2012 Automotive Access Lineup: Wheelchair-Accessible Minivans

Shopping for a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle could make your head spin. From full-size vans to minivans to cars, the choices are as varied as the individuals who drive. In addition to considering the standard options such as engine performance, gas mileage, style and price, wheelchair users also must ensure the vehicle meets their mobility needs.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, chances are you’ve considered the minivan, know for its roominess. The Mobility Project spoke to two of the largest companies for wheelchair-accessible minivan conversions, BraunAbility and Vantage Mobility International (VMI), to see how the 2012 options stack up.

Did You Know?

Foldout versus In-Floor Ramp: A foldout ramp folds into the passenger entrance of the van. Because the ramp sits inside the vehicle, it must be deployed for vehicle exit/entry and also consumes some of the interior space. The bonus: Foldout ramp conversions are usually less expensive. The in-floor ramp, on the other hand, retracts into the floor of the vehicle. This version doesn’t block the entry/exit and makes for a more mainstream design.

Meet the Minivan Conversion

Standard wheelchair-accessible conversions are available for the most popular minivans on the market: the Chrysler Town & Country, the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna. For the most part, conversion manufacturers leave the manufacturer options untouched, preserving the gas mileage, engine type and overall specs. Instead the conversion adds a ramp, either foldout or in-floor, and adjusts the interior layout of the vehicle.

These adjustments include removing passenger seats or making existing seats easy to remove. Sometimes the height of the van will be raised to give wheelchair users more headroom.

For most of the minivan conversions, however, you’ll find that the floors have been lowered to add interior room as well as provide better ramp-to-curb access.

An advantage of purchasing a minivan is that front-wheel drive minivans are notorious for their spaciousness and large sliding doors, says VMI CEO and President Doug Eaton.

2012 Options by Manufacturer

Honda Odyssey Northstar conversion

Vantage Mobility International (VMI) 

Claim to Fame: VMI is known for adding lowered floors and ramps to minivans.
Conversion Models Offered: Honda Odyssey, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Chrysler Town & Country
New for 2012: VMI is in the process of developing a conversion for the Toyota Sienna. This option will be available in the second half of 2012 in limited quantities.
In addition, the company recently launched a new option for the Honda Odyssey: the step flare, designed for able-bodied passengers. The rear bench footrest prevents the passenger’s feet from dangling due to the lowered floor.
Products: VMI has two conversions: Northstar, which features an in-floor ramp, and Summit, the foldout ramp option. All of the conversions have undergone extensive safety testing.

Chrysler Entervan XT and Honda Entervan conversions

BraunAbility

Claim to Fame: BraunAbility converts minivans by lowering the floor, adding a side- or rear-entry ramp, and modifying the vehicle so that a wheelchair user can drive or ride as a passenger. The company also offers a selection of lifts.
Conversion Models Offered: Honda Odyssey, Dodge Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, and Toyota Sienna
New for 2012: This year BraunAbility is offering the Toyota Sienna Rampvan. “It’s been a few years since we offered an in-floor option, and we think this will be a great alternative for consumers who appreciate a little more interior space and unobstructed access to the passenger sliding door,” says Nick Gutwein, BraunAbility’s president.
BraunAbility has released new models for each of their conversions that integrate step-and-roll seating, third-row footrests, and a passenger flare step. In addition, the company has unveiled a Viewpoint rear-entry vehicle.
Rubberized flooring is another option that replaces the standard carpeting and can be matched to the vehicle’s interior.
Products: BraunAbility offers several conversions with foldout ramp options including the Entervan, Entervan XT, which features taller vertical door clearance of 56.5 inches, and the Rampvan XT for the Toyota Sienna. Entervan is the conversion option for the Honda Odyssey, and the company also has a series of bifold ramp conversions called the Companionvan, which comes with either side or rear entry for Dodge and Chrysler. All of the conversions include a standard floor-track and belt system to secure the wheelchair for transit.

Manufacturer Picks

For VMI, Eaton says the Honda Odyssey with the Northstar ramp system is the most popular option and the one he’s most excited about.

“The Odyssey provides tremendous ride and handling for our customers who expect Honda performance, convenience for the practically minded and affordability for everyone, which is especially important in this challenging economic environment,” he says.

The Northstar in-floor ramp conversion supports 750 pounds, and the ramp lowers quietly and gently for discreet entry and exit.

According to Nick Gutwein, president of BraunAbility, the company’s XT conversion on the Toyota Rampvan and Chrysler Entervan are the most popular options. XT stands for extra tall, and Gutwein says wheelchair users appreciate the extra 4 inches of headroom and extra visibility because they sit higher in the wheelchair.

Advice From the Frontline

How do you know which minivan is right for you? Start by doing a quick comparison of the minivan options on the market before looking at the conversions. Note characteristics such as engine performance, fuel economy and reliability—or whatever automotive options mean the most to you. (Online resources: Minivan comparison)

Then head to your nearest expert in mobility conversions for a customized fit.

“The process of looking for a wheelchair van can be overwhelming,” says Gutwein.

However, mobility dealers are experts, and they can guide consumers through the buying process.

“They know what questions to ask, what measurements of you and your wheelchair or scooter are needed, and what’s going to work best with your lifestyle and budget,” Gutwein says.

Don’t be fooled by any mobility dealer, however.

“For a first-time buyer, I’d recommend they research and choose a manufacturer who has taken the necessary steps to ensure that their vehicles are safe, as required by the DOT [Department of Transportation], and are sold through an authorized dealer network like our Select Dealer Network,” Eaton says.

In fact the industry has an association, the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), that helps buyers sort out who meets safety standards, Eaton explains. The organization has a Quality Assurance Program for mobility dealer accreditation to ensure its members meet quality, safety and reliability guidelines. Check out NMEDA’s BraunAbility

VMI

Looking for a more adventurous ride? Check out Conquest Adds Adventure to Wheelchair-Accessible Auto Options.

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at consumer@hmemediagroup.com.