Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Major Investment

As I mentioned earlier, my new wheelchair is too tall to fit in the back of my current minivan. Since I was already looking at replacing our van, I have been doing some research. One thing I learned right away is that there are dozens of considerations and options. In today's article, I will list the considerations and options that I am aware of so far. Understanding what my needs are (or will be) will help my mobility dealer(s) make recommendations and help me end up with the right vehicle.


  • How much can I afford or am willing to pay?
  • Will I finance the van or pay cash?
  • Will the dealer accept a trade-in?
  • How many people will you be transporting (4, 5, 7, or more)?
  • How much interior height room do I need (in the back, middle, or front driver/passenger area)?
  • Will I transfer from the chair to the driver or passenger seat?
  • Is there an emergency exit in case of an emergency (i.e., loss of power)?
  • How much driving do you plan on (annual mileage estimate will help decide whether a new or used van is needed)?
  • Will you need the van for anything special requiring more ground clearance or storage capacity?
  • Will you be driving or do you want to sit in the front (or are you comfortable sitting in the back or middle)?
  • Can you transfer to a regular car seat or do you have to remain in the wheelchair?
  • Will both you and your significant other be driving?
  • Do you feel comfortable ordering a van from a company out of the area without seeing or driving it?
  • Do the exterior color and style matter?
  • Would you accept any make and model, or do you have a preference?
  • Will the van be the primary family vehicle or a second car?
  • Financial Consideration: Do you want a new van or will a used one work?
  • Are there any rebates available?
  • Length of Ownership Consideration: How long do you plan to keep the van and what will your progression be during that period?
  • How much entry height do I need (door clearance)?
  • How much interior height do I need (52 to 56+ inches)?
  • Would I prefer a minivan or a full size van (driving preference)?
  • Do you want mechanical or are manual (straps) tie downs acceptable?
  • Do you need hand controls for braking and acceleration?
  • Is the price negotiable?

Van Options:

  • Full size or minivan
  • Ramp Vans
    • Rear entry
    • Side entry with ramp in floor, under floor, or fold down

  • Lift Vans
    • Rear lift with exterior storage
    • Rear lift with interior storage
    • Side lift with interior storage
  • Rear Hoist with interior storage
  • Lowered floor (10, 12, 13+ inches)
  • Higher door entrance (52 to 56+ inches)
  • Driver or passenger transfer seats (interior or exterior transfer)
  • Removable passenger or driver seat
  • Mechanical (i.e., EZ-Lock) tie down or manual (straps)
One company I contacted requires that if you plan to drive from a wheelchair that you need to go through a driver evaluation and assessment program at your own expense (offered through the same company). The company has a liability concern and wants to know your capabilities to drive and what options you will need to drive (i.e., hand controls). This is a business requirement and not a state or federal requirement. This means Medicare does not cover the expense.

As I learn more, I will be adding to my list of considerations and options. Considering this is a major investment (depending upon options, it could add another $24,000+ to the price of the vehicle), I need to do my homework ahead of time.

Can you think of anything else that needs to be added to this list?


  1. Bruce,

    I can see that you have really been doing your homework on this potential purchase. Most people do not go to these lengths when deciding on a vehicle ahead of time. For them, it is more about emotional things like are the seats "comfy", what kind of radio does it have, is it "Pretty", can I get it in Pink? (private joke) It is only later that others consider, or become aware of the things you mention, and often too late. Now they are stuck with a vehicle that does not meet their needs, or they cannot afford.

    You have come up with a great list of considerations before the purchase. It is a list that any person looking to buy a vehicle could use. It can be tailored to meet specific needs. Just cross off the items that do not apply. However, I can think of a few more that should be listed and considered now, that may impact the choice of vehicle and your satisfaction.

    Financing - Can you get financing? What is the interest rate? Should you finance through the dealer/company or go to your local bank or credit union?
    Insurance - What kind of insurance? How much will insurance be?
    Options - Are they "Nice to haves" or "Need to haves?" Examples are Sync® and OnStar®. What are they going to cost, short and long term?
    Service - What if I am on a trip and it breaks down? Can I get it serviced at any dealer, or only certain ones?
    Cost of ownership - How much is fuel and maintenance going to cost on an annual basis?
    If it has a raised roof, will it fit in my garage, or will it have to be parked outside? Will the garage have to be modified, can it be modified or can I build a Carport?
    Will the City/County allow the change? - Building Code.

    I'm sure I could think of a few more, but you may already be over-whelmed. One thing is for sure; the more you know before the purchase, the better your purchase and ownership experience will be.

  2. Stan, great additions. Thanks for reading my blog and adding to its content.

  3. A little late to the picnic, but...

    I bought a 8 year old Dodge Caravan with a fold out lift. I install an Easy-Lock lockdown device in the driver's position - transfers are just not possible at this point for me. It is possible to move the passenger side seat over for ABs (able bodied persons) so mechanics and such can drive the car.

    First edition was Sure-Grip hand controls I can't recommend these controls highly enough! Looking at more popular controls I don't see how I could have used them.

    Later I added low effort steering and then low effort brakes. Each edition is $1,000-$1,500.

    I recommend folks visit there local DME provider that does local installs of equipment and provide repair support. Introduce yourself and have them contact you when a suitable van appears. There is turnover in this market so used vans come along on a regular basis.

    The mini-van size is OK for me. You could carry four other persons - three adults easily.

    The Dodge isn't that tall so I needed a powerchair that had a low seat height - I bought a used Permobile C300 - I do love the chair for the reasons Bruce mentions in other posts. There was a GM series van that is taller and should work with most easy-lock capable chairs. Full sized vans didn't look like a good option for me. GM doesn't make the van (Safari?) any longer but you might see a used one out there.

    I recommend the fold-out ramp. For one if the power, cabling, etc fails you can just manually lower the ramp by pushing it down. With minor assistance you can get it stowed and head of for repairs (has only happen once for me when a cable snapped - I saw the wear but stupidly didn't do the preventive work.) In floor ramps can be deployed manually but it takes someone with some strength and mechanical confidence. The drop down ramp is straight forward although there is a very dangerous pinching hazard that could remove a finger of someone outside the car lowering the ramp - you'll know where it is when you see it.

    The purchase price (sans the hand controls and easy-lock) was $22K and I financed 80% at my credit union. They sold me disability insurance probably as a hedge for them, which added to the expense ~$400/month.

    I dismissed the "buy new" option which would have been at least 2x in price. I only drive around town and to work (only a 2mi round trip) so I'm not putting many miles on the van.

    If you are a veteran with any service connected disability there are some great buy new programs.

    Since the van has allowed me to keep working it has been a very good investment. It also allows me to get out an about w/o any need for help from others.

    With the easy effort additions (there are very effort options too for 2x the price) I'm hoping I will have a few more years of independence. Once I can't drive I'll move the easy-lock over to the passenger side so I will still be able to get around with a care-giver as driver.

  4. Bob, thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts and suggestions. Great advice! I am still using the Joey and the old chair right now for trips, but continue to look for a good deal.

    Thanks again.


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