A buyer's guide to wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs)

Carlton Boyce / 16 December 2015

Stay mobile with our guide to the features and factors you should consider when buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) that meets all of your needs.



There is a huge range of wheelchair accessible vehicles (or WAVs) on the market, with something for everyone, no matter what their level of mobility or pocket.

But that same wide choice can make it confusing to decide which one is right for you, so here’s our guide to help you choose the WAV that best meets your needs.

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Types of WAV

There are several different types of wheelchair accessible vehicle, depending on your needs and level of mobility. 

They include:

Boot storage 

This might just be a large MPV or estate car where the wheelchair is stored in the boot. This is the simplest solution but relies on you having enough mobility to get from the wheelchair into the car seat and being strong enough to load the wheelchair into the boot, or having someone who is able to do so for you.

Wheelchair hoist 

These cars are fitted with a boot-mounted hydraulic or electric hoist, which lifts the wheelchair into the boot while you sit in the car operating it. These types of car are useful if you have a sufficiently high level of mobility to be able to walk from the back of the car to the front but are not able to lift the wheelchair into the boot.

Find out more about the Motability scheme...

Rooftop storage

These cars store the wheelchair in a specially designed roof box using an electric or hydraulic hoist that is operated from inside the car. This type would suit you if you are mobile enough to get into the driver’s seat – perhaps using a swiveling seat for extra convenience – from your wheelchair but can’t load it into the boot by yourself.

Driver-operated 

Some conversions are designed so you can drive from your wheelchair, giving you complete freedom and independence. You can even buy a fully fitted VW campervan, something that would have been unheard of a few years ago!

Ramp

These cars are fitted with a ramp that enables you to get into a car while you are sitting in a wheelchair and to travel as a passenger. These are an ideal solution for those with poor mobility but you do need to be clear where you want to sit: next to the driver; next to a rear seat passenger; or behind the rear seat passengers as your seating position will make a huge difference to how easy it is to talk to the driver and your fellow passengers.

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Considerations

Once you’ve decided what sort of WAV you need, you then need to think about narrowing the selection down to just two or three for you to try. The sort of things you’ll need to consider include:

Size

Will it fit in your garage or on your driveway?

Price 

Can you afford it? Is it covered by the Motability scheme? How does its residual value compare to its competitors?

Performance 

Is performance important to you? If so, will it meet your expectations?

Economy 

If low running costs are an imperative would you be better off with a diesel engine?

Manual or automatic 

Do you need an automatic gearbox? If so, your choice might be more limited.

Space 

Can you fit all the people/things in it that you need? Be realistic; wheelchairs take up a lot of space and if you have an equipment-heavy hobby, you’ll need to make sure that there is space for everything.

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The test drive

It’s important to test drive your final selection – but that doesn’t just mean getting behind the wheel and roaring off down the High Street! No, what you need to do is to take the time to actually try it out to make sure it meets your needs completely.

Don’t be rushed and be sure to take the time to explore the car thoroughly; a good retailer (you can find your local WAV dealer here) won’t mind at all and will be as concerned with making sure you’re happy as they are with taking your cash. 

So be methodical and look for the following, depending on which type of WAV you’re interested in:

  • Can you use the car as you would normally? Is it easy to get into and out of?

  • Is the boot easy to access? Is the boot lip high, making it awkward to lift the wheelchair into? Do you need to fold the rear seats to make enough space? If so, you won’t be able to carry as many passengers.

  • Is the wheelchair hoist easy to operate? Is there a manual backup in the event of an electrical or hydraulic failure?

  • What warranty is being offered? If there is a problem, will the dealer come out to you to repair it or do you have to return the car them?

  • Has the fuel tank been modified? This is quite common with some conversions and can have a significant effect on the car’s range. This will be an important consideration if you regularly travel long distances.

  • Is it easy to park? If it’s much larger than the car it is replacing this might be a problem. However, modern technology like self-parking, reversing cameras, and parking sensors can go a long way to helping and the latter two can be retro-fitted to cars that aren’t fitted with them as standard.

  • Some suppliers will even loan or hire an example of the car you are considering, allowing you to fully explore its features and benefits over a couple of days. I’d recommend this, even if you have to pay a small sum to be able to do so, as there is no substitute for actually living with a car for a day or so to find out whether it’s the one for you.

Buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle is a hefty investment, but it is another link in the chain that will help keep you active and independent and enjoying life to the full!

Could you claim Carer's Allowance?

Do you have a WAV? If so, we’d love to hear your recommendations and thoughts in the comments section below.

For more useful tips and hints, browse more motoring articles.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.