Help others making a similar purchase.
This webpage is the product of a disabled individual who has owned both a full size conversion van as well as a mini. Before you purchase your first wheelchair accessible van (or your third or fourth), I suggest you take a moment to consider some of the information detailed on this webpage. I hope it is helpful to you.
My First Vehicle
My first vehicle was a 1988 Ford full size van. It had a Wheelchair Lift (as opposed to a ramp). The lift was “heavy duty” and never gave me any trouble. I eventually began shopping for a new vehicle when my van’s engine wasn’t dependable any more.
Prior to my purchase of a Chevy Venture modified by Eldorado National I searched the World Wide Web looking for information to become a wise consumer but I did not find any editorials about it. This is an account of one consumer who regrets his purchase, and hopes other disabled individuals don’t wind up with the same regrets. My minivan problems did not end until I obtained a lawyer and after several months of threatening litigation, had Eldorado National agree to buy my van back from me. Whatever the brand you are looking to purchase, take a moment to read some of the pros (Full Size Van) and cons (Minivans) of modified vehicle shopping.
I am 6’ 3” and sit tall in my wheelchair. So I thought I would need a full size van with a raised roof again. I have been a passenger in my friend’s modified Dodge Caravan and I had to bend over slightly. The Dodge Caravan has a 10 inch lowered floor. But when I went shopping I was introduced to the Eldorado National “Activan” (now called: "Amerivan") which had a 12 inch lowered floor. I thought this was wonderful. Apparently it was the first minivan to drop its floor 12 inches. This would give me the extra room I needed to comfortably see out the windshield while driving from my wheelchair. The thought of using less gas and having more parking spaces available to me with a minivan blinded me to the potential headaches to come.
Years ago, as with my first full size van, modifiers were only able to lower the floor 6”. So because of my height I needed a lowered floor and a raised roof. Today modifiers lower the floor 8” and even 9” inches. My current full size Ford van has an 8” lowered floor. And these extra 2” inches made it possible for me to order a van without a raised roof (saving thousands of dollars).
Lowered floors are very expensive (about $10,000.00). If the vehicle is for a non-driver, there is no need to lower the floor. A raised roof (about $3,000.00 – and about $5,000.00 if you raise the side doors also) should be sufficient. The reason for the lowered floor is so the driver in the wheelchair can have a safe view out of the windshield.
Wheelchair Lifts / Ramps
Other than some general maintenance, I never experienced any trouble with the hydraulic lift in my full size van in over 15 years of use. On the other hand I had nothing but trouble with the delicate electric ramp in my mini van. There was one electrical glitch after another. The small electrical motors used in the ramps are not durable or reliable.
After numerous complaints I had Eldorado National install an entirely new ramp system in my mini van. The problems continued. Three ramp motors later - I still had problems.
The Wheelchair Lifts are much more dependable. Lifts are heavy duty hydraulic pieces of equipment. I would only recommend lifts to friends and loved ones. There are also different types of lifts.
Under Vehicle Lifts
The Under Vehicle Lifts are nice on the full size van because they do not take up any interior room, but they do affect ground clearance and they are subject to collecting dirt and debris (which could lead to problems). Curb-side parking is also very difficult with the U.V.L. because upon deployment the lift comes straight out from the side, hitting the curb.
The new interior lifts for full size vans are much more considerate of interior space. If you do purchase the recommended interior lift, select a "duel post" model (as pictured on the top of this page). “Duel Post” means that there are two support brackets inside the vehicle as opposed to the single post model pictured below. The duel posts provide greater stability and strength.
The single post lifts allow clearance for a wheelchair to roll into the passenger area of the vehicle (one post is toward the rear of the side doors, and there is no post behind passenger seat). This is a nice feature if you want the wheelchair in the passenger seat. However after some usage the lift tends to lean to the one side that is not supported by a post.
For individuals driving from their wheelchairs, there really isn't a need for the single post lifts.
With a mini van, the rear of the vehicle “kneels” when the ramp deploys so that the incline is not as steep. This system was temperamental as well in my mini van . The van was supposed to come out kneel mode (rear shocks fill with air) when the ramp stowed. Frequently my van never came fully out of kneel mode –causing the van to ride “low”.
This is just another delicate electrical feature certain to eventually have problems. With a full size van and lift there is no kneel system involved. This is yet another benefit to “going full size”.
Van Bottoms Out
The mini van was so low to the ground that I consistently hit bottom on everything. Obviously this is more so with the 12 inch lowered floor (as opposed to the standard 10 inch drop), but all lowered floor minivans are subject to hitting bottom. The minivans with lowered floors are just too low.
In fairness, I must say that this is experienced more often with rear seat passengers on board. If you will mostly be using the mini van for commuting to work or school you may not experience this problem as often. However, if you have a family or frequently carry passengers, avoid the mini, you will bottom out at every driveway, speed bump etc. I frequently picked up 3 or 4 individuals (including a friend in a wheelchair who sat behind me) and I continually scraped bottom.
Go with a full size van, preferably the Ford E-250. The ramp on the minivans is just too delicate and temperamental. With a full size van the lift is heavy duty and made to last. With a full size van there are no worries about “hitting bottom”. There is plenty of ground clearance with a full size van.
Please don’t make my mistake. Yes you’ll spend more on gas with a full size, but the consequences of the alternative are not fun. Also a full size (Ford E-250) is a truck. Minivans are not . Where I live (North East) the roads get potholes and it is hard on vehicles. My full size van can take the abuse. In my mini van I crawled at 5 mph as soon as I saw the slightest bump for the fear of damaging my delicate little minivan (particularly since the rear airbags rarely inflated adequately).