The Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Conversion Process
If you're looking for a WAV, it's important to know about the features that make it different from a standard car.
There are a number of authorised UK firms who specialise in WAV conversions, and all vehicles must have 'Type Approval' before they can be registered and driven on the road. Obtaining approval for a WAV conversion involves thorough testing of key parts, such as tensile strength and load tests, to ensure that the WAV and it's features are safe and ready for road use.
Here we’ll tell you all about the different types of WAVs and what they can offer people with a physical disability or mobility issue. We'll also provide information on how to choose the right vehicle for your needs and some of the key WAV features that you can expect to find on a vehicle that's been converted for a wheelchair or mobility scooter user.
WAVs have a built-in ramp that makes it easier to get in and out of the vehicle. This is an essential feature for wheelchair users, whether you are a passenger or want to be the driver in an ‘Upfront Driver’ or ‘Drive From’ WAV. Depending on the size and shape of the vehicle and your personal preference, the ramp may be side-entry (which usually slides out) or rear-entry. Rear-entry ramps are far more common. A fold-out rear ramp is often quite easy to deploy but can take up more space inside the vehicle, although some can lie horizontal on the floor when no wheelchair passenger is present.
In many vehicles, you will find a hybrid option in the form of a power ramp. This is a ramp that has electronic power-assist. These tend to be more expensive, but they are popular because of their of their ease and convenience. The ramp can be activated using either a remote key fob or a button in the rear of the vehicle, so you can access the WAV in your wheelchair unaided.
In some cases, if the vehicle is larger and it is higher off the ground, lifts will be used instead of ramps. This can be a more comfortable option for some people, and it is much more efficient than a manual ramp although they are generally more expensive. It is also easier for you to get in and out of the vehicle with limited assistance. Lifts are more common on larger van based MPVs and minibuses.
Electric Powered Winch
A powered winch fitted to a WAV with a rear-entry ramp makes accessing the vehicle while seated in your wheelchair much easier. If a family member or carer doesn’t have the upper body strength to push the wheelchair up the ramp a powered winch is a great solution. An electric powered winch is also a great option for people who want to transport a Class 2 or a heavier Class 3 mobility scooter in a WAV
It is important that you and your wheelchair are secure while travelling in the vehicle. Any significant movement while out on the road can be very dangerous, especially in the event of an accident. In addition to a 3-point seat belt, wheelchair tie-downs are essential for safety and most WAVs have them built-in.
The four tie-downs - two for the front of the wheelchair and two for the rear - can be fully automatic for complete independence or manual straps that require a helper to fit them. Even though they may look basic, tie-downs save lives and they're one of the most important features to look for.
In a WAV you often find specially designed seating for passengers that fit around the wheelchair area. Some vehicles may also have one or more of the front seats removed (or seats that can be removed), so you have the option to drive the vehicle from your wheelchair or travel ‘Upfront’ as a passenger. If you want a specific seating layout, just ask your WAV converter about what is possible with each type of WAV. Specialist used WAV dealers can also add or remove seats to preowned wheelchair vehicles, so if you see a vehicle that you like but the seating layout isn’t quite right, they may be able to easily adjust the seating by adding or removing seats for you.
Converted Roof / Floor
Creating extra space inside the vehicle is important for your comfort and safety. This can be done when the vehicle is originally converted by lowering and extending the floor (with the rear bumper cut-away) or increasing the height of the roof. Both methods of conversion have their own advantages and disadvantages, and which one your WAV gets will depend on the vehicle you choose and the converter that carries out the original conversion.
Most WAV conversions in the UK will have a lowered floor, which gives you far more interior space and allows for a lower ramp angle.
Choosing The Right WAV
So, these are some of the key features you can expect to find in a newly-converted WAV. There are a wide range of additional adaptations that you can choose to make it even easier for you to get in and out of the vehicle, plus a vast array of smart driving adaptations for people who have chosen a 'Drive From' or 'Internal Transfer' WAV.
Choosing a wheelchair accessible car or MPV for the first time might seem like a big step, but it could make a huge difference to your life. Make sure you ask the WAV specialist all the right questions and do your own thorough checks before choosing a vehicle, including:
- Is it safe and comfortable getting in and out of the vehicle?
- Does the WAV have all the features and options I need?
- Are there enough seats for all the potential passengers, and is the seat configuration correct?
- Is there enough room in the rear for specialist equipment and luggage?
- Will the WAV fit into my parking space at home, and is there enough room to open out the ramp?
The answers to these questions, together with the specialist features listed above, will help make sure you choose a great WAV that you can safely get in to and out of, giving you more independence when out on the road and a better quality of life.
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