Wheelchair Van Conversions and Adaptive Equipment - The Mobility Resource

Technological advancements in adaptive equipment have made wheelchair van conversions more efficient and safer than ever before. Adaptive equipment options generally fall into the following categories:

  • Wheelchair tie-downs and locking systems
  • Wheelchair lift systems
  • Hand controls
  • Transfer seats

These equipment options offer those with disabilities an unparalleled level of freedom. Yet, increased mobility and safety come at a price. In this article, we discuss the above-listed equipment options in more detail. We provide estimated costs for each option, allowing you to better price out the anticipated cost of your wheelchair van conversion.

Wheelchair Tie-Down and Locking Systems

Wheelchair tie-downs and locking systems are convenient and safe options for securing wheelchairs during travel. While both types of securement systems will keep your wheelchair in place, there are some important differences between the two.  

Wheelchair Tie-Downs

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Wheelchair tie-downs are attached to built-in securement points in your van. Properly secured, they prevent wheelchairs from moving, tipping, or becoming unpredictable during travel. There are generally three different types of wheelchair tie-downs: manual, retractable, and auto-locking.

Manual four-point tie-downs are the most basic and affordable option. They can be used for both standard and power wheelchairs. Each of the four straps is secured to the vehicle securement point locations via “L” track, “A” track or a Slide ‘n Click system.  They attach to the wheelchair with a “J” hook.  After slack is removed, a manual ratchet action is used to tighten each of the straps. Retractable four-point tie-downs are like manual tie-downs except that they easily retract, making it easier to secure the wheelchair in place. A knob on the retractor allows one to properly tension the straps and secure the wheelchair. Auto-locking or auto-tensioning retractors are the most advanced of the manual tie-downs. Once the retractable straps are secured to the wheelchair, the auto-tensioning system will securely lock the wheelchair in place, automatically taking up slack to ensure wheelchair passenger is always secured. The costs of wheelchair tie-downs vary but are typically within the range of $495 to $995, making them a very cost-effective option.

Wheelchair Locking Systems

Wheelchair locking systems accomplish the same thing as tie-downs but are far more convenient. To install a locking system, a docking base is secured to the floor of the van and a locking device is secured to the bottom of the wheelchair. It allows the user to ride or drive his or her wheelchair into the van. When the wheelchair contacts the docking station it is securely locked in place. This feature makes travel far easier and allows the wheelchair user to secure themselves if necessary. Moreover, an electronic system monitors your wheelchair throughout the duration of the trip, alerting you if it becomes loose.

There are several wheelchair locking systems on the market. The two most advanced of these are Q’Straint and EZ Lock Wheelchair Docking System. These systems can be used with most manual and power wheelchairs and offers superior safety and reliability over other locking systems. Wheelchair locking systems generally run between $2,500 to $3,500 installed.

Wheelchair Lift System

Wheelchair lift systems come in many different styles and price points. All lift systems, however, serve the same basic function. They are powered devices that are designed to raise both wheelchair and occupant into full-size vans like the Sprinter or ProMaster. As such, lift systems make the process of getting in and out of your larger van simple. Some lifts will block the doorway used to house the lift.  Others are designed to fold open and allow access through the lift door.  Still, others can be mounted under the vehicle, leaving the entry door completely clear. When choosing a wheelchair lift system, it is important to select a model that fits your vehicle, wheelchair, weight requirements, and other unique factors. Prices of lift systems vary but generally fall within the range of $6,000 to $15,000. Increased mobility and system longevity easily justify the cost of a wheelchair lift.

Hand Controls

Hand controls make it safe for those with disabilities to operate their vehicles without the use of their feet. Their use is intuitive, with controls operating in the same fashion as gas and brake pedals. Hand controls are typically mounted below the steering wheel and are attached to the floor pedals.

The most basic type of hand controls is mechanical push/pull systems. These systems work through a system of levers. They are easy to use but require more effort and range of motion than electronic hand controls. Advanced electronic “drive-by-wire” systems are far superior to mechanical systems. These systems work by converting the user’s movements on a steering input device (i.e., a joystick) into a digital electronic signal. There are also options like touchpad consoles that allow drivers easy access to ancillary driving functions, such as wiper control, lights, and air conditioning.

Another important set of hand controls are those that make the process of turning easier. Devices like amputee driver rings and spinner knobs make it possible for those with disabilities to operate the steering wheel. Hand control systems should only be used by those that have been evaluated, and had sufficient training, by a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS). The cost of hand control systems varies, with manual options costing far less than advanced electronic systems. Depending on the equipment required, one could spend from $1,000 for a basic manual system to upwards of $50,000 for an advanced drive-by-wire system.

Transfer Seats

Transfer seats are designed to assist those with disabilities to transfer from a wheelchair or scooter into a vehicle’s driver or passenger seat. Not only do transfer seats make it easier to get in and out of the vehicle, but they allow drivers to travel more comfortably in a factory-style seat instead of a wheelchair. There are many different variations of transfer seats. When choosing a seat, you will want to select an option that is ideal for your vehicle. ALWAYS confirm with a Mobility Resource dealer whether a transfer seat is available for your vehicle BEFORE purchasing a vehicle.

Transfer seats work by rotating from the inside to the outside of your vehicle. The seat is then lowered to the desired level, making it easy to transfer to the seat from your wheelchair or scooter. Once seated on the transfer seat, you simply push a button and the seat lifts and rotates into place inside of the vehicle. A transfer seat system can cost anywhere between $9,000 and $12,000 They are a great option for those who wish to keep their existing vehicle without extensive modifications.

Depending on your needs, you will likely benefit from one or more of the adaptive equipment options discussed in this article. When considering any wheelchair van conversion, decide what driving features are essential. Prior to any purchase, always talk with your local Mobility Resource dealer. Wheelchair van conversions are a major undertaking and may end up costing more than you are willing or able to spend. Only by educating yourself can you hope to design the perfect van to meet all your transportation needs.

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