Posted 1st June 2010
A few years ago we had a presentation at the conference from Motability. Tony Rogers who gave that presentation has allowed us to provide an edited version of their guide to Wheelchair Adapted Vehicles. The full guide can be found on their website
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles - widely known as WAVs - are vehicles that have been converted so that you can travel in them while remaining seated in your wheelchair either as a passenger or driver.
Choosing a WAV means there is no need for hoists, and staying in your wheelchair may be more comfortable than using a car seat. And if you can't transfer, a WAV may be the key to being free to travel where you like. Once you've considered the potential benefits and drawbacks of a WAV compared to a standard car, and decided a WAV is for you, it's time to draw up a shortlist of suitable WAVs. To help you do this, Motability have produced factsheets that contain independent measurement information for each of the most popular conversions on the Scheme. However, each specialist company offers slightly different conversions, so the same vehicle may suit you when converted by one company but not by another. The golden rule is to try out a number of WAVs until you find the one that suits you best.
Alternatives to WAVs
Aids to help you transfer in and out of an ordinary car and store your wheelchair include:
Boot Stowage, Rooftop Stowage, Swivel Seats.
WAV agreements are usually for five years and you get a mileage allowance of 100,000 miles over the course of the agreement. We are committed to offering affordable solutions across our range of WAVs. However, the more highly specified a WAV is, the higher advance payment will be. Our online Searchable Price Guide allows you to search for WAVs by various different options, including make and model, and maximum advance payment.
Getting in and out
WAVs are fitted with either a ramp or a lift, and access will either be from the side or the back of the vehicle. Consider how and where you will be getting into the vehicle to ensure it fits your lifestyle.
Ramps: These tend to be the standard entry method for most WAVs and, with practice, are simple to use. Some ramps have counterweights or springs to make them easier to fold in and out. The angle and length of the ramp is important, and some ramps also allow for the slope of the ramp to extend into the vehicle to
Folding Ramps make the angle less steep, allowing for easier entry. You should always check that your carer is confident in using the ramp and is able to get you up and down it safely, especially when the WAV is parked on a slope. Never choose
a manual ramp unless the person who is likely to have to use it has tried it out. If they have trouble pushing your wheelchair up the ramp, an electric winch may be a help.
Lifts: Some larger WAVs can be fitted with a lift to help you in and out of the vehicle. A lift can be useful if your partner or carer has trouble pushing you up a ramp into your WAV. However, lifts are usually more expensive, so your advance payment may be higher.
Basic conversion features
Lowered floor: Many WAVs have a lowered floor, giving you more head room and reducing the angle and length of the ramp. However, this means that the ground clearance will be less, so if you regularly travel over roads with speed humps you will need to make sure that this does not pose a problem for you. A lowered floor usually means that the fuel tank needs to be replaced, often reducing its size or changing its shape. This can mean your WAV will need to be filled up with fuel more regularly and may affect the functioning of the fuel gauge. Ask your converter for a likely indication of running costs. Some vehicles have a lowering rear suspension that can be used to reduce the angle of a ramp and allow for easier access. This can be operated from a button based at the rear of the vehicle or by remote control.
Raised roofs: Instead of lowering the floor, some vehicles have raised roofs to give you more head room. If you opt for a conversion with a raised roof, think about here you usually park and make sure that the height of the vehicle will not become a problem for you.
Where are you likely to park?
You have to allow space for the ramp or lift. Would a smaller vehicle make this easier? If you will get in and out of your WAV in areas where there are no pavements, a ramp or lift at the rear is likely to suit you better. In towns where parking is very limited would a lift or ramp at the side be better? Consider the height of the WAV and where you regularly park, especially if you often park on the street or use multi-storey car parks with space restrictions.
Inside the WAV
Your seated position: In most WAVs, the wheelchair passenger will sit behind the front seats or towards the back of the vehicle. However, there are a few conversions that allow you to sit beside the driver. If this is important to you, then check the seating layout of the WAV you are considering on our online factsheets or check with your converter. Consider whether your partner or carer will need to access you during journeys and check that the seating layout is suitable.
Once your wheelchair is in place, all WAVs have a system to secure it and a specially designed seat belt to keep you secure. Travelling in your wheelchair in a WAV may mean that you do not have the same support that you are used to from a standard car seat. You will get used to this in time, but some people may find this puts them off. As the wheelchair user remains in their wheelchair, it is likely that they could be at a different height to other passengers, so both visibility and conversation will be different from when seated in a standard car seat position, especially if the wheelchair passenger is seated towards the back of the WAV.
WAVs that wheelchair users can drive
There are two main conversion types: either the WAV will facilitate easy transfer to a standard/adapted seat; or the vehicle can be driven directly from the wheelchair.
Transfer conversions are generally a cheaper and easier option if you are capable of transferring unaided, or if the vehicle is often driven by other people. Both types of conversion will need an automatic anchoring systems to secure your wheelchair. These will be designed around you and your wheelchair as part of your assessment.
To ensure the vehicle is tailored to your individual needs, you will need to have an assessment, particularly if this is the first time you have driven one of these conversions. If you are awarded a grant from Motability, this assessment will be provided free of charge. With most WAVs converted for wheelchair drivers, you press a button on a remote control to gain access, either through lowering the suspension and unfolding the ramp, or through the operation of a lift. WAVs that have been converted for wheelchair users to drive them, will have fewer rear seats than passenger WAVs because they need a clear wheelchair route from the point of entry to the driving position.
How do I know which WAV will suit me?
This guide should help to highlight the areas that will affect your decision. However there are many sources of independent information - why not contact a Mobility centre? Converters approved by Motability will help identify the right vehicle for you. But most important of all - try out any vehicle you are considering. All converters will arrange a test drive for you.
How do I get adaptations for my WAV?
If you've chosen a WAV converted to be driven by a wheelchair user, your driving assessment will recommend what adaptations you will need. Your converter may be able to fit these, or alternatively will be able to recommend an adaptations specialist.
The full guide can be found by clicking on this link