Perhaps you’re in the market for a new wheelchair van and you’re not sure what your options are or what the pros and cons to each decision is. If that is the case, hopefully you’ll find this article useful and interesting.
There are basically two options in the wheelchair van world that people really need to consider. With that in mind I will quickly visit OPTION #3, because it is quite rare and rarely discussed.
Option #3 is a product by Braun, which be installed on most vehicles. Depending on how much assistance the person in need requires and depending on if the person is a driver or passenger, either front seat can be designed to lift itself outside of the vehicle and lower to the side of the vehicle. This setup makes it easy for the person to either leave the seat and hobble away or to be transferred into a wheelchair. The reverse is true when they want to enter the vehicle, the seat lifts out of the cab and is lowered to near wheelchair level for transfer. Con: This option would require some additional side space for use. It also requires a transfer, if wheelchair is needed.
OPTION #2 is quite common and this involves a lift or ramp installed on the back of a passenger van. This (rear-entry) setup is commonly seen on
on medical or senior transport vans.
The downside to the rear-entry arrangement is that it reduces the options and versatility to the back of your van. It obviously reduces your options for carrying cargo, if you have to move a wheelchair through the cargo area. The other downside is that you cannot pull a trailer or use a hitch type rack if you use this rear-entry option. The third downside is that street parking can be difficult, it just takes someone to park behind you to block the use of loading or unloading your wheelchair. The other downside to rear-entry is it may reduce your passenger capacity. Lastly, because rear-end collisions occur with more frequency, there may be more expense associated with an accident.
The pros of rear-entry include not requiring a wheelchair handicap parking space, as you can unload in a normal width parking spot.
This Pro is also another Con because, this option extends you out of normal parking space length and will leave you unloading into parking lot traffic.
OPTION #1 is my personal favorite, it involves loading and unloading the wheelchair through a side lift or ramp. This option is what I decided to use on our family van. This option doesn’t affect the rear seats in our full-sized van, so we can haul more friends and family. It also allows us to carry lots of cargo in the back and also pull a trailer. I believe this option gives your vehicle the most versatility. Another plus, if you find yourself living in a rainy climate like I do; there is the possibility of adding an awning, to assist with the often time consuming process of using a lift in the rain.
The main cons to this side option is that it does require a wider area for parking, so a wheelchair van parking spot is pretty much required unless you find a parking spot end, that is a parking spot with no spaces next to it. Also, depending on what side you exit, there can be issues with parking and unloading on one way streets.
I suppose another con could occur if your lift or ramp impedes other passengers loading/unloading. Our Braun Under Vehicle Lift (UVL) tucks under the van, on the outside, which is not in the way of entry or exit when not being used. Some other lift types can be somewhat of a nuisance for passengers that don’t require a lift.
I hope you enjoy whichever option you choose.
Nathan has researched vehicles and vehicle pricing for over 30 years and has visited and talked with hundreds of dealerships nationwide. He is a former Oregon vehicle broker, who specialized in commercial vehicles. Nathan also operated an independent insurance business for twelve years, until exiting in 2024 to serve as a full-time caregiver for his youngest son.