How to Install a Van Wheelchair Lift

January 27, 2012

A van wheelchair lift is a piece of mobility equipment that makes it easier for disabled individuals to get in and out of a vehicle. There are several different types of lifts available, each one suited for a different situation. The National Mobility Equipment Dealers' Association (NMEDA) certifies consultants to recommend and install mobility equipment for handicapped drivers. Adding a wheelchair lift to a van often requires modifications to a vehicle's frame. The installer must have some basic mechanical and electrical competence. Some of these alterations may put the vehicle out of compliance with federal safety standards. If the work is not done by a certified installer, the owner may have trouble reselling the van or obtaining financial assistance.

Tools and Materials Required

  • Wheelchair van lift
  • Wire harness
  • Wire crimpers or solder iron
  • Drill with metalworking bit
  • Metal saw
  • Welder
  • Tape measure

Step 1 - Evaluate Needs and Choose Equipment

The first step is to evaluate the needs of the individual in question. This should be done before purchasing a van or mobility equipment. A simple manual lift just slides over the trailer hitch and requires no wiring or bolting. A tool called a Bogie wheel makes it possible for a lone person to install the lift. However, the tongue weight rating of the hitch must be high enough to support the weight of the wheelchair. Top brands of manual lifts include Tilt-a-Rack and EZ Carrier. A motorized power lift is bolted to the frame and wired to the vehicle battery. It may include a remote control for easier operation.

Step 2 - Modify Frame

To fit a wheelchair into the van, you will have to lower the floor and raise the ceiling. Measure the wheelchair dimensions to determine how much modification is necessary.

Step 3 - Install Air Suspension Kit

A pneumatic suspension kit allows the vehicle to "kneel", reducing the distance the lift must transport the wheelchair.

Step 4 - Install Remote Start

If the wheelchair user is operating the vehicle alone, a remote engine starter is desirable. Running the lift excessively while the engine is shut off can drain the the battery.

Step 5 - Remove Seats and Install Wheelchair Tie-Downs

Remove the seats from the van to make it easier to install the lift. You will have to devise a system to physically tie the wheelchair to the floor of the vehicle once it is loaded. The BackPacker lift from Silver Star is especially convenient because it slides onto the 3rd row seat hardware and is operated by a rechargeable battery.

Step 6 - Install Lift

Bolt the lift mounting hardware to the vehicle floor. Check under the floorboards for any important components before drilling guide holes. Tie the end of the wire harness near the battery, leaving slack to reach the terminals. Remove the circuit breaker from the harness and route the wires to the lift. Avoid moving parts and secure the wire with zip ties or electrical tape. Crimp the wires to the butt connector at the lift if applicable. Attach the black wire to the battery's negative terminal and attach the red wire to its positive terminal. Replace the circuit breaker in the wire harness and plug the 12-volt connector to the relay box on the lift.

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