A wheelchair van ramp is a piece of mobility conversion equipment that makes it easier for non-ambulatory individuals to get in and out of a vehicle. There are several types of ramps available, ranging from the simple and cheap, to the complex and expensive. Some ramps are portable while others are permanently installed in the vehicle. Motorized telescoping or folding ramps are more convenient for the independent wheelchair user, but require tie-in to the vehicle's electrical system and frequent maintenance. Installing a wheelchair ramp also requires modifications to the frame and suspension of the vehicle. The modifications required to permanently add a wheelchair ramp to a van may put the vehicle out of compliance with federal safety standards. This type of work is best left to an installer who has been certified through the National Mobility Equipment Dealers' Association (NMEDA). If the owner makes their own modifications without following the rules set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the van will not be eligible for resale. For the disabled individual who retains gripping and lifting strength in their arms, a simple portable folding ramp is sufficient.
Tools and Materials Required
- Sheet metal panels
- Drill with metalworking bit
- Saw with metalworking blade
- Suspension kit
- Hasps or eye-hooks
Step 1 - Determine Needs and Gather Materials
The first step is to plan out the design of the modified vehicle. The ramp you are building will ideally be 36 inches wide with a slope of 1:16. At minimum, the ramp must be big enough to fit the wheelchair and no steeper than 1:12. You may have to modify the frame of the vehicle so that the wheelchair user's eyes will be at the correct height for driving.
Step 2 - Modify Frame
Lower the floor of the vehicle by 10 to 12 inches to provide adequate clearance for the wheelchair. Raise the ceiling as needed to provide a clear field of vision and adequate head room.
Step 3 - Install Air Suspension Kit
Installing a pneumatic suspension kit allows the vehicle to "kneel", making it easier to load and unload the wheelchair.
Step 4 - Remove Seats and Runner Board
Remove the seats and runner board to make room for the wheelchair and ramp. You can use the seat grooves as a starting point for tying down the wheelchair.
Step 5 - Fabricate Ramp
Join together the pieces of sheet metal with hinges to build a folding ramp. A wheelchair and rider weighs several hundred pounds, so use heavy duty materials. Aluminum is strong but lightweight. Cut strips out for side rails and weld or bolt these perpendicular to the ramp's main span. The side rails prevent the chair from falling off the ramp.
Step 6 - Install Ramp
Sink eyehooks into the floor of the vehicle adjacent to the loading door. Cut slits out of the end of the ramp and drop it over the eye hooks. This will keep the ramp from slipping off the car under the weight of the wheelchair.