Once upon a time, to transport a power wheelchair your only option was a wheelchair-accessible van.
While accessible vans remain a popular choice, today there are other practical ways to transport a power wheelchair. Using your existing vehicle they are often very practical and affordable.
The most historical way to transport a power wheelchair chair is a wheelchair conversion van. Nowadays conversion vans are usually minivans with lowered floors and power ramps. For those wishing to drive or ride from a power chair (which should be WC-19 crash test compliant, if occupied), a conversion van is a seamless solution. With a conversion van, you can roll right in, secure the power chair with tie-downs or a docking device, and off you go. However, conversion vans have two downsides. Firstly, they start around $45,000. And, secondly, you’re limited in vehicle choice. Nevertheless, conversion vans are literally a roll-in-and-go solution.
In recent years, vehicle lifts have dramatically changed the ways to transport a power wheelchair. Rather than needing an accessible van, as long as one can transfer to a driver’s or passenger seat, a vehicle lift allows a vast range of vehicles to transport a power chair at a remarkably affordable price. Put simply, a vehicle lift allows you to transport your power chair using your existing vehicle for between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the lift.
Types of Vehicle Lifts for Power Chairs
Lifts come in two styles, “boom” and “platform.” Boom lifts resemble a crane that lifts the power chair up and into the vehicle via a reinforced strap. Platform lifts place the power chair on a platform at ground level, then it’s lifted upward like a miniature elevator. Either one is a great way to transport a power wheelchair.
Boom lifts are primarily an interior lift application (although they can be mounted in truck beds). This includes placement in the rear cargo areas of station wagons, minivans, and SUVs, as well as in a side-entry location on minivans. Further, boom lifts can be used in conjunction with trunks on large sedans. This is accomplished via a quick-release base where a compact power chair lifts into the trunk, then the boom is removed and stowed, allowing the trunk lid to close. This type of application requires the removal of the seat from the base of the power chair.
To lift the power chair into the vehicle, a boom lift features a docking strap that clips on to a special mounting point on the power chair to maintain a level position as it rises in the air. Once the power chair is lifted, the boom is then manually or electrically rotated into the vehicle with the power chair attached, lowering it into its stowed position. A primary benefit of a boom lift is that it takes up minimal space in the vehicle, allowing cargo room when the power chair isn’t present.
Platform lifts serve as a very practical means to transport a power whelchair, as you simply roll it onto the lift platform, secure it with tie-downs or a mechanical docking bracket, then lift the power chair with the push of a button.
Exterior platform lifts raise the power chair well off of the ground, to driving height, with plenty of ground clearance during transport.
Additionally, when not in use, most exterior platform lifts fold up against the rear of the vehicle to ease maneuvering and parking.
A variation of an exterior platform lift is a tilt rack, in which the platform serves as a “tilting ramp.” This allows the power chair to be rolled up onto it, where it then manually tilts into a stored, elevated position, ready for transport.
Interior platform lifts allow you to place and secure the power chair onto the platform just like in an exterior lift application. At the touch of a button, it operates in two stages, lifting upward, then slides inward on tracks, stowing the power chair inside the vehicle. The power chair is secure within the vehicle and out of the weather. Interior platform lifts also have no equipment outside the vehicle, retaining the vehicle’s standard length and appearance.
Vehicle Lift Installation
No matter exterior or interior, most lifts are remarkably easy to install and some require no tools or modifications to the vehicle whatsoever. Exterior lifts plug into a corresponding hitch receiver. For power, the lift will come with a wiring harness, to connect directly to the cars battery. Some lifts are entirely self-contained -with a rechargeable battery pack that powers the lift, where a wiring to the vehicles battery is not needed.
Interior platform lifts are designed to be as unobtrusive as possible to vehicle interiors. They secure to existing seat mount locations or other preexisting mounting points in the minivan or SUV, so no holes are drilled in the vehicle. Power is most commonly supplied via a rechargeable battery pack, but some models connect to the vehicle’s electrical system, tying into an existing power port or wiring.
Boom lifts typically require minimal installation by bolting to the vehicle’s floor, with a rechargeable battery pack or vehicle wiring delivering power.
Although most lifts feature very practical do-it-yourself installation, many are also available with optional nation-wide installation. A skilled technician will come to your residence to professionally install the lift for you.
Consumer’s Checklist to Selecting a Lift
- Determine the desired location of the lift, and assess the vehicle’s compatibility
- Determine the type of lift you want, boom or platform
- Determine the power chair’s specifications, including length, width, height, and weight
- Determine the vehicles specifications (hitch classification for exterior lift, or hatch/door opening dimensions for interior lifts)
- Match the lift’s weight capacity, dimensions, and style to the power chair’s specifications
- Confirm the lift, power chair, and vehicle compatibility with a sales representative, and discuss installation options
Transporting Your Power Chair
From van conversions to vehicle lifts, there are wonderful ways to transport your power chair. No matter a roll-in ready conversion van or an affordable vehicle lift, there are astounding options available today!