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Choosing a car for wheelchair users

Here are some things to consider when choosing a car for wheelchair users. What you decide to do may affect the number of cars that will be suitable, and thus your choice of car.

  • Will you transfer from your chair into the car seat?
  • Will you load the chair into the boot and walk round to the front?
  • Will you need specialist lifting equipment? 
  • Will you be able to do what you require without help? 
  • Do you want to stay in your wheelchair the entire time?

Transferring from a wheelchair

Man using a transfer board between car seat and wheelchairIf you don't have enough arm strength and dexterity to swing yourself into and out of the car, you may be able to slide sideways from your wheelchair using a transfer board. These bridge the gap between your wheelchair and the car seat, and can be used with a swivel seat.

If someone helps you get into and out of a car, a belt that fits around your waist can help with the manoeuvering. A turning disc on which you put your feet may make it easier for your assistant to swivel you round. These are available from general aids suppliers for £15-£120.

With hoists, you transfer to a sling and move across in it to the car seat. With most hoists, you'll need help to do this. If you're tall and your legs are not very supple, you may find it difficult to get them into the car, so it's important to choose a car with adequate dimensions.

Some people who use lightweight wheelchairs transfer into the car seat and then stow the wheelchair behind them or on the front passenger seat themselves. For advice on how to do this, see Techniques for getting into and out of a car. Alternatively, you can get automatic stowage systems that transfer a manual or light electric wheelchair into the back of the car or on to the roof and stow it safely.

For further details about techniques and products to assist you to transfer from a wheelchair to a car, see our full guide: Getting into and out of a car.

Loading the wheelchair into the boot

If you (or your assistant) cannot lift your wheelchair into the car, a wheelchair hoist can be fitted in the boot. The chair needs to be secured once inside. If you have a scooter, you may have to dismantle it.

Ramps are useful for mobility scooters, heavier powered chairs and those that can't easily be dismantled. You may need to fold the back of the wheelchair seat forward to get it in the car - consider the height when choosing your car. Most ramps can be folded and stowed in the boot. You need a car with a low sill, otherwise you may have to fit a ramp on the inside too.

Other solutions for transporting a wheelchair include the Biston Wheelchair Bag and BackSaver, which are both designed to help you more easily load a folded wheelchair into the boot by hand and protect the car from scratching. You can also carry a wheelchair on the Chairack, a specially designed rack that fits on to the towing ball. For a large wheelchair or scooter, you might consider transporting it on a flat trailer

For further details about these options for transporting a wheelchair, take a look at our full guide: Getting a wheelchair into a car.

Staying in your wheelchair

Woman on wheelchair ramp at rear of WAVThere are specially designed wheelchair systems, where the top half of your wheelchair fits into your car to become the front seat. These can help preserve your independence and your dignity, but they may not be suitable if you need specialist supportive seating. You also need someone to help you stow the wheeled base once you're in the car.

Specialist firms convert MPVs and vans into wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs), so that you can get in and travel in your wheelchair as a passenger or driver. If you'll be the driver, you either transfer from your wheelchair inside the vehicle or drive from your wheelchair. WAVs can be fitted with a wide range of specialist controls and are accessed either via a ramp or a lift, from the side or rear of the vehicle. Your requirements will determine which vehicles may be suitable for conversion.

For a more detailed summary of the things you might need to consider, read our full guide: Wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Last updated: June 2011

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