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Ultimate Guide to WAVs

Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

According to the NHS ( NHS England » Improving Wheelchair Services) there are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK. The majority of wheelchair users are aged 60 or more and they account for more than two thirds of all wheelchair users in the UK. Wheelchair accessible vehicles provide greater mobility for both wheelchair users and their caregivers. Whether it's getting to the food shop, going to doctor or hospital appointments or visiting family, a mobility vehicle opens up accessible travel.

This guide aims to provide you with an in-depth guide to buying the right wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Obtaining a WAV can be daunting, emotional and complex, for both the wheelchair user and their family or carer. Sometimes, the wheelchair user sees themselves as a burden to take out and about as a passenger, whilst the family or carer wants to try and improve the wheelchair user's quality of life.

So it's important to get the right support when choosing which is the best WAV for you.

WavMob prides itself on providing a caring, friendly and personalised service with the aim of putting the wheelchair users needs first and foremost. This is a big contributing factor to our 98% rate of 5* customer reviews. We are not linked to any one manufacturer and offer impartial advice. WavMob also ensures that the WAVs we sell are vehicles which are genuinely converted into WAVs.

Hopefully, the guide below will answer most of the questions you have. However, please call us on 02392 245570 for any additional questions you have.

What is a WAV?

WAV stands for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles. A WAV is a wheelchair accessible vehicle conversion carried out to a standard production car or van, offering enough space inside to allow a wheelchair user to travel in their own manual or powered wheelchair as their seat in the vehicle. The reconstruction of the vehicle usually involves lowering the floor and fitting a wheelchair ramp for easy access as well as enough strengthening to support a wheelchair securing system.

WAV features often include:

  • Lowered floor (or sometimes a raised roof) to assist entry and access as well as providing additional headroom
  • Access ramp
  • Special wheelchair restraints
  • Special wheelchair occupant seat belts

  • Other people use a WAV to convenient way to transport bicycles as opposed to trying to fit them on a rack. In addition WAVs are also used by people to transport fishing gear, golfing equipment and other sporting equipment as a WAV provides more space.

    Wheelchair Drivers

    WAVs are more often than not converted for wheelchair passengers, who have access from, and be seated in the rear of the vehicle.

    Wheelchair Users

    Some WAVs are specially converted to allow you to drive whilst still in the wheelchair. Standard vehicles can often be modified with special driver controls so that you can drive after transferring to a standard or adapted driver's seat.

    What are the benefits of a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?

    1) Independence & Freedom

    Purchasing a WAV can enrich a wheelchair users' life by giving them the freedom to visit the shops, family or friends as well as going out on daytrips or getting to appointments.

    For wheelchair users that are able to drive with specialist built-in controls, a WAV can be specially adapted to allow them to get behind the wheel themselves and not have to depend on family members, caregivers or friends.

    2) Safety

    WAVs are safer for the carer or family members as there is less strain on their back. From a wheelchair user's point of view there is less risk on being dropped through to travel which in turn gives more peace of mind to the carer or family member, as well as offering a less painful and more dignified journey for the person travelling in the wheelchair.

    Wheelchair accessible vehicles come fitted with in-floor ramps, wheelchair ties as well as other restraint options to stop the wheelchair from moving while the vehicle is travelling.

    What's also important is that when we eventually emerge from lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, people will be keen to see family and friends. Indications suggest that people who have been shielding will prefer to keep their own 'bubble' as much as possible when warily starting to connect with the outside world again. So there could be increased demand and desire to own a WAV as opposed to depending on taxis, community vehicles or ambulances.

    3) Saving you time

    If it's pouring with rain and/or freezing cold you want a quick and easy process of being transferred into a car or van. No matter how good you've become at transferring yourself or another from a wheelchair to a car or a van, a WAV is a valuable time saver, especially in poor weather. In addition, once you've got to your destination you also save time as the wheelchair is set up and ready to go.

    How is a Vehicle Converted to a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?

    Converting a standard vehicle to a disabled access vehicle is a hard but intriguing process. The standard vehicle, which started life having come off a production line goes to a specialist WAV convertor for the conversion. The convertor will have spent several months painstakingly designing and testing their own version of a WAV based on a particular 'base vehicle' such as a Peugeot Rifter. The adapted vehicle will hopefully be built to set standards. It's worth noting that anyone can set up a vehicle converter with no barrier to entry. The main standard in the UK combines Vehicle Approval from the Department for Transport with PAS2012 accreditation which is run by the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Converters Association. For more information please see www.wavca.co.uk.

    The standards for converting a vehicle correctly are set high because it involves:

  • Reconstructing the structural rigidity
  • Cutting through the original structure and removing large sections of floor area
  • Moving or replacing the brake lines, fuel tank and exhaust - no mean feat!
  • Fitting new tested seats in the rear for other passengers and ramp or tail-lift access
  • Fitting tested mounting points for the wheelchair security system

  • This video shows the complexity of making a WAV:

    Which WAV is right for you?

    There are around 10,000 to 11,000 WAVs built each year. These vehicles enter the market as Mobility lease cars, private sales, wheelchair accessible taxis as well as vehicles built for the public sector and charities.

    Although Mobility accounts for the bulk of this market, the limitation of the Mobility scheme is that you can't joint if you're 64 years or older. Given that a lot of mobility issues and conditions begin later in life, this means a lot of people are left to fund their own vehicles without any help. Read on further below for your WAV options and the different ways to pay.

    There are three main types of WAVs.

    Passenger WAVs

    With this type of WAV the wheelchair user is only a passenger and they enter the vehicle in their wheelchair through either a rear or side door using a ramp or a lift. The wheelchair is then moved into position and locked securely in place. In the majority of vehicles the wheelchair will be located in the rear of the vehicle. In some versions the wheelchair can pass through the vehicle and into the front seat position.

    Drive From Wheelchair Vehicles (DFW)

    With this type of vehicle the wheelchair user can also be the driver. In most vehicles, the controls need to be modified to meet the capabilities of the driver. In turn, this often means that only the wheelchair driver can drive the vehicle. However, in some cases modifications can be made to allow the wheelchair user to drive or be a passenger.

    Ride up front

    This is an ever increasingly popular conversion option as the wheelchair user is 'up front' next to the driver in the traditional position of a front passenger.

    It's usually a more comfortable place to sit and provides more social interaction. The only downside is that because the conversion is more complex it can result it a more expensive option compared to passenger/driver WAVs.

    Just as with normal cars, there are small, medium and large WAVS to choose from. Researching and finding the correct WAV for the wheelchair user and their chair isn't as straightforward as when choosing an ordinary car. This is because all WAVs are different, including even two WAVs made from the same car model won't necessarily be the same.

    So what are your options?

    Small Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

    Small WAVs are based on models such as Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Fiat Doblo.

    They are ideal for use as a single wheelchair passenger vehicle and normally comprise a driver, front passenger and one or two rear seats depending on the width of the wheelchair. Small WAVs are ideal for running around town as they are economical and easy to park. If, however, you want to carry more passengers or lots of luggage, you will need to look for a larger vehicle. Don't forget to take into account where you will park it and make sure it will fit in your garage or driveway.

    Fiat Doblo has the largest available space for a wheelchair user in a manual or power-chair, and the optimum seating height. Some Peugeot Partners and Citroen Berlingos come as a 5 seater option. They were designed with taxi use in mind and the rear seating is folded up to make the wheelchair position and therefore suitable for occasional wheelchair use.

    Medium Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

    Medium WAVs can be based on VW Caddy, Ford Connect, Vauxhall Vivaro, Renault Trafic and VW Transporter or Caravelle. While larger on the outside it doesn't always transpire to having more space inside for the wheelchair user. Squarer van-based vehicles often have additional rear seats fitted so that they can accommodate more passengers. Sometimes, they also offer a double front passenger seat for additional occupancy.

    Some of these vehicles have a rear tail-lift fitted and do not have a lowered floor. With these models you should take care to ensure there's enough headroom for the wheelchair user and also the carer whilst fitting the wheelchair securing system and passenger seat belt.

    Large Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

    Large WAV vehicles are based on minibus-sized vehicles and include Renault Master, Peugeot Boxer and Mercedes Sprinter. These types of vehicles usually have lots more space for a versatile seating layout and include other movable seats which are fixed into tested tracking. Access is via a rear tail-lift.

    Large WAVs normally come in 3 roof heights. The lowest height is often not appropriate for carers moving around inside the vehicle when aiding the wheelchair user(s). The semi-high or H2 roof is the best option. Please be aware though that some of these vehicles might be too high to access multi-storey and some gated outdoor car parks.

    Some conversions of large WAVs offer a double-reel belt for the wheelchair user. Ideally, these should be avoided and instead you should aim for a vehicle offering an upper mounting point for their seatbelts and the wheelchair tie-down systems can be fitted easily in better positions in the vehicle. This is normally a strengthened rail with a choice of pick-up points and is part of the conversion. Unfortunately, it cannot be fitted afterwards.

    Once the ideal wheelchair positions are defined, depending on the size of the chairs, this will ascertain how many other seats it's possible to fit in around them.

    Depending on the width of the wheelchair and the height of the passenger, it's possible in some models to sit in the front passenger position. However, this is a more extension conversion and thus more expensive.

    Other factors to consider with your WAV purchase

    Ramp or lift?

    - Ramps can operate electrically or manually. Although manual ramps are a cheaper option you will probably need assistance to lower and raise them. Also, you must be able to propel yourself up the slope or rely on assistance. A winch can be installed to help pull you up. Both lifts and electric ramps are more convenient but also more costly and require additional maintenance.

    Side or rear entrance

    - Rear entrance WAVs are more common than side entrance versions but they also have the disadvantage that you need the space behind the vehicle to deploy the ramp or lift for access. Another consideration with a rear entrance vehicle is that the wheelchair user enters and exits from the road as opposed to the pavement.

    Manual or Electric Lock downs

    - Inside the vehicle the wheelchair must be securely tied down for safety. Manual lock downs are more common, easy to use and efficient. For some people electric lock downs are the more preferable option.

    Headroom

    - Even with a lowered floor, if you're very tall you may find that there isn't enough head room, so ensure you purchase a WAV which gives you comfortable headroom.

    Internal transfer WAVs

    - Internal transfer WAVs are modified to allow the wheelchair user to pass easily from the wheelchair into the driving seat. The chair is then stowed in the vehicle.

    Automatic or manual

    - This usually is a choice of personal preference of the driver. For a wheelchair user who will be driving it is more common to have an automatic gearbox as this reduces the adaptations required.

    Tips for Buying A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle

    Purchasing a WAV is an investment in making life easier, but it can be all too easy to make the wrong decision. Follow these tips for choosing a WAV to make sure you purchase the right one.

    1. When enquiring about a WAV, the car advisor should be the one asking the bulk of the questions

    For the right WAV recommendation you need to speak an experienced mobility vehicle advisor who obtains an understanding of the wheelchair user, their chair, how you wish to travel and use of the vehicle. The advisor should be matching your specific requirements to what they have to offer. Don't be afraid to ask any questions yourself though, there's no such thing as a daft question when it comes to such as important decision.

    2.Tell your mobility car advisor if you have other wheelchairs you might use, or if you might be changing the wheelchair soon

    Otherwise, there's a possibility your new wheelchair won't fit. It's also worth thinking about who else might be travelling with you and if you need to take any other luggage or equipment such as a scooter with you. Your WAV will need to accommodate all of this.

    3. Only choose a second-hand WAV from a specialist used WAV supplier

    Unfortunately, many car dealers are trying to sell WAVs these days without full knowledge or experience of what they are selling. In what can be an emotional and difficult decision, WavMob takes the necessary time to get to understand each of their customers and their WAV needs in a friendly and professional matter. Our 98% five star Google customer reviews are a testament to providing an excellent, experienced and caring service. Most of our business is based on existing customers returning to use us again because they value our personalised service.

    Please also visit our top tips checklist which covers important items you need to consider when purchasing a WAV.

    How Do You Insure A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?

    Insuring a Wheelchair Accessible or Drive From Wheelchair vehicle is slightly more complex than a standard vehicle, as the conversion has to be fully covered. It's best to use an insurance company which has a good understanding of the WAV market. Some options for you to check include:

    1. www.fishinsurance.co.uk/products/car-insurance

    2. www.gocompare.com/car-insurance/disabled-drivers

    Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Service and Repairs

    WAVs can be serviced by any main dealer if the vehicles are still under the manufacturer's warranty or any MOT & service agent after that.

    The ramp may need a touch of WD40 from time to time. If the vehicle has a modified exhaust you will need to advise whoever is maintaining your vehicle as they may need to order special parts from the original WAV manufacturer.

    If the WAV has a lift fitted, the lift should be serviced annually by the manufacturer.

    The driver is responsible for ensuring the vehicle is roadworthy at all times and should regularly check:

  • Tyres for wear and tear
  • Are the lights working
  • Water and coolant levels
  • Wash/Wipe reservoirs

  • Conclusion

    We hope you found our in-depth guide to purchasing a WAV useful. Choosing a WAV is a big decision, but be rest assured that the experienced WavMob team is here to provide you with a personalised, friendly and professional service. We understand how emotive and sometimes difficult it is to find the right WAV. We will ask the right questions and take whatever time you need from us to help you make the right decision. Our 98% five-star customer reviews demonstrate the excellent service we provide.

    Please call us with any questions on 02392 245570 and we will be glad to help.