The conversions that can be made to cars are as diverse as the people who drive them and as technologies improve, many more people are finding the freedom of the open road is becoming a possibility. Here are a few points to keep in mind to make the process easier.
What is a WAV?
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) are cars that have been converted to carry passengers travelling in their wheelchair or for people who wish to drive from a wheelchair. Based on standard models, WAVs include features such as a built-in ramp, or lifts on larger vehicles, wheelchair tie-downs and seat belts for wheelchair users to aid entrance into the WAV and help to keep passengers secure.
Driver or passenger?
There are two types of WAVs: a passenger WAV, which allows one or more passengers to be seated in their wheelchair whilst travelling, or a WAV that a wheelchair user can drive. If you would like to drive from your wheelchair, you will need to have the WAV fitted with custom controls and other features to enable you to drive independently. You may also need to make sure that your access point is carefully designed and does not require help from a companion should you wish to drive on your own.
To enable the wheelchair user to have access and space to remain in their wheelchair, WAVs will either have a high roof or a lowered floor, depending on the model you choose and the converter that carries out the conversion. Both methods of conversion have benefits and drawbacks that should be considered carefully.
Tips on buying a WAV
- Find a dealer
- Select a reputable dealer by reputation, recommendation or research.
Try to ask sensible questions that will enable you to base your decisions on facts. Don’t be afraid to ask whatever you like and only stop when all of your concerns have been properly addressed.
Do not let emotion drive you. Be impartial and see the car for what it is and not what you may have fallen in love with. Don’t be pressured by the salesperson or be embarrassed to talk about money or special offers and discounts etc.
If you know you’re preparing to make any major purchase, start asking around friends and family for their tips, advice and recommendations or use brochures or the internet beforehand to help determine exactly what you want and whether it’s within your budget. You should start to construct a list of features that matter to you and if compromises might be acceptable if your budget doesn’t stretch far enough to incorporate them all.
Know when the time has come to make a decision. That decision could be to walk away, or it could be to close the deal. You should constantly monitor how you feel about the offer being made to you. If it all feels right, then stay with it and see it through. But if you get even just a tiny twinge that something is not quite right, be prepared to walk away. (You can always come back tomorrow.)
Buying a car is not always easy but with sensible and careful planning, and an awareness of the points above, you can buy exactly the right car for you at the right price.
What should I look out for?
Consider the following when making your choice of vehicle:
There are two types of entry configurations: side-entry and rear-entry. The entry location impacts wheelchair position, 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 preserve rear storage space. Disadvantages of this style are that it requires a disabled parking space or extra room for ramp deployment and that some driveways are not wide enough to accommodate the vehicle.
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. One advantage of a rear-entry vehicle is that, with the exception of parallel parking, no extra room is required for a ramp and the side passenger doors aren’t blocked if a folding-style ramp is installed. 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. Limitations of the rear-entry style are the requirement to enter and exit from a traffic area, the inability to drive from the wheelchair and/or have the wheelchair in the front passenger position, and less storage space.
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 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. There is some crossover with some fold up ramps being ‘motorized’. Portable ramps are still available for use with many vehicles.
Fold up (or In-Floor) Ramps
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.)
Manual ramps cost less both to purchase and to maintain, but power wheelchair ramps are the most popular because of their ease and convenience. Power 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.
Full size vans can be fitted with lifts in the form of a platform that can be raised and lowered from a control inside the vehicle down to the ground outside. There are several other types of lifts available on the market: Mono-arm lifts, double-arm lifts and underbody lifts. Double-arm and underbody lifts are best for bigger vehicles such as minibuses. They have a bigger platform and higher load capacity so they are suitable even for heavy electric wheelchairs with a heavy occupant (more than 300 kg in all). A mono-arm lift is preferable for private transport because it can fit into smaller vehicles. A mono-arm lift is lighter and smaller than the other ones and it ensures a clear rear view when it’s installed in the back of the car. Moreover mono-arm lifts are preferable for the side-door installation because they are thinner than a double-arm.
Other Types Crane type lifts are combined with seats that turn and lower to the ground as a means of providing wheelchair access to some types of vehicles. Some companies offer the option of a “transfer seat”, in which the front driver’s or passenger’s seat moves on a track back to the wheelchair’s position allowing the wheelchair user to transfer into the front seat and then move the seat back into its original position. The conversion is very simple and does not carry the complicated engineering and electronics typically found in a side-entry conversion. As a result, they are very well suited for commercial and heavy-cycle applications (i.e.-taxi, non-emergency ambulance, assisted living, and dial-a-ride).
Make the salesperson earns their money! They have huge experience and should help to guide you through the different ideas and innovations on offer.
What questions do I need to ask?
- Am I comfortable enough getting in and out of the vehicle?
- Does the vehicle (and conversion) include all of the features you’d like? (Remember, you might have to live with it for years.)
- Does the vehicle have enough room for my needs? (Does all of your usual kit fit in or does it feel cramped or claustrophobic?)
- Will all the people I usually travel with fit into the vehicle?
- Are all the seating positions to my liking? (Are the seat configurations flexible for
- different circumstances?)
- Is there ample room for luggage?
- Will this vehicle fit in my normal parking space/garage?
Motability and WAVs
WAVs are available from Motability on a five-year lease agreement with a mileage allowance of 100,000 miles. Three-year lease prices can be calculated on request – simply call their Customer Services team on: 0845 456 4566 or visit: www.motability.co.uk