you want; choose from an underfloor or on-board tail lift, or even a wheelchair ramp. Tail lifts are electronically operated via a remote control and are easy to use, while a ramp requires somebody to manually set it up and assist wheelchair users in boarding.
Most accessible vehicles will have accessible seating in place. These are retractable as they will be on a tracked flooring system, which allows seats to be removed to allocate wheelchair space. If you are transporting seated and wheelchair passengers in one accessible vehicle, ensure the capacity caters for both once seats have been removed.
It is a good idea to bear in mind that your requirements may change, even in the near future. You may need to transport a greater number of pupils, or young people who require different facilities or types of support to use the vehicle. Therefore, purchasing a 22-seater accessible vehicle, as opposed to a 17-seater, could be worthwhile, if it helps you future-proof against changing needs. This might save you from having to go through the whole process of buying another accessible vehicle again soon.
Try before you buy
Surprisingly, some buyers are happy to purchase an accessible vehicle over the phone, without having viewed it in person. However, as easy as it is to call up and place a deposit or make a payment over the phone, you don’t really know what you are buying unless you have seen it for yourself.
If when browsing online you find a vehicle that ticks all your boxes, try to visit the seller in person or send a trusted, and perhaps more knowledgeable, colleague to view it. Don’t settle for photos and a description of “good condition”. You should see what you are buying and test drive it before you even consider placing a deposit.
It is also worth meeting the seller to view vehicle documents before parting with any cash. Double checking the service and breakdown history could save you a lot of unnecessary aggravation down the line. Another advantage of viewing the vehicle is that you are likely to negotiate a better deal in person than you are by phone or email. Buying an accessible vehicle can be costly and time consuming, so do it properly so you know exactly what you are buying, and that it meets your needs and those of your passengers.
Liam O’Connor is Social Media and Marketing Specialist at the accessible vehicle supplier Access A Bus Sales UK: