A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) is unlikely to be like any car you’ve ever purchased before. With this in mind, Able Magazine invited James Pitt-Kerby of renowned WAV converter, Brotherwood, to give us his favourite tips.
Many people benefit from the freedom of mobility that a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) provides. 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 Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle may be a difficult one.
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 amount of options available to them. Knowing where to begin can be difficult, so the following is a brief guide that will put you on the road to finding the perfect car for your needs.
Long ago, the only option for wheelchair users 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 family and friends. Many now offer the option to sit next to the rear passengers, whilst others give the wheelchair user an up-front passenger position. Some WAVs even enable you to ‘drive-from’ your wheelchair, with a variety of hand controls and other bespoke adaptations available. Deciding where the wheelchair user would like to travel within the vehicle will help you move towards the most suitable choice.
Once you’ve decided where you would prefer to sit, you’ll be able to put together a shortlist of vehicles that might be suitable. It’s also important to find out what your requirements are for the seating space. People – and wheelchairs – come in a variety of shapes and sizes! 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 to concentrate your choices. 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.
By now your vehicle shortlist should be a bit shorter! Of the remaining vehicles, consider whether they will be suitable for the typical journeys you will carry out. Is the vehicle easy to drive? Can you load and unload easily in your regular parking spaces, at home or at the shops? And, does the vehicle have enough seats for your requirements? Also check the availability of any extras you may need – do the restraints fit correctly and with ease of operation, and have they been tested for the safe transportation of your wheelchair? You may also want to include a powered winch system, so be sure to check availability of fitment, and whether it is included or optional.
With a vehicle or two in mind, you have a few choices when it comes to purchasing. For many the Motability scheme offers an affordable option, with an advance payment, and surrender of your Mobility Allowance being all that is required to acquire a new WAV. Motability also includes many of the associated costs of car ownership, including insurance, maintenance and servicing, amongst others. However, the vehicle must be returned after five years. If you are looking for a longer-term investment, don’t qualify for Motability or would simply prefer to buy the car outright, shop around for insurance (there are a few specialist providers that deal with conversions) and look at what warranty provision the vehicle is covered by. Buying outright may not be as expensive as you think, so consider the converted vehicle’s potential residual value if you can to get a true reflection of its life cost.
As an example, the new Brotherwood Ford Tourneo Connect and VW Caddy GoodLife and MoreLife models are now protected by an industry-leading five year conversion warranty. Not only does this five year warranty provide you with peace-of-mind motoring, it also enables you to effectively measure the overall running costs of the vehicle should you decide to purchase it. The Brotherwood five year warranty can also be transferred onto the next owner should you choose to sell it within five years, maintaining higher residual values than normal and making the warranty a desirable asset for second-hand buyers.
And most importantly – try before you buy!
By now you have hopefully narrowed the decision 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 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.
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, overcome 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.