Road Test - VW Transporter

“I cannot find words enough to describe the elation and joy of being independent again .... not being a burden to others, and not being restricted ....”

These were Frank Juskievitz’s words when asked how he is enjoying his new VW Transporter. It has been a dream of his since the late 80’s to be able to drive from his wheelchair. He has spent many hours of researching and planning, searching for a suitable vehicle and someone to do the conversions to enable him to independently get in, dock in and go. At last, after a long process, he has found it, and he’s lovin’ it.
Frank (48) developed and maintains the Rolling Inspiration website. As we were covering his vehicle in this Valentine issue we decided to ask him about his take on relationships too!

An accident in the early 80s landed him in a wheelchair. At the time he was engaged. “My fiancée and I continued our relationship after my accident for two years, but then broke up.” He met someone else soon afterwards but that marriage only lasted two and a half years. It was after this that he met his able-bodied wife, Yvette (37). They were together for six years before they got married 14 years ago. “In total we have been together for 20 years. We grew up very differently so we had to ensure we had some common ground in our marriage. As a result we have based our relationship on God’s truth. If Yvette believes one thing and I believe another, we look to God for that common ground.”

Frank says that pride was the downfall of his first marriage. “You have to be giving in a relationship and allow your partner or spouse the freedom to be who they are. Trying to change someone will never work – whether they have a disability or not.” None of the issues that he and Yvette have experienced is unique to disability. “Able-bodied couples experience the same types of issues as we have experienced.” “There are people out there who see you for yourself and not for your disability. However, you also need to come to the party. If you are grumpy then it is not going to help. Before others can look past your disability, you have to. You cannot allow it to affect you or your relationship.”

A few years ago he injured his shoulders (largely due to the number of vehicle transfers that he was doing) and was no longer able to transfer himself. He did not want surgery so he had to change his lifestyle. They moved into a quad home, he swapped to an electric wheelchair and started hunting for his dream vehicle.

Frank does not like sitting around and strongly believes that to generate an income in South Africa you need to be mobile. He investigated a number of vehicles but there are not many to choose from if you want to drive from your wheelchair. For the Sprinter you need a ‘C’ licence, he couldn’t see out of the Vito windows and the Viano was too expensive. He even considered importing an already-adapted vehicle, but the red tape was daunting, not to mention the cost.

Then he discovered the 2.5TDi VW Transporter. It was the only local vehicle with enough headroom for him in his Quicke F55 wheelchair, without having to get a high-top, and enough steering wheel clearance for him to fit under it in his wheelchair. Since driving from the wheelchair has become available in South Africa, the VW Transporter has emerged as the most popular choice, particularly for tall drivers as it has the highest floor to roof clearance of all the minivans. It has 6cm over its competitors, the Mercedes Vito and Viano, and 8cm more than the VW Caravelle and Nissan Primastar. If this height (1400mm) is still too low there is an option of a medium-high or high roof but these are too high for standard garages and covered parking.

The Transporter, designed as a hardworking, commercial vehicle is available as a Panel Van or Crew Bus and is available in 1.9 or 2.5 Turbo Diesel with a 6-speed Tiptronic gearbox option for the 5 cylinder 2.5 – ideal for driving with hand controls. There is also an option of a permanent 4-wheel drive with a manual gear box.

Frank chose the long wheelbase to give him additional manoeuvring space inside the vehicle. The Crew Bus comes standard with power steering, electric windows, electric rear view mirrors, air-con, central locking and alarm. Rear park distance and cruise control are recommended optional extras if you are planning on driving from your wheelchair.

Getting in is always a challenge for a vehicle this size. At the sliding door, the floor height is 535mm, which means that the ‘ideal’ length for the ramp (1:12) would be 6.4 m, although you could get away with 4.3m (1:8) if you have someone helping you. This is relatively impractical, so the best option is a vehicle lift, and fortunately both the side and rear doors are well suited to having platform lifts fitted. Frank chose a rear lift so that he can park anywhere and can’t be parked in by someone parking too close to him. There is an option on the tailgate doors, with the standard upwards opening door or two side opening wing doors. The wing doors can be opened/closed from the wheelchair, although it is recommended that they are automated. It is far easier and less expensive to automate the wing doors. This can be done through VW or MobilityOne .

The driver’s floor is slightly raised which makes the fitting of the docking station more difficult but it is possible to customize. Shoprider  fitted Frank’s docking station and lift and his hand controls were designed and fitted by Independent Drive Systems. A new design from Shoprider offers access for a passenger. A seat lowers to wheelchair level, lifts up and then locks into place inside the vehicle.

It has taken Frank a bit of time to get used to the size and length of the vehicle but declares it “a dream to drive”. The sitting position and well positioned rear-view mirrors give great visibility; it has amazing brakes and the power and acceleration is awesome for a diesel vehicle of this size. The steering wheel is height and depth adjustable and can be set at a comfortable angle for people with shoulder weakness. The gears in both the manual and automatic are located on the dashboard, right next to the steering wheel with no consol thus leaving maximum space between the driver and passenger seats. Frank’s biggest surprise is the economy, less than 8 litres/100km!
Jaime de Silva, a quad who injured his shoulder last year and was no longer able to transfer himself also bought the Transporter with a similar conversion. In December he drove from Rustenburg to Cape Town and reported excellent fuel consumption; light, comfortable travelling and said that it was a pleasure to get in and out along the route without much fuss.

The 2009 price of a LWB 2.5TDi VW Transporter with Tiptronic Gearbox is about R310 000. The conversion costs between R100 000 – R120 000.... a hefty price tag, but worth every cent for the convenience and independence.

Frank would like to thank Redskins Golf for their generous contribution towards making his dream a reality and is willing to advise and assist anyone who is dreaming of driving from their wheelchair.

Transporter Measurements in mm

Driver window from floor to top of window 1250
Driver’s seat height from ground - highest 990
Internal width - between wheel arches 1250
Internal roof height - at rear entrance 1380
Internal roof height- at side entrance 1340
Internal roof height- at drivers position 1390
Internal roof height- in middle 1400
Sliding doors - opening height 1360
Sliding doors - opening width 1045
Sliding doors - ground to floor 535
Rear door - opening height 1300
Rear door - opening width 1315
Rear door - ground to floor height 600
Load space length (SWB) 2580
Load space length (LWB) 2870

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