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Reprinted from PN October 2001
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Car or Van?

In response to our print and Web-site query as to whether cars or vans are "best," several readers have shared their opinions:
Read the article below

— "I am 74 and have been a low-level quad for 47 years. I have the ability to manhandle a wheelchair into the car behind the front seat; I drove [a car] for 17 years. In 1973, I acquired a van with a wheelchair lift and drove seated in a manual chair. I soon got a power chair. The contrast between the two is great. With the car, I could usually go only one place and, after pushing the chair some distance, was exhausted. When I got someplace, I could not enjoy myself. The van accommodates a power chair. On long trips, I sometimes lie on a bed in the vehicle's rear. I can make three stops and have strength. [Having a van] enabled me to go to school and get a master's degree. I can go to the mall, discount store, church, hospital—you name it. When I was younger, I sometimes drove 260 miles round-trip across the hot Sunshine State. I've had three vans and three different types of wheelchair lifts. I vote for the van."

Logan O., via the Internet

— "I am a T12 para as the result of a 1964 automobile accident at age 17. I always preferred a car to a van for many of the same reasons [other PN readers] listed. In addition, my preference for a car had to do with my mental image of myself: A van was for "disabled" people, while I was a macho guy who just happened to use a wheelchair. In 1995, after 31 years in a wheelchair, I blew out two disks in my neck. After fusion surgery, the doctors told me the repetitive trauma of transferring to a car and back to a wheelchair, coupled with loading and unloading the chair in the back seat, has caused the disk problem. They advised me to switch to a van. I started with a Ford Windstar IMS van and have since had two Chrysler IMS vans. I really wish I had started using [this type of vehicle] many years ago. It is the easiest and most convenient form of transportation for a person using a wheelchair. I drive from my chair, and I am willing and eager to get in and out of the van. When I [used] a car, I hated to stop [for] gas because of the effort involved in getting in and out of the [vehicle]."

Miles O., via the Internet

— "I have been a C6-7 quad for 33 years and have driven cars all that time. I currently have a well-cared-for 1995 Cadillac Eldorado with 43,000 miles on it. It was the last large, two-door car without a floor shift and with a full console. In 1997, Cadillac stopped making Eldorados with column shifters. I had the console removed and a middle seat made and installed with an armrest from a 1995 Deville. I did all this because I enter on the passenger side and sit on the middle seat while pulling my chair into the back. Entering on the driver's side and dealing with a center console would give me many problems, but I still may try it for a 2002 Eldorado. I've never driven a van but have looked at many at expos because it seems to be an inevitability. I would only drive one if forced to, and not from my wheelchair—unless forced to. They're boxes on wheels that are 'unsafe at any speed.' Maybe it's my love affair with cars or the fact that most able-bodied people think if you use a wheelchair you should drive a van and use a power chair. I love the speed and quickness of cars. Driving a car gives me power I don't have in my wheelchair and allows me to look like most other people. You can't say I'm not honest!"

Ralph S., via the Internet

— "As a paraplegic, I can get in and out of my '93 coupe a lot faster than any van. Also, with a van you have to abandon the center set of seats. What sense does that make? And they charge an arm and two legs for the ramp and lowered floor or the lift. Then, when you want to sell [the vehicle], you have a very narrow market. With my car, I remove the hand controls, and it's back to the original car."

Jason D., via the Internet

— "We already have a Dodge Caravan with the Braun Entervan adaptation. Since my husband and I both use chairs and need our own transportation most of the time, we also need a two-door car with split-bench front seat. We cannot afford two van conversions (the price for just a hand control versus nearly $18,000 for the conversion), nor do we have room in the garage for two vans. Also, it is often difficult to find space to park. I am dismayed that no two-door cars with a split-bench seat option are being made. My '94 Olds has 94k+ miles on it, and I would like to replace it with a new car. When the Olds wears out, we will be reduced to one vehicle. How is the auto industry saving money by losing sales?"

Lola S., via the Internet

— "I would prefer a car to a van but it seems the years of transferring have taken a toll on my shoulders. The few times I had to transfer into cars became more and more painful. I currently have two vans, both with lifts, and was really considering a car mainly because of the price of these vans,which have really gotten out of control. But after considering the transfers [and their affect on] my shoulders, I chose the van again. Just a thought: I wonder, if the prices were lower or normal for a van fully equipped, would more people buy a van over a car??? (Think about it.)"

Robert T., via the Internet

— "[I prefer a] van: more room, better gas mileage, more room for ramps and chair lifts."

via the Internet

— "I prefer a van. The transfer is easier and I don't have to fold and unfold the chair."

Alan B., via the Internet

— "[I] definitely prefer a car; however, I can't believe people are not recognizing the fact that there are NO NEW two-door vehicles out there to be had with a bench seat. And the worst is, they have no plans on making one. When I got a response [to this complaint from GM], the logic was that it was not profitable enough for [the company]. Funny how ADA and Congress can finally get satisfaction from the airlines regarding accessibility, and the car industry can totally discriminate against the physically challenged."

K. A., via the Internet

— "[I prefer a] van. Even though I am a C2 incomplete quad, I prefer the van. It affords me quick access to my chair when I have to go places [where] I will need the use of it. Which is virtually anyplace where I am required to walk distances over 50 feet. Because I am an incomplete, my SCI doctor will not let me get an overhead lift or any lift of any kind."

via the Internet

Tips Time

Getting into or out of a car can be difficult for many people, not just wheelchair users. The following products may help ease the problem:

— CarCaddie—a portable handle loops around your car door frame, providing support and balance. It's helpful for pulling the door closed after you're seated.

— Swivel Seat Cushion—a lazy-susan-style cushion helps you swing your legs into or out of the vehicle.

— Transport Chair—a lightweight, folding wheelchair compact enough to fit in the trunk or back seat.

Contact: (888) 940-0605 /

Avoid Mistakes

As part of its role of providing vehicle-safety-performance information to consumers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) develops and disseminates a variety of broadcast and print materials. Their publication Adapting Motor Vehicles for People With Disabilities was developed to assist individuals in the market for personal vehicles or who have vehicles that need modification. The resource provides step-by-step instructions to help consumers avoid costly mistakes when purchasing or modifying vehicles with adaptive equipment. The booklet also includes general information on cost savings, licensing requirements, and organizations to contact for help.

Copies of Adapting Motor Vehicles for People With Disabilities and other vehicle-safety publications (Buying a Safer Car, Buying a Safer Car for Child Passengers, and Antilock Brake Systems) are available.

Contact: . The DOT Auto Safety Hotline is (888) 327-4236.


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