First, let me begin by stressing the importance of doing research and due diligence when purchasing a handicap van. Not only is it an expensive purchase, but for safety purposes, there are many other important factors that need to be addressed. So, take your time and do your research, it will pay out for you in the end.
Both side entry and rear entry conversions have their pros and cons. Your best bet is to start doing some research on the Internet, by seeing what different options are out there and by talking with doctors/OT/PT, driver evaluators, etc. Gather as much information you can, which may be overwhelming, but get informed. The next step is to visit a local Mobility Equipment Dealer who sell the vans. Make an appointment with a consultant at the dealership to ensure you have their undivided attention and go in armed with some questions.
The Mobility Equipment Dealer will visit with you and go through all different options and ask you numerous questions like; Who will be the primary driver? How often will you use the van? What type of vehicle do you want modified? Where will you be parking the vehicle? How long do you plan on keeping the vehicle? These question and answer sessions can take up to an hour so the mobility consultant can give you options that will fit your needs. Why waste your time looking at something that will not satisfy your requirements?
Side-entry conversions have numerous benefits, including:
· Seating – Rear bench remains in tact
· Parking – being able to exit and enter the vehicle from the side
· Driving – Can be a self-driver since the entire floor is lowered
· Ramp Angle – typically is around 8° with a kneeling system
· Powered – most side-entry conversions are fully powered with a one touch remote system
· Independence – most side-entry minivans are converted so the wheelchair user can be completely independent
Some cons for the side-entry conversions include:
· Parking – need 5-7’ to exit or enter into the vehicle from the side
· Price – typically side entry wheelchair vans cost a little more
Rear-entry conversions have numerous benefits, including:
· Price – they are typically less expensive than other conversions
· Parking – no curbside parking required
· Process – don’t require to cut the minivan structure
Some cons for rear-entry conversions include:
· Driving – the wheelchair user cannot get into the drivers position
· Exiting – the wheelchair user must back out of the van to exit
The folks at NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) have a wonderful brochure with great tips for people looking to adapt a motor vehicle. You can get the brochure by calling 1-888-327-4236 or visit their Web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov. They stress that you; evaluate your needs, select the right vehicle, choose a qualified dealer to modify your vehicle, be trained and maintain your vehicle.