I use a wheelchair because I have Osteogenesis Imperfecta. I have sustained much injury to the lower half of my body. This isn't what this post is about, but thought it needful to provide some background. I've always been quite the independent cuss despite my physical limitations. I will provide more information about the very rare disorder in my family line in a future post.
I have been afforded an amazing opportunity. I have received a tremendous gift of $20,000 to purchase a handicap accessible van. I cannot convey the amount of gratitude I have. Out of hundreds of people, I was chosen. It's humbling and exciting all at once. I will share how this all came to be in the future.
I have driven since I was 16. I am now 49 years old. It was never a question in my mind that I would live a fully independent life. In the beginning, the only mobility devices I had was a set of used hand controls. I pulled the chair into the backseat of coupe sized cars, and proceeded to climb to the front, like a monkey. About 7 years ago, it became apparent that things were changing physically. While still very mobile, I knew something had to be done. I came across a small suv and a lift system for a manual wheelchair (not the best experience, but will save that for another post). A year ago, I fell and broke both legs. I was stuck for months with no way to go anywhere. When I finally braved climbing into the vehicle, it was incredibly painful. I knew something, again, had to change. Thus my quest for a mobility van. I did it, but I couldn't enjoy the trip in so much pain. I will give more details on how I received the incredible blessing for this purchase later (I think I already said that). It will be made public once the van is purchased and you may see my mug all kinds of places.
I have had so many questions & suggestions posed to me during my search for a mobility van. Let me see if I can address them here. I am not an expert by any means. This will be my first purchase of a mobility van. I have had to learn a lot in a very short time. I hope I can clarify for those who have little experience dealing with the mobility industry. It's not fun, that's for sure. It should be simple, but it's far from it.
On occasion, you can get lucky enough to run onto a conversion van at a "regular" dealership. Regular, meaning not one that specializes in mobility equipment.
However, most of the time, you will have to go to a mobility dealer. They are normally NMEDA & NHTSA certified (among other certifications). This helps if you are using the services of state rehabilitation, receiving grants, etc.. They have had specialized training in the mobility industry. In my case, there are only 3 in the entire state, with the closest to me being an hour away. I think this is typical for most states actually. Used vans in good condition are incredibly hard to find as most folks get as much use as possible out of them. They are incredibly expensive and replacing them can be a huge hassle. When a mobility dealer runs across when in great condition, of course, they are going to get the most $ for it possible.
I gripe incessantly about the price gouging affecting the disabled. Accessible vehicles are no different. The prices are outrageous. While I realize it takes specialized training (and hey, who doesn't want make the big bucks, right?), & it reaches a smaller percentage of the population, it really is another foul smell of the entire industry. The disabled are often taken advantage of out of desperation for products that provide independence. Most people assume there is some sort of "help". This is rarely the case. So, a lot of disabled people are left to beg or settle for something much less than what is needed. They are forced to use devices that actually cause more injury (which I have experienced with the lift I have now). I was actually told by someone who did some bad interior work to a brand new car(that I paid for out of pocket, and it wasn't chump change) that I should be so grateful to have ANYthing. Really? How come? What makes me so different that I should beg for shoddy workmanship that I am paying for? Would you treat an able bodied customer this way? Doubtful. Desperation for freedom causes many disabled folks to succumb to poor customer service and straight up ABUSE. I have had to put up with this on occasion myself. It's easy to say you don't have to take that. Sadly, sometimes you do. There are little options. It's clearly wrong. Yet again, a stink of the industry. You are left feeling small, insignificant, and as a good southern friend of mine use to say, "of no count". The products to help so many exist but are completely unavailable to them. The producers of these products promise " sweet freedom". In reality, it will never be available to those who need it the most. If you follow me on social media, this will not be the last of this rant. However, I digress.
Back to the subject at hand...
It's not as simple as going to your local hometown car dealer and finding what you need. It's not so simple as to buy a van and figure it out later. These vans are literally ripped apart and the floors are lowered and lots of power equipment is then installed to certain safety standards set by the US government.
There is no Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds on how to value an accessible vehicle. Most dealers use comparisons and market value to determine the cost. For that reason, it can vary from dealer to dealer. The van (or whatever) isn't usually worth much. As with any vehicle, they depreciate quickly. In buying used or new, the value is actually in the conversion. The conversion usually costs anywhere from $25 to 30,000, so in my case it would not be a possibility to buy a van, then have the conversion. It's much more cost effective to buy with the conversion already done. To buy a new accessible van it is about $60,000. Rear conversions are cheaper but the ramps are steep and not automatically powered. I used one once and without the help of an aid, it didn't do much for me. So a side entry is the only option for me to remain truly independent (which is the whole point of receiving the $) and of course, that is the most expensive.
I'm finding that most of the vehicles I am looking at in my price range, have not been cared for well. It's a scary thing to me to buy a used vehicle in the first place, but one that has been well worn by wheelchair use is something different altogether. In certain cases, if you receive aid of grants, rehab, or the like there are certain criteria that must be followed to the letter. This has to be kept in mind throughout the entire process.
Another issue: If I buy online and have it shipped to me, it will cost around $3000 for taxes, fees, & shipping. If I buy local, my dealer can help me with some tax and there are no shipping or extra unexpected fees.
With that being said, I have found the process very trying. I've met some kind dealers who try to help, but lets be honest, not all are kind and helpful. These are legitimate businesses & there is always that bottom line. One recently said to me, "I'll take your money however I can get it". That conversation ended quickly. But, the thing is, I may end up going back to this person to get what I need. And...they know it! Another sad truth of the industry. So, my search continues....