How to find the right vehicle for paraplegics, quadriplegics or anyone in a wheelchair.
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When I was in the market for a car, I couldn’t find a list of cars that are good for people in wheelchairs. I now realize why that is as I undertake writing for you something deserving of this title.
Here are the two reasons there isn’t a succinct list, it depends on the individual and nearly any car can be used.
The “best car” is relative, there is no absolute best car for everyone.
However, there still needs to be a guide for how to find the best car for paraplegics, quadriplegics, or anyone in a wheelchair.
There are some cars that can be ruled out right away, but not many.
I’ll be using “car” referring to a vehicle of personal transport, including trucks, SUVs , etc.
Finding the best car starts with what you want, the state of your physical condition, and what your values are.
First, we’ll go over some questions you’ll write down and answer for yourself, then we’ll go over your answers and what they mean for you and what you should look at within the confines of what type of cars will work best for you. You can definitely have multiple cars of diverse types if you can’t make up your mind, but whatever modifications you need will have to be added.
Towards the end of this post, I’ll put in my videos where I talk about what to look for in a car and how to transfer into different types of cars to help you visualize and for extra help in finding a car.
When I was searching for a car, I looked at hundreds of cars online and I went to all the dealerships in my area to look at and try out the different cars. I would mostly look at the cars, look at how the doors opened and visualize whether or not it would be a good fit. Some cars I checked out and tried to get into at dealerships didn’t work at all. I could barely get into the car and once I did, there was no way of me getting my chair inside. That car was the Fiat 500x, one which I thought had a good chance of working and luckily, I tried it.
So, lets begin with finding what type of car you’re looking for.
Questions for how to find the right car for you:
- Do you know what style car will fit your lifestyle?
- A van with space for kids and cargo, a sports car built for speed, an SUV with all wheel drive made for extreme weather with sufficient space, or a truck made for towing, carrying and use of 4×4.
- How much do you care about the time it takes to get into the car?
- If the car you want took you longer to get in than your second choice, does the time or preference matter more?
- Do you care more about style or about convenience?
- To what level are you able to disassemble your wheelchair?
- How fit are you for lifting your chair and do you have any injuries or weakness of any muscles?
- Would you rather stay in your wheelchair or have to get out of it each time?
- How much do you want to take apart your wheelchair (if you can)? All the way, partly or not at all?
- What are some general features you would like in a car? All wheel drive/4×4, speed, economical, luxury.
- What is your budget?
Once you answer all of these, you can begin to break down what these answers mean. Let’s review (coordinating with the bullet numbers above).
- If you know the style that will fit your life, then that’s good, you already narrowed down where to look.
- When it comes to the time to get into a car, depending on your ability, strength, and modifications, it can take a few seconds or a few minutes. If you know for certain that you want a truck, then it might end up taking a minute or more to get in. Are you okay with that? Imagine you go to get gas, park and get out only to realize you’re on the wrong side and need to get back in, turn around and get back out, all the while, you’re late for a meeting. Would you still want or need a truck enough to merit the time it takes to get in and out?
- If you’re willing to change the car type based on how long it takes to get in and out, you’ll find more info for what options there are to minimize the time it takes to get in and you can determine for yourself if that type of car is what you’d want or can afford.
- Depending on your physical condition, you’ll have to make some trade-offs based on the minimum of what you need. After that, you could either keep going down the road of modifications and possibly different car types so that it is the least amount of work for you to get in and out, or you can stop at the bare minimum and opt for more style or preferences that might make it harder or a slower progress to get in, but if you value style/features more, it’ll be worth it for your happiness.
- What type of wheelchair do you have? Along with that, considering your physical abilities, how easy is it for you to take apart your chair? The ease of taking apart your chair varies with the type of car and modifications you get. I recommend watching my videos to get an idea of what ways a chair can be taken apart for different types of cars. The type of car/modifications you get will determine how much you need to disassemble your chair. If you’re a quadriplegic and you plan on driving alone, then a Bugatti would be out of the question unless you want to leave your chair behind. Consider the space that your chair will take up in the car, that will affect the style car you get.
- Not everyone is a bodybuilder, not even most people who say they are. If you have shoulder injuries that affect your ability to take apart your chair and lift it into the car, then that’ll affect the car style. Maybe you just aren’t strong enough to lift your chair in and out multiple times each day. The degree to which you’re willing to take your chair apart will determine the style car you get along with any modifications.
- If you had the option to remove the driver’s seat and roll into the car and be in your wheelchair behind the wheel, would you take that option and accept whatever style car and features you got? Removing the driver’s seat so that you can stay in your chair will affect the ability for others to use your car if the situation arises. If you’re a quadriplegic and more or less confined to staying in your chair, getting a van where you can roll in through the trunk may be the only viable option.
- If you have a manual wheelchair, there are various levels that you can take it apart. Myself, I only take off the wheels and that’s it, it makes the process faster and requires less work. You might not mind of you had to take off the backrest as well. If you’re driving a smaller, sport car, then you might have to take off everything that can come off – wheels, backrest, cushion.
- You can find almost every car style with all wheel drive along with other features. Since we are buying a car, it’s important to consider, within budget, what features you’d like. It’s not always possible to get all of them, but it can sometimes be the tie breaker.
- Considering your budget is important (if you have one). Once you’ve answered all the questions above, you’ll be able to find out what type of modifications you’ll need, which are always very expensive, as well as the type of car.
I recommend this process:
- Have your top two car types. For me it was a coupe and an SUV.
- Find out what type of modifications you’ll need or want (it might not be necessary but could be preferable based on if you value the time getting in).
- Will these modifications work with both, one, or none of your top car types?
- If yes, then you can begin the process of finding the specific cars that are options.
- If no, then find out the type of cars that the modifications will work with and then you’ll be at the step above.
- Go to the dealership(s) and try out your top 5-10 options.
- If the car option is a modified van that you need to roll into from the trunk, then you can usually try out different types at a nearby location that sells the vans with the modifications.
- Choose the car that best aligns with your values.
When it comes to the specifics, here are some things to look for in the car.
For manual wheelchair users that will be taking the chair apart and lifting it inside:
The bigger the door the better – when it opens and the opening itself.
Try to find a car with the seat close to the outside when the door is opened.
Check into how much the seat can adjust – you might need to move it back to bring the chair inside.
The seat shouldn’t be too much lower or above you when you’re in your chair.
If it’s an SUV, test out to see if you can grab the trunk when it’s open and if not, attach a rope or something to help.
If you were to have someone else take the chair apart and put it in the car, how easy would it be? Could they just fit it into the trunk?
If you’re getting a truck that’s high above the ground, how will you get in and how will you bring your chair inside or put it in the truck bed? There are a few types of modifications for each.
For powered wheelchair users:
If you’ll be staying inside your chair, then your options (to my limited knowledge) are not vast. Most likely it will be a van or SUV with a ramp that comes out of the back or side and you’ll roll into the car.
If you’re in a manual wheelchair, here are the different cars that I’ve seen work to act as a guide:
- Any van
- Some coupes, such as Infinity G35
- Subaru Outback & Forester (they have the ideal big door openings)
- Chevy Malibu, it’s a sedan but not hard to take the chair apart from within.
- Convertibles would be easy to lift the chair into.
- Older cars such as the El Camino or El Dorado with the big door openings
Choosing a car holds more weight for those in a wheelchair than it does for others. Once you choose a car, you get the modifications, which are typically bespoke and can’t easily be transferred to another car. So you really only get to make one choice unless your finances are in a very fine spot and you can afford making a mistake purchase of a car.
Immediate actionable items: If you’re looking for a car, write down your answers to these questions and create a checklist of mandatory and preferred options for cars. They style, the modifications and so on. Then, go out and look for some cars as well as suppliers for modifications.
Summary: The best car for paraplegics, quadriplegics or anyone in a wheelchair doesn’t exist. Cars, though mass produced, are very personal and the best car for someone in a wheelchair won’t be the best for someone in a comparable situation. We go over the basics and in depth questions to be asking yourself when it comes to finding your best car. Overall, SUVs and vans are the most popular, but not all of them will work, it’s important to go and try your top 5 options after going through the checklist we created.
Overdeliver: If you’re in a wheelchair and also have a facebook account, you can join some groups with others that are in a wheelchair and ask them for personal recommendations, though you need to remember that everyone is different and has different values. Don’t blindly accept advice and buy the first car suggested to you. I was told by many people that I need to get a van and I’m happy I didn’t get a van.