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Access to a WAV - ramps or lifts

There are two ways to get a wheelchair into a vehicle - up a ramp or on a liftAs well as the general questions to ask yourself when choosing a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV), you also need to decide how you'll get your wheelchair in and out.
Young girl in wheelchair being pushed up ramp in a WAV
This ramp is just wide enough

Ramps can be powered or manual.

Lifts are always powered and are usually operated using a wired or wireless control panel.

Some drive-from-wheelchair WAVs have lifts that deploy automatically when you unlock the vehicle.

Some WAV users have told us that they feel exposed and vulnerable on lifts; others find them easier than ramps, because they don't have to reverse down a slope.

Most powered wheelchairs will be able to get up a ramp into the car under their own power, but you may need more help.

If you have someone travelling with you, they'll be able to attach a powered winch to the wheelchair to help you up the ramp. But if you want to be able to travel independently, a winch won't be suitable.

Things to consider about ramps and lifts


  • Lifts are usually more expensive than ramps.
  • Powered ramps are more expensive than manual ones.


  • External lighting improves visibility when using the ramp or lift and makes passers-by aware that you're using the equipment.
  • Internal lighting is useful - but be aware that standard vehicle lighting may switch off too soon.

Manual or powered

  • Lifts are always powered. Ramps can be manual or powered.
  • For a powered ramp or a lift, consider how easy it is to use the remote control.
  • Manual ramps require more effort as well as skills like co-ordination, balance and strength.


  • Ramps generally take up more space outside the vehicle than lifts do.


  • A ramp mustn't be too steep (not more than 13 degrees, or about 1 in 4), or you won't be able to use it safely.
  • A long ramp is less steep than a short one, but is harder to use - it's heavier and takes up more room outside the vehicle.


  • Ramps and lifts need to have raised edges to help stop you from falling off.
  • Make sure there's enough space to fit your wheelchair safely.
  • Never travel across the side edges of the ramp in your wheelchair - you risk turning over.
  • In some vehicles, there's room to turn the wheelchair around inside the vehicle. But in most cases, you (or whoever is helping you) will have to reverse the wheelchair out - this can be tricky on ramps.
  • Winches can be fitted as an aid or a safety measure if your helper is frail or insecure. WAV converters will advise on winches.
  • A winch shouldn't be fitted to compensate for a too-steep ramp. 


  • When a ramp (or the channel for the wheelchair to follow inside the vehicle) is narrow, it can be difficult to manoeuvre your wheelchair as the castors need room to swivel around.
  • If there isn't enough room for the castors to swivel around they'll get stuck - this may damage the WAV's interior in time.
  • Having rear seats can make the channel for the wheelchair to follow inside narrow.


  • Make sure you can safely operate all parts of the ramp or lift.
  • Ramps can be heavy. Handles will make lowering and raising the ramp easier.
  • Lifts and ramps have different mechanisms depending on manufacturer and type. Their control panels will also be different.
  • Loose parts of ramps and lifts need to be secured when you are travelling. Talk to the converter about how best to secure them.

Safety warning

Some WAVs have specially lowered (and sloping) floors, which act as a continuation of the ramp so the outside part can be made shorter. Sometimes this means that the wheelchair is tipped back when you are travelling, which can be uncomfortable. If you cross the point where the ramp changes into the floor at an angle, you may become unbalanced and your wheelchair could tip.

Lowered (and sloping) floors can reduce the ground clearance of the vehicle, which makes bumps in the road a problem. An alternative is to fit lowering suspension, which is available on some WAVs.

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The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers is the UK’s leading expert in user-centred research involving disabled and older consumers. We have over 50 years’ experience of independent, specialist research.
This information is unbiased and we hope it will help you choose the right option to meet your needs. We don't sell products.

Last updated: August 2018

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