Handicap Cars for the Disabled: How to Buy a Handicap Car

March 9, 2012

Information on handicap car features, prices, certification standards, purchasing tips, and the models that make the best handicap cars.

If you are in need of a handicap car, it would probably help if you knew which cars were the best equipped for you or the person in your family that might be disabled. Listed below are some disabled vehicles for you to consider.

Features to Look for in Cars for the Disabled

When purchasing from disabled cars it is important that you take into consideration things that are important to the disabled person, especially if they will be driving the vehicle themselves.

  • Ignition. It is best if it is on the dash or keyless
  • Transmission. It is important the car have an automatic transmission. Depending upon the disability, it generally is too difficult for a disabled person to drive a standard transmission
  • Controls. The car's controls are important as well. They should be large, easy to see and use; the bigger the better. You might even want to consider something with a touch screen for ease of use
  • Shifter. If the car is an automatic, it is important to see if the shifter can be used without a button to get it into park or any other gear. Otherwise this button could be painful for those with really bad arthritis
  • Locks and windows. It is really important that the locks and windows are automatic
  • Seats. It is probably a good idea to get a front seat that is a "bench" seat, and not two separate seats, since these are far roomier and more comfortable for someone who has a disability. They also should have automatic seats as well for easy flexibility
  • Entry. It is also important to get a vehicle that is extremely easy for the person who is disabled to get into the car. Having keyless entry would help a lot as well
  • Pedals and cruise control. The vehicle ought to have adjustable pedals along with cruise control, all of which will make driving a lot easier

The Best Handicap Cars

Some of the better cars that try to accommodate the disabled are listed below:

Chrysler/Dodge
Offers the disabled several different vehicle models that come with an abundance of features for the disabled. Those include the:

  • Dodge Caravan
  • Dodge Grand Caravan
  • Chrysler Town & Country

If you are eligible, they offer reimbursements of up to $1,000 for getting the disabled modifications.

Ford
Ford probably offers the most variety of vehicles that can accommodate their disabled customers. Some models include:

  • E-Series Full Sized Vans
  • The F-Series Trucks
  • Mark LT Truck
  • Ranger Trucks
  • Super Duty Truck
  • Escape
  • Escape Hybrid
  • Expedition
  • Explorer
  • Explorer Sport Trac
  • Focus
  • Fusion
  • Sable
  • Taurus

There are many other models out there, even as far as modified Mustangs. Those above are just the most well known. Although GM, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai offer vehicles that can be modified for most any disability, Chrysler and Ford are probably the best and have the greatest options. Ford would be the top competitor for accommodating the disabled with so many different vehicles that they offer to convert.

How to Buy a Handicap Car

Before even going out and looking for a handicap van or car, you should always check with a doctor or a person that is a certified driver rehabilitation specialist first, so they can give you a better idea of what you or the person in your family needs for their particular disability.

Additional Questions
Here are some additional questions to ask if someone else will be driving:

  • What is the height inside of the vehicle? That way you know that there will be plenty of room for the disabled person and any wheelchair
  • Can the front seat be removed for the disabled person if more room is needed?
  • If the wheelchair is not being folded down and the car is a mini van, ask if there are tie down points available
  • Are there airbags available?

Questions for when the person is going to drive:

  • Are the windows and door locks power?
  • Can the vehicle be an automatic transmission?
  • Can the gear shifter be without a push button?
  • Can all of the control knobs be large or be done with a touch screen?
  • Can the vehicle have keyless ignition?
  • Can the vehicle have keyless entry?
  • Can the seat belt retractors be recessed?
  • Can there be composite door extensions?

Handicap Car Prices and Features

Handicap cars are minivans and full-sized vans that have been fitted with mobility equipment. These vehicles are designed to transport individuals with disabilities. They may have rotating seats for ambulatory people, or ramps and lifts for wheelchair users. Pedal transfers are installed to accommodate drivers who have lost the use of their right leg (or left leg in some countries). Hand pedal controls are used by individuals who have lost the use of both legs. Depending on the installed equipment, mobility vans can be very expensive. The final sale price of a mobility van depends on the van's characteristics. The van's make, model, age and maintenance history play an important role. Obviously, handicap vans fitted with more complex equipment will cost more than vans equipped with simple equipment.

Wheelchair Lifts and Ramps
Installing wheelchair lifts or ramps can become a complex process. The frame of the vehicle must often be modified to fit the wheelchair. The installer will lower the floor and raise the ceiling. Vans equipped with a lift or ramp can also be fitted with a suspension kneeling system. This lowers the vehicle for easier loading and unloading.

There are different types of ramps and lifts. A simple folding portable ramp will not add significantly to the value of the van. However, there are also automatic telescoping ramps which are wired to the battery and bolted to the vehicle frame. Likewise, the simplest mechanical wheelchair lifts slides over the van's trailer hitch. More expensive motorized lifts are also bolted to the frame and wired to the battery. These include platform lifts, which function like an elevator, and single arm lifts, which function like a crane.

A remote engine starter makes the van more appealing to wheelchair users who live independently. This alleviates fears about exhausting the battery charge in mid-lift. A good rule of thumb is to assume that a powered lift or ramp doubles the value of the underlying van, as listed in the Kelley Blue Book or similar reference guides. Another rule of thumb is to assume that a powered mobility van has a 10 year life span from the time of equipment installation. Assume 10 percent annual depreciation from the purchase price.

Certification Standards
Installers are certified by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers' Association (NMEDA). These installers must sometimes make changes that put the van out of compliance with federal safety standards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) permits such changes as long as certain standards for labeling and documentation are met. If the vehicle was not modified by a licensed technician, it may not be eligible for resale.

Hand Pedal Controls and Steering Wheel Knobs
Hand controls require less extensive modifications than wheelchair ramps and lifts. Therefore, their total impact on vehicle price is much less significant. In some cases these controls can even be removed and transferred to another vehicle with minimal effort.

Prices to Expect for a Handicap Car

If you were to get your own handicap car or van, you might alleviate some of the stress that comes with constantly having to get rides. If you want to shop for wheelchair autos, there are some costs you can expect to incur. Here are some things to anticipate:

Consider Needs
Make sure most of the features are automatic if you are looking for easy operation. There are a lot of dealers that offer disabled new or used handicapped vehicles, which will give the disabled person the ability to have their scooters or wheelchairs easily placed in the vehicle. Special hand controls, mobility and transfer seats along with a variety of other special equipment may be options for whatever the needs might be. Thus, you can be a bit specific in your search.

Price
When you have decided on what you will need to have installed will influence the price of the vehicle you will be purchasing. If you are looking for a new vehicle, you can probably expect to pay anywhere from $40,000 to $65,000. You can also get a used one that, on the average, can cost you anywhere from $21,000 to $35,000.

Saving Money
If the prices of the vehicles are too steep for you, there are ways for you or your family member to get assistance in obtaining the right vehicle for your needs. There are some dealers that offer reimbursement programs, and companies that will give you a loan that has no, or very little interest on the loan. Some of these banks will give special consideration to those with disabilities.

There are a variety of ways to get the type of car you need for your particular disability. You can call around to local churches which might be able to help you find something that might be less money than you've seen dealers offering you. If they are unable to find anything for you, you can always call 1-800-CHARITY CARS. They can be a great resource for acquiring a handicapped vehicle that fits your needs.

You could also consider doing a wheelchair car conversion, which will turn a regular vehicle into a handicap accessible one. Of course, you will need to have a car that is compatible with that function, but it is a possibility. Conversions can cost a lot of money though, so be careful with the purchase.

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