Living with a physical disability adds extra challenges to everyday life. And one of the biggest is transportation. How will you get from place to place, especially if you or someone you love uses a wheelchair or scooter?
If you already own a full-size van or a minivan, there’s a good chance that it can be converted to be wheelchair accessible. Ramps, lifts, transfer seats, and specialized driving equipment can be added so that the person using the wheelchair can drive or their caregiver can easily transport them. Here are some important things to keep in mind about wheelchair van conversions.
What kinds of vehicles can be converted?
Minivans like the Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, and Chrysler Pacifica can be converted. Full-size vans ─ including the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and RAM ProMaster ─ can also be made wheelchair accessible.
The first question is what year, make and model vehicle do you want to convert? There are some limitations on body styles, when manufacturers made changes to certain model years, and they can’t be converted.
Are there certain vehicles that can’t be converted?
If it’s an all-wheel or four-wheel drive, it can’t be converted. Another thing to keep in mind is mileage; there’s a mileage cap of 50,000. And, you have to consider if the vehicle has been in any accidents. A fender bender with $2,000 in damage is ok, but something with $9,000 in damage is probably not. We would have to inspect the vehicle carefully and check the VIN with the mobility conversion manufacturer. Be sure to consult your local mobility dealer about specific models and restrictions.
What types of equipment are installed so the person with a physical disability can use it?
If the person being transported uses a wheelchair, an accessible van is equipped with a power door, power or manual ramp, and power kneel feature that lowers the van for easy entry. They can sit in the front passenger side or in a mid-way position, and the chair is secured with tie-downs. Transfer seats can also be used to easily move a person from their wheelchair, or move someone using a walker, into the passenger seat.
Will the person using the wheelchair be able to drive the vehicle?
If the person using the wheelchair is the driver, they have the option of operating the vehicle from their wheelchair or the factory seat, using a custom transfer seat. If using the wheelchair, a power lockdown is fitted to locate the correct and most comfortable position. Driving equipment ─ like foot controls, hand controls, and electronic digital driving systems ─ are chosen and customized as needed, depending on their abilities.
The same van can be driven by either the person using a wheelchair or their caregivers. For instance, mechanical hand controls can be accessed by one person to operate the vehicle but the other can also drive it in the usual way.
How much will it cost?
The MSRP for a fully powered conversion is typically in the mid-$20,000 to $30,000. However, commercial conversions (vehicles used as accessible taxis) can be adapted for personal use more in the $14,000-$18,000 range.
As far as customization goes, it’s a broad spectrum. For instance, a simple spinner knob might run you $125, but a voice command and joy stick steering console can be $50,000-$60,000. That’s why it’s so important to talk to a mobility dealer.
Something else to keep in mind: You can finance the vehicle and conversion in one loan if you purchase the entire package. If not, you will have two loans, and the conversion loan will be at a higher rate because it is unsecured. Our mobility specialists will help you with all the details.
How long will it take?
It’s generally a two-month process to ship and convert a vehicle. The other option is to purchase a vehicle that has already been made ready for wheelchair use. In that case, buying from the Bussani Mobility inventory of new or pre-owned accessible vehicles, it could be a little as two weeks until you’re in the driver’s seat.
Can any auto shop do this for me?
No. We strongly recommend that you only go in person (not online) to an authorized mobility dealer that has certified technicians who are fully trained to work with mobility equipment. Your safety is the most important consideration.
Our best advice is for you to head over to your local mobility dealer. At Bussani Mobility, you can look at and test out the vehicles and the driving equipment, and get the honest advice of people who know this technology inside and out. We’re happy to put our 40-plus years of experience to work for you, to make sure you get just what you need to get you mobile and enjoy your independence.