Buying And Renting Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
Your Guide To Choosing The Right Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, and 72% of these are over the age of 60. As our parents get older and find getting in and out of a car more difficult, wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) can open up accessible travel and offer peace of mind for them and your family. But finding the right WAV can be a minefield.
In this article, we’ve teamed up with Linda Ling MBE from WAV specialist Fleximobility to provide you with an in-depth guide to buying and renting wheelchair accessible vehicles.
The journey to getting a WAV can be complex and emotional, for both the wheelchair user and their family or carer. Sometimes the person in the wheelchair sees themself as a burden to take out as a passenger, whilst the family wants to try and make the situation better.
Often, the decision to get a WAV comes just after a crisis situation – such as the carer having dropped the wheelchair user between the usual car and the curb.
This is why it’s so important to get the right support as you choose the best WAV for you.
Fleximobility pride themselves on impartial advice. As an accessible motor company with over 30 years’ considerable experience in transporting passengers in wheelchairs, they put the needs of the wheelchair user first.
They are not a conversion company or linked to any one manufacturer, so are well-placed to give unbiased advice. They also support solicitors and case managers working on legal cases. And they also offer a choice of how to get the vehicle – buy, lease or hire.
As the experts in this field, we fired off all our WAV questions to them!
- Buying And Renting Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
- Your Guide To Choosing The Right Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
- What Is A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
- What Are The Benefits Of A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
- Considering A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
- What Are The Different Types Of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles?
- Small Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
- Medium Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
- Large Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
- MPV WAVs
- Up-Front Vehicles
- Drive From Wheelchair Vehicles (DFW)
- How Is A Vehicle Converted To A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
- Top Tips For Buying Or Renting A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
- Beware Of Buying A Wheelchair Accessibe Vehicle Online
- How To Buy, Rent Or Lease A WAV
- Safety During Covid-19
- How Do I Insure A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
- Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Service And Repairs
- Why Would You Choose A WAV Over A Wheelchair Friendly Taxi?
What Is A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
A WAV is a wheelchair accessible vehicle conversion carried out to a standard production car, to offer enough space inside to allow a wheelchair user to travel in their own manual or powered wheelchair as their seat in the car. The conversion usually involves a reconstruction of the car to lower the floor and fit a wheelchair ramp for easy access and enough strengthening to support a wheelchair securing system.
Most popular WAVs have rear access and the wheelchair user sits amongst other rear seat passengers. Depending on the width of the wheelchair and the height of the passenger, it is possible in some adapted models to sit in the front passenger position, although this is a more extensive conversion and therefore more expensive.
What Are The Benefits Of A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
From function to freedom, there are so many benefits to choosing a WAV.
WAVs are safer for both the carer to transfer (less strain on their back), and for the wheelchair user from transfer (less risk of them being dropped) through to travel. This gives peace of mind to the family, and also offers a more dignified and less painful journey for the person in the wheelchair travelling in their wheelchair.
What’s more, as we slowly emerge from lockdown people are keen to see friends and family and attend essential appointments. Early signs are that people who have been shielding will prefer to keep to their own ‘bubble’ as much as possible as they cautiously start to engage with the outside world again. There is pent-up demand and a desire to be in control of the travelling environment rather than trusting taxis, community vehicles or ambulances.
Access to a WAV allows people to continue life as normal, whether that’s a trip to the shops, an easy way to get to an appointment or a chance to explore somewhere new. When you’re in a wheelchair, it can be too easy to allow the world to get smaller and smaller and a WAV offers freedom again.
The transfer process into the car or van is smoother and takes less time. And any time saved is always a good thing, especially in poor weather!
Considering A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
There are around 10,000 – 11,000 WAVs built each year. These go into the market as Motability lease cars (75% of the market), private sales (many of which are second hand), wheelchair accessible taxis and vehicles built for public sector and charities.
Although Motability accounts for the bulk of this market, the limitation of the Motability scheme is that you cannot join if you are 64 years of age or older. And since a lot of mobility issues and conditions begin in later life, this means that many people are left to fund their own vehicle without any help. If this sounds familiar, then read on to find out about your WAV options and different ways to pay.
What Are The Different Types Of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles?
Just as with normal cars, there are small, medium and large WAVs to choose from. But researching and finding the correct WAV for the wheelchair user and their chair is far more complicated than choosing an ordinary car as all WAVs are different (yes, even two WAVs made from the same car model won’t be the same).
This guide is a good place to start to understand your options for the different types of WAVs.
Small Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
Small WAVs are based on models like Fiat Doblo, Peugeot Partner (now known as Rifter), Citroen Berlingo and the older Renault Kangoo.
They are ideal for use as a single wheelchair passenger vehicle and normally comprise a driver, front passenger and one or two rear seats depending on the width of the wheelchair.
Of these models, the Fiat Doblo has the largest available space for a wheelchair user in a manual or power-chair, and the optimum seating height.
Some Peugeot Partners and Citroen Berlingos come as a 5-seater option. These should be avoided for daily wheelchair use as space is limited. They were designed with taxi use in mind and the rear seating is folded up to make the wheelchair position and therefore only suitable for occasional wheelchair use.
Medium Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
Medium WAVs can be based on VW Caddy, the older Peugeot Expert, Ford Connect and Ford Custom, Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic and VW Transporter or Caravelle.
Although larger on the outside they don’t always afford more space inside for the wheelchair user. The squarer, van-based vehicles can often have additional rear seats fitted, however, so they can accommodate more ambulant passengers. They may also offer a double front passenger seat for additional occupancy.
Some of these vehicles have a rear tail-lift fitted and do not have a lowered floor. In these models care should be taken to ensure there is enough headroom for the wheelchair user and also the carer whilst fitting the wheelchair securing system and passenger seat belt.
Large Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles
Large WAV models are based on minibus-size vehicles and include Renault Master, Peugeot Boxer, Fiat Ducato and Mercedes Sprinter. These usually have lots of space for a versatile seating layout and include other movable seats which are fixed into tested tracking. Access is via a rear tail-lift.
They usually come in 3 roof heights. The lowest is often not suitable for carers moving around inside the vehicle to assist the wheelchair users, and the semi-high or H2 roof is the best option. It should be noted that some of these vehicles are too high to access multi-storey and some gated outdoor car parks.
Some large conversion offer a double-reel belt for the wheelchair user. These should be avoided in favour of a vehicle which offers an upper mounting point for their seatbelts and the wheelchair tie-down systems can be fitted easily in good positions in the vehicle. This is usually a strengthened rail with a choice of pick-up points and is part of the conversion. It cannot be fitted afterwards
Once the optimum wheelchair positions are defined, depending on the size of the chairs this will determine how many other seats it is possible to fit in around them.
Depending on the width of the wheelchair and the height of the passenger, it is possible in some models to sit in the front passenger position, although this is a more extensive conversion and therefore more expensive.
There are also still a few of the MPV-style WAVs available like VW Sharan, Ford Galaxy and Kia Sedona. It should be noted that Kia Sedona has not been available for a few years, but we have heard of unaccredited conversions being carried out on used models.
Fewer main manufacturers are now offering MPVs, which is a shame for the WAV industry as some of them were really suitable for conversion. There are still a few MPV-style WAVs available like VW Sharan and Ford Galaxy and these are great if you have a bit more money to spend on the car itself. Just make sure there is really enough space for the wheelchair user and note that often the rear-most seats are sacrificed to the rear access required. It should be noted that Kia Sedona, which was a great MPV WAV, has not been available for a few years, but we have heard of unaccredited conversions being carried out on used models. Always ask who the converter was and check to see if they are a member of the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters’ Association, WAVCA.
Depending on the width of the wheelchair and the height of the passenger, it is possible in some models to sit in the front passenger position, although this is a more extensive conversion and therefore much more expensive.
Only buy these new from a really specialist converter, and be aware if buying used that the positioning made have been set up for the last owner and it may be necessary to go back to the original converter to be re-configured.
Drive From Wheelchair Vehicles (DFW)
It is also possible for some people to access the driving position and drive from certain wheelchairs. This type of conversion is highly customised for the driving controls as well as the access solution.
Again, only buy these new from a really specialist converter, and be aware if buying used that the positioning and controls will have been customised and set up for the last owner. It may be necessary to go back to the original converter to be re-configured and tailored to your needs.
How Is A Vehicle Converted To A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
Converting a vehicle to a disabled access vehicle is a rigorous and fascinating process. All wheelchair accessible vehicles start life coming off the production line as standard cars.
They then go to a specialist WAV converter for the conversion. The converter will have spent many months designing and testing their own version of a WAV based on a particular ‘base vehicle’ (such as Fiat Doblo, Peugeot Rifter etc). The adapted vehicle will hopefully be built to set standards, although it should be noted that anyone can still set up as a vehicle converter with no barrier to entry. The main standard in the UK combines Vehicle Approval from Department for Transport with PAS2012 Accreditation which is run by the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters Association (WAVCA), the UK industry association. For more information see www.wavca.co.uk.
You will see why standards are so important when you realise that the conversion includes:
- Cutting through the original structure and removing large sections of floor area
- Reconstructing the structural rigidity
- Moving or replacing the exhaust, brake lines and fuel tank
- Fitting tested mounting points for the wheelchair security system
- Fitting new tested seats in the rear for other passengers and ramp or tail-lift access
This video shows just how complex a process it is to make a WAV:
Top Tips For Buying Or Renting A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
A WAV is an investment designed to make life easier, but it’s all too easy to make a wrong decision. Follow these tips for choosing a WAV to make sure you make the right one!
1. WAVs should never be chosen unseen – new or used.
As each WAV is unique, it’s so important that you see and try each WAV that you consider. If it’s for your older loved one, make sure that they are part of the WAV buying journey. It’s an emotional decision as well as functional, and getting them on board is vital.
It’s also really important that the driver / carer understands what their role will be in securing the wheelchair and ensuring the comfort and safety of the wheelchair user. But their own needs and health should not be forgotten either when looking how easy it is for them to carry out all the operations required.
2. When you go to view a WAV, the mobility car advisor should be the one asking the bulk of the questions!
For them to make the right recommendation, they need to get an understanding of the wheelchair user, their chair and how you all wish to travel and use the vehicle. They should be matching your needs and requirements to what they have to offer. Saying that though, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you want – there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
3. Put practical aspects of the WAV first.
There’s no point in having a flash new WAV capable of 0-60 if the access point isn’t wide enough for your wheelchair or if your head is touching the roof or you can’t see out of the windows! (And yes, these are problems that people realise when they buy their WAV online without testing it first).
4. Tell your mobility car advisor if you have other wheelchairs you might use, or are thinking of changing your chair soon.
Otherwise you might find your new wheelchair won’t fit. Also think about who else will want to travel with you and if you need to take any other luggage or equipment with you. Your WAV will need to accommodate all of this. Fleximobility believe that what you are really buying or leasing is ‘a space on wheels’.
5. Now, think about what you want your ‘space’ to be wrapped in.
Do you favour a certain manufacturer? How important is engine performance? Do you want manual or automatic transmission? What colours do you like? And very important, what is your budget and what is the best transaction method for you? It may well be that buying a new WAV is not cost-effective (but don’t worry, there are lots of good used WAVs available).
6. Only choose a second-hand WAV from a specialist used WAV supplier.
Buyer beware. Many car dealers are trying to sell WAVs these days, and they have very little knowledge of exactly what they are selling. They don’t know who the converter was or what standard equipment should be ‘on-board’. They can’t tell you or show you how to use it properly or safely.
You must be given information on who the original converter was as you may need to buy specialist conversion parts from them in the future to keep the vehicle running.
Beware Of Buying A Wheelchair Accessibe Vehicle Online
Try before you buy is the rule here. Each WAV is different (even if the brand of car is the same) so don’t just buy a WAV online.
This is because each WAV converter’s models are different to each other. What this means is that if you have seen and tried a Peugeot Partner from converter A, you cannot assume that a Peugeot Partner from converter B has the same access dimensions, ramp angle, interior floor angle and space. They are ALL different.
This is why it is so easy to make a big, costly and disappointing mistake.
How To Buy, Rent Or Lease A WAV
Fleximobility wants you to get “the WAV you need for as long as you need it”. They know that we can’t always tell how long we are going to want to use a WAV for, and are infinitely flexible when it comes to short to medium leases with good notice periods, or used WAV sales with buy-back guarantee, hire to lease, lease to purchase, trading-in and part-exchange.
Finding The Best WAV For You
|Flexi Buy (new car)||After an initial in-depth conversation to determine your needs, Fleximobility will visit you at home for a full assessment and free demonstration. They will specify the best model for you and liaise with the WAV manufacturer to ensure everything runs smoothly. They can also work with lawyers and case management companies to write reports if needed|
|FlexiBuy (used car)||After the same needs-based assessment above, Fleximobility will suggest the best model for you. If they don’t have it in stock, they will source the right WAV for you|
|FlexiHire||Based on availability, you will be offered the most suitable WAV for your needs. Short term hire rates (one month and under) will include insurance. Any longer and it is usually more economical to upgrade to a short flexible lease and put on your own insurance. All their vehicles are covered by a breakdown recovery service|
|FlexiLease||This is great if you’re not sure how long you want to hire or lease a WAV for. It’s a monthly extendable lease with maintenance. Minimum term is 3 months with a week’s notice to terminate|
Essentially – just tell them what you need, and they will try to do it! They also guarantee to buy back your WAV at an agreed price.
Safety During Covid-19
Fleximobility is currently offering ‘no-contact demonstrations’ and unaccompanied test-drives. All Fleximobility drivers have PPE and sanitizing equipment for the cars and all transactions can be paperless.
The organisations that Fleximobility supplies are also considering more and different vehicles to cope with new ways of travelling with more social distancing. The company always has stock and is well-placed to add or swap vehicle models as the situation demands.
How Do I Insure A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?
Unfortunately, insuring a WAV or DFW isn’t as straight-forward as a normal car due to making sure the conversion is fully covered. You need to use an insurance company that understands the WAV market – we recommend looking at FISH Insurance.
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Service And Repairs
WAVs can be serviced by any main dealer for cars still under manufacturer’s warranty or any MOT & service agent after that.
Care should also be taken of the conversion – with the wheelchair user seat belt and the securing system being checked regularly for any signs of tears or fraying. Speak to Fleximobility about replacement parts. The ramp may need a bit of WD40 occasionally. If the vehicle has a modified exhaust you will need to advise the exhaust centre as they may need to order special parts from the original WAV manufacturer.
If the vehicle has a lift this should be serviced once a year by the manufacturer. If the vehicle is a being used by an organization this will need a service and LOLER test every year. Call Fleximobility for advice on this.
The driver remains responsible for ensuring the vehicle is roadworthy at all times, checking tyres for wear or perishing, functionality of lights, and checking water and coolant levels and wash / wipe reservoirs.
Why Would You Choose A WAV Over A Wheelchair Friendly Taxi?
The term ‘wheelchair-friendly taxi’ can be a bit of an oxymoron. There are so many different types of wheelchairs, and taxis.
London-type taxis are accessible from the side, but access headroom can be limited. Ramps are available but not often used due to the time it takes to get them out of the boot and fit them.
Wheelchair users report just being tipped up into the vehicle and even being expected to travel sideways without the wheelchair being locked down. The wheelchair user should travel backwards against the bulkhead with the wheelchair tie-down system used and a wheelchair passenger seat belt. Other side access taxis are based on vehicles like the Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Custom.
Rear-entry taxis range from Peugeot Partner and Rifter, Fiat Doblo and the VW Caddy. Some of these may be traditional WAVs with a long lowered floor and special narrower seats either side of the wheelchair space. Other versions are the 5 seat models where the wheelchair space is limited and right at the back near the tailgate door.
The main message here is that it is ‘hirer beware’ – don’t assume that because you’ve booked a wheelchair taxi that you will be able to get in it and travel safely and comfortably. Be aware of the different models and make sure you ask for one that is suitable for you and your chair.
Or be independent in your own WAV!
So there you have it, our in-depth guide to finding the right wheelchair accessible vehicle for you and your family. Choosing a WAV is a big decision, so getting the right help and support during the process is key. Let us know if you have any more questions on the topic, leave a comment below or speak directly with Fleximobility at www.fleximobility.co.uk or on 01865 300361.