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Choosing a car

Choosing a car can be a complicated decision. Manufacturers' brochures and test reports in magazines will help you weigh up and compare such things as performance, running costs and reliability. However, if you have a disability or are just getting older, there are additional things you may need to consider.

Interior of Toyota Verso

Choosing a car if you're older or have a disability

Many cars have features that will make your life easier. There are simple gadgets and more complex adaptations that can help with almost any driving problem. Here, we set you on the road to knowing what to look out for. We also describe some of the simpler equipment that can make driving a car easier and details of where to go for adaptations, information and help.

  • Prices of adaptations mentioned on these pages are those typically charged and should be used as a guide only.
  • Shop around and talk to several companies, as prices do vary.
  • Adaptation companies are specialists and can often come up with a solution even when no standard product meets your needs.
  • Some Mobility Centres will give you the opportunity to see equipment, try it out and get more information and advice.
    See Driving Mobility (the network of Mobility Centres)

For more solutions, see futher guidance in our Motoring in the menu on the left.

If you know what features and specifications you need, check car measurements as well to find a vehicle to suit your needs - use our car search.

Four steps to getting on the road

Prepare to compromise, as you may not find everything in one car. Think about what you need now and what you may need in the future.

1. Ask some basic questions

Will you drive the car? 

If not, you only have to think about getting yourself and any equipment you use into the car, and your comfort once inside.

If you are going to be the driver, you need to think about how you're going to drive safely and comfortably, and whether you'll need specialist equipment to help you.

Will you need specialist equipment? 

There's a wide range of specialist controls, from simple attachments such as wider mirrors and steering knobs to more elaborate controls that make it possible for almost anyone to drive as long as they meet the DVLA requirements for a driver's licence. If you need specific adaptations, see also our guide to Car controls.

You can also get specialist equipment to help with getting in and out, from swivel cushions and transfer boards to powered lifting and swivelling seats and hoists. This guide gives some information about the simpler equipment; for more complex solutions, see our guide to Getting into and out of a car.

How much space will you need?

You may need space for passengers, luggage or equipment such as wheelchairs or scooters. If you have bulky mobility equipment, you may need more room for shopping trips or holidays. You can compare the amount of boot space or numerous other dimensions of hundreds of vehicles with our Advanced car search.

Will you travel with someone?

If not, will you need any equipment to help you get in and out, or to help with anything you may carry?

How will you transport your wheelchair?

Think carefully about how you will carry your wheelchair in any car you are considering. How will you transfer from the wheelchair to the car? Will the wheelchair fit in the boot? Will you need equipment to help you? Many of these questions are answered in our guide to Getting a wheelchair into a car.

If transferring is difficult, or if you prefer to travel in your wheelchair, some cars and vans can be adapted to make this possible. We outline the different possibilities in our guide to Wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs).

2. Collect information

There's a lot to think about when choosing a vehicle, and it's unlikely that you'll find all of the information you need in one place. Comfort, reliability, performance - including fuel consumption and CO2 emissions - price and running costs are things everybody needs to consider. Motoring magazines, the internet, newspaper reviews, radio and television programmes and manufacturers' brochures should help you piece together the information you need. 

Particularly helpful sources of general information:

Car magazinesThere's a wide range of motoring magazines with advice, news and car reviews. Most reviews tell you about equipment that is particularly useful for older and disabled motorists, such as automatic transmission, air conditioning, power steering, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, and electric seat adjustment.

Some of the magazine websites allow you to compare the equipment available on different cars. For advice, news and reviews, try Autocar. For all of this, plus car comparisons and financial information, look at What Car?, which lists all new cars every month, with prices; Top Gear, which also has a 'car chooser' to guide you to suitable cars; and Auto Express.

Which? carries out in-depth car tests, and also surveys car owners about satisfaction and reliability. Members can see the information on its website.

There's a wealth of information elsewhere on the internet. Try these sites for safety-testing information, prices, reviews, features and specifications:

Things to think about if you have a disability:

After you've looked at articles in motoring magazines and the internet, as well as manufacturers' brochures, you'll need to work out how all of this applies in relation to your disability.

If you need to find a car that is easier to get into and out of, or one big enough for your wheelchair, you can use our Quick car search to draw up a shortlist. Alternatively, you can use our Advanced car search to find cars with, for example, the widest doors, lowest sill, most headroom or where the seat is the same height as your wheelchair. If you need to stow a wheelchair or other equipment, you can search cars by boot size. Our database includes detailed measurements of over 900 current and recent models.

  • Look to Mobility Centres and organisations of disabled motorists for independent advice.
  • Disabled Motoring UK's monthly magazine has news, features and advice, and reviews of cars tested by disabled drivers - it's free for members.
  • Motability has a list of car dealers. These dealers will know what features in their range of cars are helpful for older and disabled people. They all have specialist information and facilities for disabled people.
  • You'll also find a great deal of advice and information on the Motability website. And they publish a quarterly magazine, Lifestyle, with news, views and reviews - free if you have a Motability vehicle; otherwise, it costs £10 a year.

Most people will simply choose a car at a dealer. However, if you need specialist or made-to-measure adaptations, you'll have to discuss this with a specialist adaptation company before choosing your car – to make sure they will fit. If you're using the Motability scheme, they'll manage the process of adapting your car if you ask.

3. Try out before buying any car

Try out before buying any car you are considering. Dealers may bring one to you, and should be able to find an automatic version. Try getting in and out several times. If you use a wheelchair, check that it fits.

You might be able to try out adapted cars at a Mobility Centre, a roadshow event or an adaptation firm. They will tell you whether your adaptations can be fitted to the car.

4. Get plenty of practice

It's a very good idea to have lessons with an instructor using any adaptations you have chosen - and it's essential when you're learning to use a left-foot accelerator. Mobility Centres can provide details. Make sure that you are not driving with adaptations for the first time when you collect your car. 

If you're learning or returning to driving, Mobility Centres and Disabled Motoring UK can help you to find a specialist driving instructor. They use cars with adapted controls or will teach you in your own vehicle.

Acknowledgements: This guide was produced by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers with funding from Motability and in partnership with Driving Mobility (the network of Mobility Centres)

You can download this complete guide as a PDF and print it.

The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers is a UK consumer research charity.
We don't sell products. Search online by product name to find suppliers. Our research aims to help you choose the controls that will work best for you.

Last updated: June 2018

Next: Making it easier to get in and out | See also: Car research portal | Car search