Vicky Missen provides a helpful guide to buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle
Many families across the UK benefit from the freedom of mobility that a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) offers. Those who have witnessed the ease of use and independence that a WAV can provide would probably never consider going back to an unconverted vehicle. However, for some, the decision to buy their first WAV, and the process of choosing it, may be challenging.
With perhaps more choice today than ever before, those looking to take their first steps into the WAV marketplace may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to them. Knowing where to begin can be difficult, so what follows is a brief guide that will put you on the road to finding the perfect car for your family’s needs.
Not so long ago, the only option for the wheelchair user would have been to sit somewhere in the back of the car, often far behind the other passengers. Today’s WAVs offer a greater choice for the wheelchair user to travel more inclusively with the family. Many now offer the option to sit next to the rear passengers, whilst others give the wheelchair user an up-front passenger position.
Deciding where the wheelchair user would like to travel within the vehicle will help you to narrow down the most suitable choice. If, for example, you need quick access to the wheelchair user to provide care, being able to sit directly next to them is much more convenient than an isolated position at the rear of the car. Travelling centrally within the vehicle is also a much more enjoyable experience; it’s closer to the driver or other passengers and offers a better view out of the windows.
It is important to decide what your requirements are for the seating space. People, and wheelchairs, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. So in order to find a suitable vehicle, it’s best to measure the wheelchair user’s total seated height, width and front-to-back length, as the dimensions will help you further narrow down your selections.
Check these dimensions against each vehicle’s entry height, width and internal headroom, ensuring that there is plenty of space and headroom for the wheelchair user without being cramped. A low, flat and level floor tends to provide more comfort, enabling improved forward visibility with a lower centre of gravity for less body roll.
Ensuring adequate space for the wheelchair user is especially important for younger wheelchair users, where ensuring correct posture when seated can help to promote comfort and wellbeing. Occupational therapists strive to ensure wheelchairs provide healthy posture, and this should be considered when choosing a WAV; the provision of adequate headroom and a level floor can help to maintain this posture when travelling, reducing discomfort and fatigue.
Also consider any additional specialist equipment you may need to carry on a regular basis and make sure you have space to transport everything you require.
There are many ways to acquire a wheelchair accessible vehicle. For many, the Motability Contract Hire scheme offers an affordable option, with an advance payment and surrender of your Mobility Allowance being all that is required to lease a new WAV. The scheme also includes many of the associated costs of car ownership, including insurance, maintenance and servicing, for a five-year contract. If you are not sure whether you qualify for a Motability vehicle, visit the Motability website (see below) for information on eligibility and the WAVs covered by the scheme.
Some vehicles may not be available on Motability. You may also be looking for a longer-term investment, or be ineligible for the scheme, in which case there is a wide range of both new and pre-owned vehicles to choose from. Be sure to shop around for insurance – there are a few converted vehicle specialist providers – and look at what warranty provisions the vehicle is covered by.
However you choose to fund your WAV, think long-term; consider whether the vehicle will be suitable for your family’s needs for the next few years. If you are planning, for example, on changing to a new wheelchair, make sure the vehicle will be capable of transporting it.
Consider what type of vehicle will be suitable for the typical journeys you will carry out. Assess whether the vehicle will be easy to drive for all potential drivers. Any wheelchair accessible vehicle also needs to be easy to load and unload in your usual parking areas, whether at home, at the shops, or perhaps at school.
Check the availability of any extras you may need; you may, for example, want to include a powered winch system, so be sure to find out about the availability of fitment, and whether it is included or optional. Attention should also be paid to passenger safety; check that the restraints fit correctly and are easily operated, and ask if they have been tested for the safe transportation of your wheelchair.
Try before you buy
If you follow the guidelines above, you should be able to narrow your search down to a handful of vehicles that look suitable for your needs and budget. But before you make a final decision, be sure to try at least a couple of the options to see how they compare. Many vehicle convertors will bring a demonstration model to your home to try at no cost, and, although you may find many companies offering the same base vehicle, the quality and comfort that each conversion offers can vary.
When looking at the potential vehicles, consider all of the above points. Check that the wheelchair user is comfortable and has enough space. Try loading and unloading the wheelchair a few times, and check that the process is easy to carry out. Don’t feel rushed into making a decision; there is plenty of choice and lots to consider.
Many conversion companies can also offer bespoke adaptations, options and accessories that will make your WAV perfect for your requirements, so don’t be afraid to ask. No matter how unusual your requirements may be, there are experienced companies on hand that can, and have, fulfilled many unique requests for their customers.
Taking the decision to buy a converted vehicle is still a big step for many. But hopefully with these tips, you can make a start on the road to independence.
Vicky Missen is Sales Operations Manager at Brotherwood, which adapts and supplies wheelchair accessible vehicles:
For information on the Motability scheme and eligible vehicles, go to: