How to Buy Wheelchair Accessible Vans for Sale

March 7, 2012

Get financial assistance for wheelchair accessible vans, learn about the top selling models, and find out where to research other models.

Finding wheelchair accessible vans for your specific needs and budget need not be a tedious task, as the Internet serves as a good resource for vans in your area. Remember to consult a reputable and authorized dealer that specializes in the modification of such vehicles. Never forget to ask for a warranty on the vehicle and ramps to make the most of your purchase.

The Mobility Resource A variety of dealers throughout the U.S. are regular members of The Mobility Resource. This organization helps get you in touch with a dealer in your area that can convert a van into a wheelchair van. They also have programs where you can get reimbursed a certain amount of money, depending upon what kind of disabilities you might have. Go to their website, or you can call The Mobility Resource through their toll free number: 1-866-771-7770.

Financial Assistance for Wheelchair Accessible Vans

The thought of paying $40,000 or more for a wheelchair accessible van could discourage a person from making a purchase. With that in mind, there are places that are willing to help you get free or discounted converted vans. Here are some places to look.

Special Kids Fund
The Special Kids Foundation is a charity that you can ask for a wheelchair van as a donation. You can contact them through the vehicle request form (requests by phone are not accepted). You will need to provide the following information.

  • The type of mobility van you need
  • The specific disability
  • Your financial needs
  • Your name, address, email and phone number

You have to demonstrate you can afford to maintain the vehicle once you get it. You also need to have proof you have a good driving record, along with current insurance. They ask you to be patient because they are extremely busy, and will get to your request as soon as they can.

Wheelchairs for All
This organization can set up zero interest or low interest financing. They will do this for you if you have bad credit, are unemployed or you have a very low income and simply cannot afford a wheelchair van. They offer loans instead of giving a direct donation because they believe that if someone is asked to pay for something, they will appreciate it better. They take the payments and put the money in funds for new loans for others who are in need.

The Top Selling Wheelchair Accessible Vans

A mobility van is a major investment; a new vehicle with a lift or ramp can cost $40,000 to $60,000. Mobility vans require semi-annual maintenance to prevent equipment failures.

The National Mobility Equipment Dealers' Association certifies mobility equipment installers. Vehicles modified by the NMEDA-licensed dealers hold value better than vehicles modified by amateurs or do-it-yourselfers. In fact, modifying the vehicle's frame or seat mounting may put it out of compliance with federal safety standards. NMEDA dealers are allowed to make these changes provided they are absolutely necessary, adequately documented, and clearly labeled. If the modifications are not made according to standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the vehicle may not be eligible for resale at all.

Ideal mobility vans are less than three years old; this ensures an adequate supply of replacement parts and knowledgeable technicians. After 10 years, the value of the van will drop sharply. Such vans rarely sell for more than $10,000. 10 percent annual depreciation is a reliable rule of thumb for mobility vans.

There are several popular models that convert well to wheelchair accessible vans.

Honda Odyssey
Since 2006, Honda has had an agreement with VMI to install the Northstar conversion on its Odyssey vans. This broad supportive network of dealers and technicians only adds to the underlying durability of the vehicle. The Honda Odyssey has received Kelley Blue Book's "Best Resale Value Award" at least three times, in 2009, 2007, and 2006. This notable distinction applies to the underlying vehicle and does not consider vans fitted with adaptive mobility equipment.

Dodge Grand Caravan
The Dodge Grand Caravan is a highly popular model of minivan, both for regular use and wheelchair conversion. Again, the broad network of dealers and support services helps the vehicle to retain its value. The SE edition is worth slightly more than the regular, and the SXT is worth more than the SE. These editions feature power driver's seat, power vents, and upgraded interiors. A 2009 Dodge SE will sell for $30,000, and a 2008 Dodge SE will sell for $26,000 to $27,000. For comparison, a 2007 Dodge SXT can fetch $30,000. However, this may reflect a higher original price rather than a lower depreciation rate.

Chrysler Town and Country
The Touring Edition of the Chrysler Town and Country is among the top three models most commonly converted to a mobility van. However, depreciation is still unavoidable. A 2010 converted Town and Country sells for $40,000, but a 2006 model only gets $22,000.

Ford E-150
Take, for example, the Ford E-150 Wheelchair Accessible Van. Built on the Ford F-150 frame, the E-150 is an easy conversion. To make it fully wheelchair accessible requires a specialty firm, provided by Ford's mobility program.

Since the E-150 is based on the F-150 frame, it requires some chassis tuning and stiffening to handle the power lift installed on the right-hand side of the vehicle. The installation includes the pneumatic lift and hydraulics needed, as well as the counterbalance on the other side of the vehicle, which takes care of the imbalance caused by the addition of the pneumatic lift.

Because of the new under-body equipment, a new skid plate is installed and the spring rates and suspension rates are recalibrated to account for the extra equipment. The new lift also requires equipment that would normally be installed in a vehicle that handles towing or plowing--an oversized alternator and transmission cooler.

When the body is put back together, the vehicle looks exactly as one would expect an E-150 to look, however beneath the body, the vehicle is greatly changed.

The E-150 Wheelchair Van is a heavier vehicle, and one can notice its handling is decidedly different. Much of the added weight is very low, and helps to stabilize the van.

Valuable Tips

  • Contact the manufacturer of the van, to see if they have had any complaints about a particular firm or about a particular line of accessories
  • Contact the van conversion company, to see if they are willing to discuss their successes and any failures
  • Contact the consumer affairs office of your state attorney general's office or your state's consumer affairs division, to ensure any company you choose has a good track record
  • Contact others who may have used a van by the same manufacturer, to see the problems that may have occurred, and to see if they have any further advice for one to follow

Maintenance Costs

Regular preventive maintenance is an absolute necessity for safe and proper operation of a wheelchair accessible van. Additionally, retaining service records to prove you have followed the equipment manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule will increase the resale value of the vehicle. The exact price you pay for these services depends on several factors. Complex equipment with hydraulic or electrical components requires more frequent maintenance and repair. However, you may be able to inspect and maintain simple equipment without the help of a mechanic or mobility technician. Annual maintenance cost is also affected by the type of vehicle you drive and the climate of your region.

Maintenance Procedure
The mobility van should be serviced by a NMEDA-licensed dealer at least twice annually. Many dealers offer three year or seven year service plans at the time of vehicle purchase. The dealer will inspect the kneeling suspension kit. Since this kit is mounted under the vehicle, it accumulates salt and dirt. These causes corrosion, dries out the grease and freezes the chain connected to the actuator. This can lead to a broken chain or burned-out actuator. The kneel actuator can cost over $1,000 to replace. The technician also inspects the lift or ramp mechanics, check bolt tightness and wiring connections. The technician will grease all slots, latches, hinges and pivot pins. He or she will inspect hydraulic cylinders and hoses, replacing fluid as necessary.

Maintenance Costs
A 1991 study by the CATO Institute estimates the annual maintenance cost of a bus-mounted wheelchair lift at $2,000. In 2010 dollars, this is approximately $2,900 to $3,500. If this seems high, bear in mind that mobility vans can cost $40,000 to $60,000 new, and depreciate at a rate of 10 percent annually. If you are a veteran, you may be eligible for free maintenance service through programs administered by the VA.