Tips, Tricks & Trends

What You Should Know About Wheelchair Vehicle Conversions When Car Shopping

Not all automotive enthusiasts can get in and out of a vehicle as quickly as others. There are people who love the sense of freedom a car provides and have to use a wheelchair. That wheelchair may slow their entry and exit from a vehicle, but it does not change their love of cars, driving, and automotive culture. Thankfully, in these modern times, there are companies out there that convert vehicles for the driving enjoyment of those in wheelchairs too! Here are some things that buyers need to know when car shopping for a wheelchair ready vehicle.

Look for more than minivans when car shopping

Car Shopping: Wheelchair ready conversion of a Kia Soul
Wheelchair ready conversion of a Kia Soul by Freedom Motors USA | via Freedommotors.com

Often, when a person thinks of a wheelchair-prepared vehicle, they think of a bus, minivan, or full-size van with a ramp. However, that picture isn’t always accurate. Technology and manufacturing have come a long way. So, a wheelchair prepared vehicle is not always as visible as one might think.

Robert Armstrong, Marketing Manager for Freedom Motors USA, was kind enough to speak with me about wheelchair conversion vehicles for a bit. He mentioned that while minivans are popular, there are other types of vehicles out there that are suitable for conversion. For example, his company converts small and large vehicles alike. The Kia Soul is a popular choice, but so are the Honda HR-V, the Chevrolet Traverse, and Kia Telluride. 

Ramp locations vary

Chicago Carriage Cab taxi cab drivers William Bundy (L) and Rafiu Ayantoye use a ramp to load a wheelchair client
Chicago Carriage Cab taxi cab drivers William Bundy (L) and Rafiu Ayantoye use a ramp to load a wheelchair client | Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Besides the type of vehicle, another thing to consider while car shopping is the ramp location. Most ramp locations in conversions fall into three categories. They are a rear ramp vehicle, a side ramp vehicle, and a transfer seat. 

The rear and side ramp vehicles are pretty easy to understand. The wheelchair will enter the vehicle through the rear or side. A driver’s transfer seat, however, is a different execution of the mobility conversion picture. For this situation, a wheelchair user can comfortably transfer themselves between their wheelchair and an adjustable driver’s transfer seat. In this case, the vehicle’s driver’s seat moves back to meet the owner, who then transfers between the wheelchair and that seat. 

A quick internet search reveals yet another alternative exists, conversions with a lift. These conversions offer the wheelchair user and opportunity to position their wheelchair on a lift. These lifts then raise and swing the user into the driving position. 

Concerns to be aware of when car shopping

Mr. Armstrong also mentioned that a lot of people haven’t thought about the mobility industry. So, when they reach a place where they have to consider it, there can be a lot of information overload. So, it is important not just to consider informational research, but also to take the time to see a conversion in person. This will permit a potential buyer of a vehicle to make sure there is enough space to feel comfortable, including with headroom. Further, he mentioned that seeing a converted vehicle in person allows the purchaser to determine if an automatic ramp or a spring assisted manual ramp works better for their needs. If the prospective purchaser can not come to the store, at-home demonstrations are often possible.

Another concern is that some purchasers will require hand controls for the conversion. Hand controls can not be arbitrarily installed. A prescription for specific hand controls needs to be received. So, that is part of the documentation of the car shopping process.

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Finally, if a vehicle is not in stock, then a new conversion or the conversion of a customer supplied vehicle, may take some time to complete. So, it’s always wise to check with the salesperson about the timing of delivery. Depending on the vehicle’s availability, it could take over a month for a conversion to be built. 

Open road therapy 

Automotive enthusiasts come in all shapes, colors, backgrounds, and with all sorts of physical abilities. In many cases, a wheelchair conversion is all that is necessary to ensure the freedom that comes with driving continues for all our driving brothers and sisters. Fortunately, there are companies out there making that possible for more people. 

One thing is for sure, though, wheelchair conversion or not, the open road can be therapeutic. Also, enjoying the road doesn’t always have to happen from a cookie-cutter white full-size van. With the right vehicle choice, ramp location, and proper hand controls, car shopping for the right wheelchair conversion vehicle can lead to a refreshing or joyous experience.