Transporting occupied wheelchairs.

While researching last issue’s article on automotive lifts and tie downs, I realised that there are few vehicles that can accommodate a lift.

Lifts or ramps allow wheelchair users to remain in the wheelchair in transit. This saves effort by cutting out transfer onto a vehicle seat. We have included popular vehicles available on the SA market that can accommodate a person seated in a wheelchair. Although this generally requires a larger, more costly vehicle, we have included some smaller, cheaper panel vans.

A possible option is ‘driving from the wheelchair’. In many first world countries, this provides easier access to the vehicle controls, and more independence for people who cannot transfer into a vehicle. Reducing the number of wheelchair - seat transfers lessens long term damage on the shoulder girdle. It is possible to buy a fully converted van that allows the driver to ‘drive from the wheelchair’.The typical modifications that are performed include:

1. Lowering the floor or raising the roof to increase the head room.

2. Adding a ramp or lift for access.

3. Hydraulic suspension to lower the vehicle for loading, to reduce the length and gradient of the ramp.

4. Enhancing the power steering to require less strength to drive the vehicle.

5. Removing the driver’s seat and attaching a docking station which holds the wheelchair securely in position while driving. The most commonly used docking stations include the EZ lock system and the Q’STRAINT QLK-100  which is available from Shoprider, Skyjacks and JSJ Trucking.

6. Hand controls according to the drivers needs; these sometimes differ from the standard hand controls due to the extra space required for the footrests.

7. The steering wheel may need to be extended and raised.

8. Removing some of the rear seats to enable wheelchair access.

The wheelchair used for driving should be a rigid type with an attachment to lock into the docking station. If the user has limited balance then additional lateral support must be added to increase upper torso stability. A power wheelchair should have positioning adjustments (up, down, forwards, backwards, tilt) to achieve optimal positioning to the steering wheel.

Angelo Kater Motor Trimmers in Springs and Climatic Technologies in Cape Town do a variety of internal conversions, including removing seats, fitting swivel seats, fitting windows to panel vans, making minor changes to floors and replacing or changing floor coverings, etc. If you’re importing a fully adapted vehicle, consider the New Zealand or UK options as these countries also use right–hand drive vehicles.

Before you buy a vehicle:

Be aware of the following factors:

What is your height in your wheelchair? Check that the roof is high enough and that you will be able to see out of the windows.

What are the dimensions and weight of your wheelchair? This will affect the size of the lift that you can use and the size of the door apertures, and the amount of space required inside the vehicle.

If you are fitting a lift, discuss vehicle choices with the lift manufacturer. Confirm that door openings are big enough for your choice of lift and that the vehicle can carry the additional weight. Ask if any additional changes are required to fit the lift.

If you prefer ramps, calculate the length of ramp you need to give you safe entrance and exit.

If you add a high roof to the vehicle, make sure it will fit into your garage and into public parking garages.

Before you order your vehicle, ensure that your rebate application has been approved. Your rebate equates to approximately 20% discount on the retail price. It will NOT be approved if you have already ordered the vehicle before you put in your application.

Panel Vans
There are a few small panel vans which offer optional windows for the cargo space sides, and which have a high roof to accommodate a child or small adult in a wheelchair. These are not suitable for ‘drive from a wheelchair’ as they all have manual transmission. Also, the floor design does not allow the chair to fit under the steering wheel. Rear access doors are just large enough to accommodate the smallest platform lifts. If a ramp is used, it must be long enough so that the gradient is 1:5 or less. e.g. for a height of 52.5cm, the ramp should be 2.62m long.

(from R123 201.00 excl vat)
This is the smallest panel van on the market, and yet has a surprising amount of space inside. The rear door opening is large enough for a small lift, with a number of tie-down points built in. The side door opening is too narrow for wheelchair ramp access. The Kangoo’s standard features include power steering, driver airbag, central locking and air conditioner. By lowering the floor it can be converted to a small ‘drive from the wheelchair’ vehicle.

(from R171 400 excl vat)
The VW Caddy is a multi-purpose vehicle available in Standard and Life models, with either a 1.6i and 1.9 THI. The side door opening will accept a narrow wheelchair and the rear door can have a lift fitted. It has several tie down points built into the vehicle.

(From R112 193 excl vat)
The Peugeot Partner Grand Raid is ideal for ‘leisure driving off the beaten track’, thanks to reinforced suspension and limited slip differential. It is only available in the 1.9D version with a 5-speed manual gearbox. It is slightly larger than the Kangoo with more internal space. The side sliding doors are too narrow for wheelchair access.

(From R110 522.00 incl. vat)
The Citroen Berlingo panel van is available in a 1,4 litre and 1.9 litre petrol motor with a manual transmission. The side sliding doors are too narrow to allow wheelchair access. The Multispace version with rear seats and side windows has recently been discontinued.

Multi Purpose Vehicles (MPV’s)
The MPV’s are closest to providing the perfect solution for driving from a wheelchair, as they have a flat floor which allows the wheelchair to be moved from one end of the vehicle to the other. However they still need some customising which adds to the cost. For those who can afford one of these vehicles with the conversions, the convenience and independence is worth every cent.

The most common problem is the interior roof height.

Conversions usually involve lowering the floor to provide adequate headroom for a person in a wheelchair. I loved the initiative shown by Anton van den Berg. He could not afford the normal conversions to his Chrysler Voyager, so he built himself a power wheelchair, using the seat from the Voyager, with an electric lowering function. This makes his wheelchair low enough for him to access and drive his Voyager from his “car seat” wheelchair.

(from R 245 526 R279 900 manual and R329 900 R289 385 automatic excl vat.)
The Chrysler Voyager is a popular vehicle to convert to “drive from the wheelchair” as it has a flat floor. Once it has had the full Braun conversion done in the USA or UK, it is known as the Entervan.The Voyager has enough headroom to allow a small adult or low-sitting wheelchair user to drive without changing the floor height. The dual sliding side doors are wide enough to allow a narrow wheelchair to enter. A modification to the runners allows it to open a few extra centimetres. The keyless entry is very useful, and the versatile seating arrangement can accommodate wheelchair passengers without removing all the seats. It is available in a 2.4L SE manual in the short wheelbase option, or the 2.8L and 3.3L automatic in the long wheelbase option.

(from R284 206.00 excl vat)
With many similar features (including the flat floor) and sizes, the Sedona is a close competitor to the Voyager. The two Sedona’s major disadvantage is arelower roof and the its sliding door opening is 5cm narrower. The This Sedona requires an additional conversion to allow wheelchair access through the side unless it is for a very small person. The amazing third row of pack-away seats makes it possible to access the vehicle from the back. The Sedona has dual powered sliding doors, keyless entry and a versatile seating configuration. It is available in 2.9L CRDi manual or automatic, and in 3.8L V6 Automatic.

(Trendline from 395 000.00; Ambiente from R437 719.00 excl vat)
The Viano is the luxury version of the well-known Mercedes Vito and it will require minimal adaptations to allow the “drive from a wheelchair “option.. It is available as the 2.2L CDI Trendline or the 3.0L CDI Ambiente, and both come with all the safety features expected of a Mercedes–Benz. It is larger than the Voyager and Sedona, thus requiring fewer conversions. The main advantages are flat floor, the low window sill height making it easier for the wheelchair passenger to see outside, and the large door apertures which can accommodate a lift. The keyless power sliding doors come standard with the Ambiente. floor at the drivers’ seat is slightly raised but a conversion allows the ‘drive from a wheelchair’ option.


(Crew Bus from R 294 500, Crew Cab from R 243 100 excl vat)
The Vito has made its mark in the disability sector of the vehicle market. It’s a very popular vehicle for transporting passengers in wheelchairs because of the flat floor and internal space. The standard vehicle can accommodate an average height person in a wheelchair, with a high roof option to transport taller people, although they will have difficulty seeing out of the windows. The rear and side doors can easily accommodate a platform lift. If using ramps, a minimum length of 2,4m is required for a reasonable gradient of 1:5.

The Vito is available with a 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic transmission. The versatile seating options and positioning accommodate a wheelchair without removing all the seats. A convenient remote electric door opener is available as an optional extra.Mariette Louw from the Sandown Commercial Vehicles branch in Centurion is familiar with the requirements of disabled customers and is available to advise and assist with organising rebates. She will take a vehicle to a client if they have difficulty getting to the branch.

(Transporter from R221 404.00, Kombi from R312 000.00, Caravelle from R385 300.00 excl. vat)
For many years the VW Kombi was one of the only vehicles on the market that was suitable for transporting a person seated in a wheelchair. The new models are even more popular since their internal space is bigger. The Kombi, Caravelle and Transporter are basically the same vehicle but with different finishings. The Caravelle is the most luxurious. The Transporter has slightly higher internal space and larger doors. They are available in a variety of manual and Tiptronic versions, including 1.9 TDI, 2.5 TDI, 3.2 V6 as well as a permanent 4-wheel-drive Syncro option. There is a choice of long wheel base, short wheel base, high top, medium high top, electric doors on left and right, assisted tailgate closing, and a choice of floor coverings including rubber, carpet or wood. The floor is slightly raised at the driver’s seat. However it is possible to customise this to allow driving from the wheelchair.

(From R269 970 excl. vat)
The Nissan Primastar combines the functionality of a commercial vehicle with the space, comfort and safety you’d expect in a passenger car. The floor design does not allow the “drive from the wheelchair” option, and it is only available in a 6-speed manual gearbox. The side and rear door openings can accommodate lifts.

When transporting several people in wheelchairs at once, usually a helper (the driver?) is required to assist them. Internal roof height should be a minimum of 1,8m to allow the helper to stand comfortably and move around. The front seats should consist of two separate seats to give easy access to the back of the vehicle. All of the vehicles listed below can accommodate lifts on either side or rear doors. The number of WC passengers that they can accommodate depends on the size of the wheelchairs, and the position of the lift. However, most short or medium wheelbase vehicles can accommodate 4 to 6 wheelchairs, while long wheelbase vehicles can accommodate 6 to 8 wheelchairs. The average wheelchair footprint is 120cm x 80cm.

(From R211 150 excl vat)
There are presently three diesel Sprinter models available all with a 6-speed manual transmission. The 309 CDI (65kW), 315 CDI (110kW), are available in a short wheelbase with a standard top and the 518Cdi (135kW) has a long wheelbase with a high top.

(From R225 350.00)
Available in 2.7 litre petrol and 2.5 litre turbo diesel with manual transmission, short and long wheelbase options.
Long wheelbase comes standard with high top.

(From R214 825.00 incl vat)
The Boxer 350 (93 kW) is available in medium and long wheelbase with standard and high top options.

(From R213 070 excl vat)
The Fiat Ducato Vetrato has a 120 Multijet turbocharged diesel engine (88kW) with a 7-speed manual transmission. It is available with a standard and high top and short and long wheelbase.

(from R232 050 excl. VAT)
Available in 2.5 DCI (84 kW) diesel option with Synchromesh gearbox, medium and long wheelbase and standard or high roof option.

(From R167 271 excl vat)
Available in 2,0L litre petrol engine (88kW) with 6 speed manual transmission and 1.9 CDTI (74kW) diesel option with standard or high top in a short wheelbase.

(From R225 506 excl vat)
Only available in 2.5L CDTI (84kW) with manual 6-speed transmission, long wheelbase or extra long wheelbase options.

(From R232 632 excl vat)
Available in 2.5L TDI (80kW or 120 kW) in medium, long and extra long wheelbase, with standard and high top.

Please note: Measurements may differ slightly between different models.
Prices given exclude VAT and were correct at time of publishing.


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