Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

The ins and outs of the largest piece of medical equipment you will ever buy

By:  C. Rivera

Part 4 – What to Buy? (continued)

Rear Entry Ramp Vans

This month we will cover the Rear Entry Ramp Conversion van. This is where my bias is going to show a little. I believe that, on average, the Rear Entry Ramp is the best conversion for most Rett families. I personally own one for our family and have had a side entry conversion in the past. Having owned both, the rear entry is hands-down more functional for the everyday life of our Rett girls and families.

Parking– Parking with a rear entry is significantly easier on a day-to-day basis. Just to rehash from last month:

Most lots do not have sufficient handicap spaces, and usually only 10-20% of them will have the special “hash marks” to accommodate an extended side ramp. Parking is further complicated by the fact that the government does not distinguish between a handicap plate for a WAV and a handicap plate for a regular car.

The rear entry conversion can park in ANY parking space. This includes handicap spaces with or without hash marks and even regular spaces. This is especially useful at the hospital or places like Walmart where handicap spaces are often occupied. Parking and unloading the wheelchair is the most important function of your WAV, and this conversion makes it easy and stress free 99% of the time.

The one time you might have an issue would be a parallel parking situation. This can usually be avoided, but if not, just make sure to unload and then back the van close to the car behind to conserve the space you need. When leaving, pull forward, and you should have enough room to let the ramp down. I have driven a rear entry van for nine years and have only utilized a parallel parking spot two times (but wanted to mention this if you live where parallel parking is frequent or unavoidable).

Cost– Rear entry vans are significantly more affordable than their side entry cousins. This has a lot to do with how they are made. Rear entry vans use the natural design of the vehicle to allow a lowered floor in the middle between the frame rails. Contrast this with the side entry, which lowers the floor of the entire van. The cost difference is significant. Rear entry conversions are typically $10,000 to $20,000 less than side entry conversions.

Maintenance– Given the simplicity of rear entry conversion, they are virtually maintenance free. This is a huge benefit when it comes to repair costs and time without your van while maintenance is performed.

Seating– Rear entry vans typically have substantial additional seating for the rest of the family. The seating is also highly customizable. You can choose from several seating layouts, and some conversions can seat up to six passengers in addition to the wheelchair.

Miscellaneous– Rear entry conversions have only a couple of drawbacks. These can usually be overcome with a little bit of creativity on your part. Groceries and errands that require a lot of small bags can create cargo issues since you will not have dedicated trunk space. I usually put groceries in the front, or in/around the second-row seats. The channel that exists in rear entry vans can function almost like a truck bed for medium to large items (boxes and furniture). I have transported beds in our van, and have been told by others that they moved their children to college by loading up the channel. Traveling can also present a problem when you need to get your Rett child out for stops along the way. Rolling luggage fixes this problem.  

Next month’s installment – Full Size Van with Hydraulic Lifts!