Buying an accessible van

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on December 28, 2017 # Assistive Technology, Mobility

One of the biggest decisions a person with a spinal cord injury will have to make is the type of vehicle they need after injury. There are several considerations one should take into account when choosing a vehicle after spinal cord injury. Are you going to be able to drive or are you always going to be a passenger? When I first was hurt I knew that I wanted to drive but I wasn’t quite strong enough at the time I was purchasing my first accessible vehicle. I had to make sure that the minivan I bought would have the capability of converting from me being a passenger to driver.

Another important factor in purchasing a vehicle is wheelchair size and how you sit in your wheelchair, as not all minivans are the same size. If you have an extremely large power chair and sit tall in your chair, you need to make sure that you have enough headroom. For instance, the Toyota minivans have more headroom then the Dodge and Honda minivans. Manufacturers are also different as they don’t always have the same specifications. If you’re really worried about headroom, you can always get a full-size van with a raised roof and lowered floor that has so much room that a smaller person can stand fully upright. Don’t forget it’s not always all about you, consider the other people in your family. If you have more than five people in your immediate family that will be in the vehicle, a minivan might not be the best option. Minivans only have one backseat and two front seats so you can only fit five people at the most. Full-size vans have the capability of holding up to eight people.

There might be several of you that are saying to yourself I never want to have the minivan. Especially if you’re a single guy, the last thing you want is the soccer mom stigma of driving a minivan. I felt that way since my injury in 1990. In 2015, I was finally able to get a truck with a new conversion. However here’s my warning: be careful of new conversions. I had my truck a total of three months before the conversion company that made my truck went out of business. This made it extremely hard to get parts when my conversion actuators broke, which happened quite frequently. I’m happy to say as of last month I’m back to a reliable minivan. Go with a manufacturer that has been in business for several years. You might not like a minivan but the one thing you can count on is you’ll have less issues with a minivan. Manufacturers have been converting minivans for over 30 years, which means they’re reliable and they’ve ironed out all the kinks. New vehicles with new manufacturers just don’t seem to have the reliability and, when you are in a wheelchair, you can’t just get a loaner vehicle when something goes wrong like everybody else.

Now let’s get to the biggest concern for most people: the cost of an adapted vehicle. Unfortunately, an adaptive vehicle such as a minivan or full-size van usually costs a good $20,000 more than a regular vehicle. That’s because the average cost of a lowered floor conversion is anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000. Occasionally, you can find help for conversion cost. Most states have state run vocational rehabilitation programs. If you are working or trying to go back to work, they can sometimes provide financial assistance for the conversion aspects of the vehicle. You will still have to buy the vehicle chassis; they only help with the handicap conversion. If the state can’t help you, the other option that might be able to provide some relief is most mobility companies work with financing departments that provide 10 year loans. They do this because they know most handicap vehicles are meant to last longer than regular vehicles. There’s a good chance you’ll keep your converted vehicle for at least 10 years.

Buying a vehicle is a big decision for anybody; buying a vehicle when you are in a wheelchair is an even bigger decision. You can’t just go to a dealership and pick out any car like the average person. I urge you to truly investigate everything before making a final decision.

One last warning: it’s very risky to buy a converted vehicle over the internet without physically making sure the vehicle will work for you and your family. Remember, if you have any questions about what kind of vehicle you should buy or if you just want to talk with somebody about living with a disability, you can always reach out to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Peer & Family Support Program to talk with an experienced mentor.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.