What to Buy

By: Cesar Rivera

Hello Rett families! I had to take hiatus from the blog last month, but now that things are calmer, I am back with the “meat and potatoes” of the issue at hand. There are many options when it comes to types of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) to choose from. There are generally four options:
• Side Entry Ramp
• Rear Entry Ramp
• Full Size Van with Hydraulic Lift
• Other nontraditional setups

I have also developed some evaluation categories for you to consider as you evaluate your WAV needs. These categories are:
• Parking
• Cost
• Maintenance
• Seating

As you read, please keep one thing in mind; there is no such thing as the perfect solution! Each vehicle will have pluses and minuses, and you will ultimately have to decide what you can and cannot live without. I will break this part down over a couple of months, since there is a lot of information.

Side Entry Ramp
The first and most well-known, Side Entry Ramp vans are the most common. If you go to a local WAV Dealer, this is what they will try to sell you 90% of the time.

Parking- Parking with a side entry is one of the most significant drawbacks to this conversion style. 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. I owned a side entry and would estimate that 80-90% of the time the “hash mark” spaces were taken by other handicap vehicles (standard cars). Even if you are lucky enough to get a space, others will often park on the hash marks, and you will have to move to deploy the ramp. You will likely end up parking in the back of the lot to ensure space for the ramp to deploy.

Cost- Side Entry vans are hands down the most expensive option. Depending on the company, they will run about $20-30K for the conversion alone, not counting the base van cost that the conversion is installed on. This higher price is applicable to “used” Side Entries as well.

Maintenance- Many Side Entry vans have lots of nice automation allowing you to deploy the ramp with the touch of a button. However, be aware that these automated systems are very finicky and prone to maintenance issues. You could end up stranded in rain, snow, or intense heat with the ramp stuck, and calling for roadside assistance. Additionally, most handicap van dealerships charge double the hourly rate of a normal mechanic and have significant wait times for repair.

Seating- Side Entry vans typically have the least amount of additional seating for the rest of the family. Most conversions only retain the 3rd row seat, and depending on the size of the wheelchair, potentially only two of the seats are usable. Side Entry vans can often allow the wheelchair passenger to ride in the passenger side with a removable front seat.

Miscellaneous- Side entry vans often retain some usable trunk space, making it a little easier to run errands. They are also a very good choice for caregivers who have physical limitations with loading/unloading and deploying ramps.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment on Rear Entry Ramp vehicles!