Handicap Vans Report
How to determine what model of handicap van to buy, including the necessary
adaptive equipment and van conversion options available, typically requires
the assistance of others. In this report, we focus on the importance of
using only reputable handicap accessible van dealers. We also provide
important information about topics such as: van conversions, wheelchair
lifts, local and national mobility dealers, why NMEDA is important, funding
options, safety factors and the pros and cons of buying either a new or
used handicap van.
Did you know that 85% of drivers or passengers with disability buy
minivans as opposed to full-sized vans? It stands to reason since the
minivan handles better, has better fuel efficiency and features a compact
look. However, a full-sized van may be necessary and desirable especially
when transporting several wheelchair users or when more space is needed.
Today's handicap vans include newly converted vans, and a number
of trusted equipment manufacturers such as Ricon, Braun, Eclipse, VMI,
IMS and Viewpoint lead the industry with van conversions.
Handicap vans can be fully converted and include all of the bells and
whistles. Take for example, the Honda Odyssey with VMI Northstar Conversion
featuring modifications and adaptive equipment such as lowered van floor,
power door operators, transfer seat and power in floor ramp. This van
can cost as much as $60,000, a lot of money when considering insurance
typically doesn't cover the cost of the vehicle. (See
However, not all wheelchair drivers and passengers require the same
modifications. Input from a physician, physical therapist, and CDRS,
(Certified Driver Rehab Specialist) if planning to drive, is an essential
first step. An individual "needs assessment" along with a person's budget
and how the van will be used are critical factors to help determine
modification and adaptive equipment; a reputable NMEDA member or ADA
member mobility dealer can help you with that.
To further understand the market of handicap vans, let's take a more
in depth look at van conversions, adaptive equipment, handicap accessible
van dealers, NMEDA, funding, van
accessible parking (video), and new and used wheelchair vans and
the pros and cons of buying one over the other.
2. Handicap Van Conversions
In general, vans are converted to accommodate wheelchair users for
personal, or, for commercial use. Standard vans are converted by installing
adaptive equipment or by doing modifications such as raising roof height
or lowering the van floor. In doing conversions, vans (both, mini or
full-sized) can receive full conversions in which adaptability equipment
and modifications include a host of features necessary and useful for
the wheelchair user.
As mentioned, equipment manufacturers such as Ricon, Braun, Eclipse,
VMI, IMS and Viewpoint lead the industry with van conversions and Braun
is the largest supplier in the industry.
For full van conversions, equipment manufacturers have a conversion
prototype assigned to a particular van make and Toyota, Honda, Chrysler/Dodge,
GM, Ford and Chevrolet are typical candidates.
Costs: A standard conversion package includes lowered floor conversions
on the mini van costing around $20,000. This factory installed conversion
generally includes lowered floor height (10" on most makes; 12" on Chevrolet
minivans), kneel system, ramp, removable seat and tie downs. Adaptive
equipment such as driving controls, transfer seat, and EZ lock are not
Full-sized van conversions often include raising roof and door for
more headroom. Lowered floor conversions are available only in Ford.
Benefits to this conversion, as opposed to raising the roof in the full-sized
van, can be that there is less wind resistance and some find it easier
to park in parking garages with lower overheads. Full-sized vans offer
wheelchair lifts as opposed to ramps, both in floor or fold out installed
3. Adaptive Equipment
In addition to van conversions, necessary adaptive equipment can be
installed by a mobility dealership. To determine what kinds of adaptive
equipment is appropriate, a NMEDA mobility dealer should be contacted.
If an individual plans to be a driver, a driver rehabilitation specialist
can help determine which equipment is best as well as train an individual
to use newly installed devices.
Vans can be equipped for commercial or personal use and a number of
reputable equipment manufacturers provide the state-of the-art parts
that are then installed by authorized dealers using trained and certified
technicians. Costs of adaptive equipment will vary; however, here are
some examples of parts and labor for a few. (Note: These are ball park
- EZ Lock - A means of securing an occupied wheelchair in a moving
vehicle: Parts and labor - $1,900 (Includes: being bolted to floor,
release button and alarm)
- Transfer Seat in Mini van: Parts and Labor - $2,300
- Hand Controls: Left foot Gas Petal: Parts and Labor - $330
For adaptive equipment, a number of organizations provide financial
assistance for eligible drivers and passengers. For example, GM will
reimburse up to $1,000 to an eligible customer, and other automobile
manufacturers do the same. Adaptive equipment can include: Steering
System, Vehicle Entry, Seats, Brake and Accelerator Systems and Driver
4. Handicap Accessible Van Dealer
What dealers offer - Handicap accessible van dealers
are located through out the country enabling the consumer to buy a handicap
accessible van close to where they live. New handicap vans can be purchased
by a dealer certified to sell conversions by a particular equipment
manufacturer (eg: VMI or Braun). Additionally, handicap accessible van
dealers may also sell used wheelchair vans, install adaptive equipment,
and service and maintain handicap vans.
Are all handicap accessible van dealers the same? - No.
And it is because of this fact that an individual needs to do some homework
before choosing to work with a particular dealership. For one, exercise
caution when using the Internet to shop for a handicap van. Although
the Internet is a powerful resource, there is abuse that occurs in all
industries, including dealerships that sell handicap vans. To keep away
from the bad businesses, use only reputable handicap accessible van
dealers. This can be done by searching for a local dealer through NMEDA's
website, where by typing in your zip code, one or several NMEDA member
dealerships in your area will be listed. Also, Braun and VMI, provide
a similar search tool on their websites. Ford and GM mobility also provide
dealerships. Another resource is www.ADAmobility.com a.k.a. Adaptive
Driving Alliance. This organization is a nationwide group of vehicle
modification dealers, each of which is certified through NMEDA's QAP
a.k.a. Quality Assurance Program.
Is it better to buy from a local dealership? - In general
you will be better off buying a handicap van from a local dealership
rather than, for example, one in another state. The reason is quite
simple actually, and that is that you want to make sure that the vehicle
you buy can be serviced and maintained locally. Warranties, which are
typically 3 years or 36,000 miles, may not be validated by a local mobility
dealership that did not sell you your van. This can mean that to do
the work, you may be paying the shops' hourly service fee, which can
cost $100 or more. On the other hand, there are big mobility dealerships,
(NMEDA members) that sell handicap vans both nationally and even internationally.
What to consider is the network of local dealers.
What to look for in a handicap accessible van dealer?
- Do they offer 24 hour service! This is extremely important for passengers
or drivers of handicap vans especially because electrical problems do
occur. And you don't want to be left stranded.
5. NMEDA and Handicap Vans
otherwise known as the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association,
is a professional association "committed to ensuring quality and professionalism
in the manufacturing and installation of safe and reliable mobility
equipment in vehicles for drivers and passengers with disabilities."
Members of NMEDA include dealerships, automotive manufacturers, rehabilitation
professionals, equipment manufacturers, and government agencies.
Founded in 1989 NMEDA strives to achieve quality; NMEDA member dealerships
located internationally, thus, have to adhere to certain standards.
These standards benefit the consumer (disabled driver or passenger)
directly, as NMEDA member dealerships, have, or provide, the following:
- Are factory trained by the specific mobility manufacturer
- Will have proper insurance
- Are aware of all the Federal Safety Standards
- Are licensed to do business in your area
- Can service and repair your van
Helping with Selection - Also, when a dealer is a member, it assures
you of important conversion and equipment standards that include: safety,
selection and service. By working with a NMEDA mobility dealer, an individual
can be properly guided to choose a handicap accessible van fitted to
his or her needs. Since determining "needs" varies from one individual
to the next, important questions should be asked to make determinations.
A Question such as: "Can you ambulate", if answered, yes, for example,
makes a quick determination that there is no need for a lowered floor
conversion. Another question: "Height in chair", which is the wheelchair
users measurement from floor to top of head, reveals perhaps a Honda
or Toyota conversion suitably sized, or not, for that individual. By
visiting NMEDA's website you can find a reputable mobility dealer in
6. Handicap Vans: Buying New
Buying a new handicap accessible van under warranty has its' advantages.
Equipment and safety standards improve all of the time, and by buying
new, you are getting state-of-the art technology. Also, an effective
warranty of 3 years or 36,000 miles for adaptive equipment/modification
is pretty standard when buying new. The downside, however, can be the
high cost along with off lot depreciation which is around 30%. (This
is true of all new vehicles). Dealers report that more used handicap
vans are sold compared to new. Funding for "just the vehicle" is basically
out of pocket with no reimbursement. However, mobility financing is
generally available through manufacturers and dealers.
Where to buy? As mentioned, a NMEDA mobility dealer or other reputable
mobility dealer (see handicap van dealerships) is the safest choice
for the consumer. Some large mobility dealerships like Ride-Away have
a large, waiting fleet of new handicap vans and this can benefit an
individual who is ready to purchase a particular make and conversion
right away. In many cases, however, buying new at a dealer will require
a wait-time. It is not uncommon to wait for a period of 4 to 6 weeks
for a common conversion.
7. Used Handicap Vans
Buying a used handicapped van has the obvious price advantage over
buying new. With affordability in mind a wheelchair user doesn't want,
however, to overlook the legitimacy of a too good to be true deal. As
the adage goes, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is. So the
question becomes how to find the good deals, and avoid the scams, especially
if shopping remotely, online. Here is a checklist to follow.
People may be drawn to a handicap van based on the type (e.g., a person
likes Toyota). However, for a wheelchair user, if buying a used handicap
van, make sure that you know that you will fit into the van. The measurement
of your height in chair, (width also) must be known as well as the height
of the van's interior to determine whether you will fit. Also, keep
in mind that many adaptive equipment manufacturers such as Braun will
not allow modifications to a regular van (chassis) more than 3 years
old or 30,000 miles. To learn more
about used handicap vans, Click Here
8. Wheelchair Lifts
People looking to buy used vans... those "without" an already
installed wheelchair lift don't need to fret. Why? Because there are
options out there. To learn more about
wheelchair lifts and options, Click Here.
In recent years government agencies and organizations have become more
of a force, setting standards and requirements designed to protect handicap
drivers and passengers. One such organizaiton, NHTSA - National Highway
Transportation Safety Authority, is the governing body pertaining to
moving vehicles and the mission of the NHTSA is to "save lives, prevent
injuries and reduce vehicle-related crashes." This agency has the authority
to regulate the manufacturing of both adaptive equipment and modified
vehicles used by persons with disabilities.
We suggest reading through their brochure: Adapting
Motor Vehicles for People with Disabilities, which provides information
to help you make safe decisions when purchasing and modifying a van
with adaptive equipment.
Organizations like NMEDA, also seek to promote safety and do so by
creating standards for NMEDA dealers to abide by. These standards have
the best interests of the consumer in mind. One example: Factory trained
technicians can provide safe installation of adaptive equipment (versus
10. Handicapped Parking Signs
If your state's DMV has issued you a disabled person parking placard
this enables you to park where there are handicapped
parking signs. Fortunately, there is a good amount of reserved handicap
parking on the streets of busy metropolitan areas and also within public
and private parking lots.
The out of pocket expense for purchasing a handicapped van, that includes
both buying the vehicle and the adaptive equipment, is costly. To help
with the expense of purchasing a new or used handicap van it is important
to explore all funding options available. Keep in mind that there are
a number of organizations that if you qualify, can help to provide financial
assistance for the adaptive equipment/modifications. Here is a list
of some groups that get involved:
- 1. Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (by state)
- 2. Veterans Administration Agency - U.S. military veterans may by
eligible for financial assistance through their benefits when equipping
a vehicle with adaptive equipment.
- 3. Many manufacturers have rebate or reimbursement plans for modified
- -GM Mobility Reimbursement program
- -Toyota Mobility Assistance Program
- -Ford Mobility Program
- -Honda Mobility Program
- -Daimler Chrysler Program
- 4. Medicaid
- 5. Knights of Columbus
- 6. Insurance Companies
- 7. Independent Living Centers
Less than a generation ago many people living with a physical disability
had fewer transportation options. Today, factory installed conversions
and adaptive equipment are helping to pave the way for greater independence
for those who need it. Handicap vans have come of age, and by determining
the needs of each individual, people can either continue driving with
the help of adaptive equipment or ride with safety and comfort as a wheelchair
passenger. Costs for buying a handicap van can be expensive and reviewing
used and new van options as well as exploring all funding options is essential.
It is also essential to deal only with reputable dealerships, like those
that are members of NMEDA, and stay away from the "to good to be
true deals," such as those mentioned in this report.