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How to Get a Vehicle Modified

How do I get my vehicle modified for my disability?

If you have a disability, it may be almost impossible for you to drive a conventional car or van. Luckily, there are many ways to modify a vehicle to suit your abilities. For example, if you are in a wheelchair, lowering a van’s floor and installing a ramp or lift will allow you to enter the van independently. A wheelchair restraint system can also be installed to allow you to continue to sit in your wheelchair while driving. Hand controls may be installed if you are not able to use your legs. Even the gas pedal can be moved to the left if you are not able to drive with your right foot. There really are many different ways in which a vehicle can be modified to allow you to drive independently.

If you think you are in the market for a modified vehicle, there are still many things to consider. Do you modify your current vehicle or do you buy one that already has been modified? Does the necessary adaptive equipment require a van, or will a passenger car be sufficient? First, you need to determine what modifications are required to allow you to operate a vehicle safely and comfortably. A visit to a trained occupational therapist or driving evaluator will help you determine which vehicle modifications you need. A trained evaluator will take into consideration: the type of seating needed, your ability to enter and exit the vehicle, and the height and space requirements for a wheelchair or scooter.

Once you have decided what vehicle modifications are needed, it is time to go shopping. A good way to start is by searching our service directory on the AT Network web site (www.atnet.org). As you are shopping, investigate each dealer’s credentials. Ask dealers questions regarding experience, references, if they provide equipment training, and whether the dealer is a member of an organization that upholds vehicle conversion standards (such as the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association www.nmeda.com).

If you are shopping for a new van or hoping to modify your own, contact a qualified mobility dealer to determine if your van can be modified to meet your needs. Only certain van models can be structurally modified (i.e. lowered floors, bubble tops). This makes it very important to make appropriate, adaptable choices when purchasing a van with the intent of implementing later modifications. Also, the cost of converting a vehicle varies, therefore shopping around may save you money. For example, the price of a wheelchair lift in a full-size van may vary by up to a thousand dollars between providers. So, once you know exactly what you need, don’t hesitate to price around by contacting several modification dealers. You will be glad you did.

One valuable resource for people shopping for an existing modified vehicle is The Disabled Dealer Magazine (www.disableddealer.com), a publication that showcases new and used modified vehicles and features various accessible van and auto conversion dealers and private sellers.

Funding

Finding funding sources for vehicle modification may be difficult. Local and regional organizations may provide at least partial funding for vehicle conversions. Contact your local vehicle modification service provider or AT Advocate or AT Specialist to learn if any organizations have helped people in similar situations fund vehicle modifications. It is important to note that you might need to meet specific criteria to qualify for funding assistance. California vehicle modification service providers acknowledge that only five to ten percent of customers receive any form of outside funding assistance. If you acquire funding, ask for a written statement outlining how much money the organization will contribute before making your purchase.

If you are not able to attain funding assistance, you may qualify for a loan. There are a variety of loan programs designed to finance vehicle modification. Some programs finance loans for parents of children with disabilities, others finance a vehicle for the person with a disability. For example, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) offers an $8 annual membership that also gives you access to the Digital Credit Union, providing low interest mobility vehicle loans to those who qualify. One important component used to determine qualification for a loan program is the borrower’s ability to repay the loan, a financial obligation which may be quite difficult for individuals who live on a fixed monthly income.

If you are interested in financing a vehicle, here is a sampling of the organizations that finance loans for modified vehicles:

  • IMS (www.ims-vans.com)--private company
  • AAPD, the American Association of People with Disabilities, (http://www.aapd.com/)--membership organization offering DCU mobility vehicle loans
  • State of California Department of Rehabilitation Transportation Loan Guarantee Program offers loans to parents or guardians of a child with a disability for the purchase or modification of a vehicle to provide their child with transportation. Also, loans are available to individuals who are modifying their vehicle to maintain employment.

The AT Network is dedicated to protecting the rights of our consumers and allowing them to remain independent in the community. If you have a question, concern, or a story to share with us then please don't hesitate to contact us:

Toll-Free: 800-390-2699
TTY: 800-900-0706
E-mail: info@atnet.org

Photo of Steve Richardson
quote marks For Steve Richardson, the use of hearing aids has always been part of his daily routine. Today, the technology continues to facilitate his communication and participation at work, at home and in the community.