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Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles or WAVs

A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (or WAV, for short) is the generic name for any vehicle which has been specially adapted so that a wheelchair user can travel or drive in that vehicle whilst remaining in their wheelchair.

Please note: a WAV is not the only way a wheelchair user can travel in any vehicle. Many wheelchair users are independent enough, with respect of transferring, that they are more comfortable transferring into the factory fitted seats of a vehicle as either a passenger or driving using handcontrols or other adaptions (such as paraplegics, amputees, etc..). For more information on cars with handcontrols (buying, renting, getting handcontrols fitted) please click here: Buying A 2nd Hand Car

If you're starting your research, The Mobility Roadshow is an absolute MUST! Test drive the largest range of adapted and wheelchair accessible vehicles all in one location, safely and for free. Watch their YouTube video by clicking here.

Buying New? (if not: skip to 2nd hand section of this article)

If you are looking to buy new, you may decide to go via the Motability Scheme which is a national charity which enables individuals to buy a suitable vehicle using their Government funded mobility allowance - for those in receipt of the Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance, the Enhanced Rate of the Mobility Component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) , the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement (WPMS) or the Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP). The Motability Scheme is not a dealership but a facility to enable the purchase and handle all elements of maintaining and servicing that car. You can choose where you buy your new car from, including:

Buying Second Hand?

Looking to Buy a Second Hand Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle? For many people, the motability scheme or buying new simply aren't options: maybe because of the limited mileage allowance, lack of government financial support, or simply a personal preference.

** Have a read of this Government Document Relating to VAT Exemptions On New & Second Hand Vehicles. Knowing the contents could save you a lot of money in on going servicing because if you bought the car exempt of VAT and you have the documentation then your servicing can also be VAT exempt! **

There isn't a standard WAV! How the vehicles you look at are configured will depend on the size and make of the vehicle and the company which converted it, as well as the requirements of the original owner. So research what you need before talking to dealers as this will save you wasting time being shown cars or vans which aren't suitable for you. Motability boast over 20,000 WAV customers, which is a lot of variety.

Buying a used WAV image (Full Size)

Buying a used wheelchair accessible vehicle is much the same process of choice and research as buying any new car and it offers the advantages of not having to wait for a special order to be built and being able to run around in a cheaper vehicle. However, you will have to search to find the right vehicle with the right WAV conversions.

Driver or Passenger?

If you are intending to drive yourself, you may notice the abbreviation DFW (or Drive From WAVs). A DFW will have more adaptions to ensure independence and compliance, so may be more expensive, but you'll need these to drive from your wheelchair. These may include an automatic lift or ramp, so that you can get in by yourself and some form of safetly locking device to secure your wheelchair (and you) in place, like a bolt to the floor which locks the wheelchair in place and a headrest which supports the driver from behind in case of a knock. 

For wheelchair passengers, the vehicle can be cheaper as there will a driver to assist the wheelchair-using passenger into the vehicle and so the ramps and fixings don't need to be as hi-tech or automated - which also means less to go wrong. Also, a BIG question as a passenger is whether you want to sit in the back or up front next to the driver? With these upfront WAVs, I've seen the access via the rear and travel through to the front, as in the video below right, and also a clever access system from the passenger door called an InFront Doblo, by Accessible Vehicles: when you open the door the floor comes with it, you wheel on and it all closes very smoothly, placing you in the right position (video below left).

Size - Small, Medium or Large?

As with everything else to do with cars, you need to choose what size vehicle will suit your needs, bearing in mind fuel consumption, ease of parking, ability to transport people, equipment and luggage.

There are loads of vehicles which are suitable for conversion, so plenty of scope for different preferences, budgets and space requirements. Remember to do your research on vehicle reliability, known common problems (and likely costs to fix them) and driver & mechanic feedback. Autotrader's content pages are an excellent place to start this kind of research and they have some exceptionally comprehensive advice on all facets of buying a used car. It is important not to forget the basic elements of buying a second hand car when buying someone's preloved wheelchair accessible vehicle, because getting rid of one WAV and buying another is a more involved process than just buying mainstream vehicles and forgetting to go through all the basics can cause wasted time (possibly with loss of independence) and money, not to mention additional stress.

Ramp vs Lift - this is a bit of an access vs cost vs ease of use conundrum.

Ramps can be manual or automatic (automatic will cost you more) whereas lifts are almost always automatic. And manual ramps can be spring loaded to make the process of folding and unfolding that much easier. Ramps tend to go at the rear of a vehicle, though not exclusively and will usually be fitted to smaller vehicles. Lifts are just as commonly installed at the back and side of a vehicle and are usually installed in bigger vehicles, such as vans, where the height difference is greater. 

Your choice may be dictated by what is on offer (used WAVs) or what are your physical needs, but remember that if something is automated, there is a greater possibility of something requiring fixing (= time and expense). Check to see what guarantees the dealer offers with this equipment. 

Rear Ramped WAV (Full Size)

Whichever you choose, it will take up a certain amount of space, which will impact on either your boot space, or ground clearance if placed underneath the vehicle (or possibly both).

Side or Rear Access - Rear access is often very easy to install as you can put a ramp into the boot space. However, this always restricts passenger loading and unloading if you have luggage and equipment loaded behind you. Side loading gives the passenger more independence, though often restricts parking as you need to find somewhere with enough space alongside the vehicle and where you won't be blocked in by someone parking beside you.

Headroom & Ground Clearance - conversions are done in a variety of ways by the different conversion companies.

This issue really is a case of Try Before You Buy. When you go for your test drive or look, get in and make sure that you are comfortable when in position. It sounds obvious, but in with everything else that you are advised that you should be considering, it can be easy to forget the basic stuff of comfort. If something was designed with clearance for a child, it may not work for an adult.

Some conversions significantly impact on ground clearance. If this is the case, take care to drive sensibly over bumps!

Wheelchair Tie Downs & Docking Systems

Safety is of utmost importance and depending on whether you are a passenger or driver you will choose between tie down straps and a docking system, similar to the one shown in the image below. 

You will need to research docking systems as not all wheelchairs are compatible or have been crash tested. If this is the system you want then it may be prudent to choose the wheelchair first to ensure the WAV will accommodate your chair.

You should also have a head restraint to help prevent whiplash injuries.

Other issues with a docking system can include ground clearance when using the chair normally, as the the part which is fixed to the wheelchair reduces ground clearance.

Wheelchair docking system for use in WAVs (Full Size)

Regulations and Documentation

Please read this advice from RICAhttp://www.rica.org.uk/content/regulations-and-standards-wavs

Views & Privacy Glass - If you are sitting in the back, the extra height sitting position of the wheelchair can impede your vision out which can be frustrating.

Some WAVs get around this with extra glass panels. Some WAV users prefer to have privacy glass installed to avoid feeling like an exhibit as people drive past. It's also incredibly handy for anyone who catheterises regularly in their car, giving them some much needed privacy to go about their business unnoticed.

(Plus, as someone who bought a second hand car with privacy glass already fitted, I wouldn't go back to regular glass now. It's cooler in Summer for the kids, and I don't worry so much about leaving stuff in the boot because you can't really see in.) You see it more and more these days and I think this is because, it just appeals to people, once they've tried it.

Air Conditioning in the Back - if you suffer from poor circulation, often feel cold and are looking for a rear passenger vehicle, you may want to search for a vehicle which has air conditioning in the back in order to make your immediate environment more comfortable.

Financing & Cost- getting a WAV can be an expensive business so if you cannot afford it out of your own pocket, don't give up: there are funds and grants which exist to facilitate helping people, for example: the Access To Work scheme. For other sources of motoring funding, give Disabled Motoring UK a call, as they may be able to help.

RICA's Word of Warning(from their website):

"Many adaptations involve moving the fuel tank and/or making it smaller. This means you can't go as far on one tank. Sometimes it also affects the reliability of the fuel gauge. Be sure to ask the converter about this."

Where to Buy Second Hand, Used Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles?
It seems of late that there have been an explosion of companies selling 2nd hand WAVs. This is handy as competition can often sharpen price sensitivities and focus attention on customer service and reputation. It should also mean that wherever you are, there will be a dealer in your region. Due diligence should still apply and you may want to check reviews and forums for customer experiences of dealerships.

  • Please email or tweet to @disabledgear for inclusion. I will put out some tweets to populate this section.
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Looking for a wheelchair accessible motorbike...?! Have a look at:

  • Conquest Mobility. "The Conquest was originally created by Alan Martin, founder of Martin Conquest wheelchair motorbike in the United Kingdom, for his son, an outgoing young man that had become disabled. The concept for a wheelchair motorcycle for individuals with physical disabilities then progressed through the classical stages of new product development and great interest grew throughout the UK." Essentially it's a bike platform with a specially adapted back which allows the wheelchair user to just ride on up, stay sitting in the chair and enjoy the ride!

  • Nippi Trike - is a specially designed Wheelchair Scooter, which the manufacturer's website says is "based on the Classic Italian Piaggio Scooters."

For more information on Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, you can visit:

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