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Vehicle Shopping with a Twist

Below is an article originally written by Fran Joyce for her blog This Awful-Awesome Life where she discusses her wheelchair van buying experience with our MobilityWorks team in Pittsburgh.

By Fran Joyce
Getting a new car is exciting. After 14 years of nursing my adapted minivan along, it was time for a new one. For anyone who is physically challenged or lives with a physically challenged family member, the decision to buy a vehicle or replace an existing one can seem daunting. I’m using the term “handicapped” in this article because I will be discussing parking and other considerations for purchasing a vehicle. I dislike labels, and I apologize to anyone who may be offended.

The type of conversion you need is dependent on whether the person with physical challenges will be a driver or passenger.

In my case, I have a son in a power wheelchair who will be a passenger not a driver. With a power chair, there are height requirements for the converted vehicle that may not apply to manual chairs. Head room is a safety issue when entering and exiting the vehicle. For this reason, a manual ramp which is least expensive might not be the best option.

Another factor to consider is the location of the ramp. Do you prefer side or rear entry? Both types have advantages and disadvantages. If you have observed many designated handicapped parking spaces, you will note that not all spaces have the necessary side space marked off to allow space for the ramp and space for the wheelchair user to safely access the ramp or clear the ramp upon exiting the vehicle. One size does not fit all because not all people with limited mobility require a wheelchair. Some people with handicapped parking permits who are not in wheelchairs will park in spots designated for vans or in the striped space if another handicapped parking space is not available. If you are one of them – PLEASE DON’T!

Rear entry ramps are not dependent on additional space for the side of your vehicle. However, rear entry ramps mean you or your loved one may be exiting or entering the van in parking lot traffic areas. If so, you sometimes have to stop traffic for safe entry or exit. Personally, I’ve seen too many people zoom through parking lots to be comfortable with a rear entry ramp.

I began my search on the Internet and found several helpful websites. I was able to establish a realistic price range for the vehicle we needed and access availability in my area. A new mini-van with a new conversion can cost $50,000 – $65,000. A used mini-van with a new conversion is less expensive. After a thorough review of my finances, I contacted my accountant and my financial advisor with my price range to run the numbers and talk about the best way for me to afford a “new” van.

There are also converted vehicles available that are not full sized vans or mini-vans, but headroom and placement of the wheelchair must be taken into consideration. It is also possible to buy a new or used van and have it converted. This may or may not work for you depending on your finances.

MobilityWorks® in Monroeville, PA has new and used vans with handicap conversions for sale. Pennsylvania has very specific leasing regulations which preclude leasing vans with handicap conversions. Because MobilityWorks® has locations in other states the company can offer a limited number of used vehicles with new manual ramp conversions for lease. I’m not well versed on how this lease program works considering Pennsylvania’s leasing laws. If this is an option for you – ask the experts at MobilityWorks®.

I contacted MobilityWorks® for more information, and I was referred to Peter Weagraff, a certified mobility consultant. He took the time to ask about my son’s physical needs, our vehicle preferences and budget before scheduling an appointment to drive a van to our house for our inspection. To our home in the South Hills – how cool is that?

My 2004 Chrysler Town and Country had a BraunAbility conversion. The 2016 Dodge Caravan I looked at was a VMI conversion. Both types of conversions are excellent depending on your personal needs. I’m not an expert, so look at both if possible and consult an expert to help you decide which one will be best for you.

After calculating how much head room was needed, the VMI conversion with the manual ramp was not our best option. I also ruled out a new vehicle because of financial considerations. A Red 2016 Dodge Caravan with a BraunAbility conversion and side entry power ramp was traded in. It was a perfect fit for my family, so I grabbed it.

I had my financing worked out, but MobilityWorks® has some attractive financing options.

I was able to trade in my old van and after receiving four brand new tires, a thorough inspection and “detailing,” our “new” van was delivered to my door.

Pennsylvania has some limited resources for financing handicapped vehicles with low interest loans and a few grants, but nothing I was able to use. Check all available resources to see if you qualify for assistance.

I hope passing along my experience will be helpful. Please observe parking courtesies for wheelchair accessible minivans and full-size vans with lifts.

MobilityWorks® is the largest adaptive van provider in the United States – serving the disabled community with wheelchair accessible minivans, full-size vans with lifts and commercial fleet vehicles.

With over 70 consumer showroom locations in 24 states and a Commercial Van Division serving customers nationwide, MobilityWorks® has locations in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

MobilityWorks® offers financing, extended warranties, rental vans, a 24-hour emergency help line, and mechanical services.

For more information, visit their website,

In the Pittsburgh area, call 421-824-8091 or visit the Monroeville location at 1012 Seco Rd. 15146

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