Most anyone who has searched for a wheelchair accessible van, or anyone who already has a wheelchair van will tell you that they are expensive to purchase or rent. This is especially the case if you are looking for a fuel efficient (diesel), full-sized van, as my family is.
I imagine many are in a similar situation. We are looking for something that is big enough to haul the whole family, for many years of service with room for a wheelchair and all of the stuff that family's need to bring. Our van needs the extra ability to pull a 2-ton trailer and to do so with good road manners and fuel mileage.
Buying a good quality vehicle is important, because installing a wheelchair lift is an expensive proposition. Lifts and other conversions are either not transferable at all or near cost prohibitive to move from vehicle to vehicle.
The vehicles by themselves are expensive, often between $45,000-$65,000 and the up-fitting for a lift can easily add another $12,000-$24,000 (in my research, on the same van and same lift, different installers) and even more for other, more involved conversions.
My purchase challenge needed some immediate solving, as my wife was reaching her physical breaking point with transporting our growing son and his newer, larger, heavier wheelchair around town and to appointments.
Like any reasonable person, I sought out financial institutions in my area for a solution. What I found was disappointing and downright frustrating. There were no programs created to address this need. One could buy a new RV, which had the same drivetrain and a similar price tag as my preferred wheelchair van, with an RV loan of 10-20 years to pay it off. One could NOT do the same with an equally expensive (but more urgently needed) Sprinter or Transit wheelchair van, without the stove, toilet and bed. What gives?
I talked to an acquaintance of mine who is the manager a local bank. He tried all the avenues available to him to offer an RV loan for my wheelchair van, before being shot down by his underwriters, thus exhausting his options. I called all of the banks in town and visited my local credit union. My choices for a long-term loan beyond 84 months was limited just to RV's. Online I spotted longer term loans that were again limited, to just classic and collector cars.
After these findings I paid an organization that searches for grants and loans alittle money to search their resources for a couple of months. I looked to see if anything was available to help offset the cost of a wheelchair van, to which I was again disappointed in finding nothing.
I visited "GoFundme" as a possible resort; as to see if gathering donations would be feasible. Gofundme, as you might expect at this point was over crowded with many, some more worthy, but nonetheless unsuccessful donation requests for wheelchair vans.
Lastly, as to leave no stone unturned I looked at my local government resources. I discovered that while it is possible, in certain circumstances to receive some financial assistance with having a wheelchair lift installed in a van; the assistance was essentially limited to installation on late model vehicles, just a few years old and with no more than 50,000 miles. They mentioned that they could assist with the cost of up to $5,000 for a lift, if we qualified, but not towards the vehicle's purchase. Different programs do vary; depending on your military service, social status and race, among other categories. As for my family (and many others), we are not in any special class, we just have a very special little guy, looking for ways to make the payments on very expensive equipment more bearable.
You may be just thinking why not buy an older version of the very van I am seeking. I am doing so, but I point out that I have found that new vans and slightly used vans cost almost the same, especially towards the end of the model year. Keeping the door open to possible future assistance towards a lift is a always a good idea and the vehicle really has to last a long time to help offset the installation cost and the lift itself. Upfitters, (according to the state) have reportedly declined to install lifts on vehicles with more than 50k miles or more than a couple years old. I haven't found that to be true, yet. Either way, it pays to start fresh, if you have many years left on the earth's surface.
It's been said that freedom isn't free and thus is the case with almost any disabled person's freedom. In an effort to appreciate the freedom to move about, some just have to pay mightily for it. That is just a hard fact of reality. I believe there should be ways to make that big burden more affordable for people, without making it a giveaway or charity case. The question is why don't our lenders offer 120 or 180 month, low interest, fixed loans, like they do for their RV customers?
So, Bankers and Community Credit Unions, if you want another avenue to serve your fellow citizens and still make a buck doing so, you now have a way to serve an existing and growing need. Just extend your longer term RV loans to include solid new wheelchair vans. There is no further need for ignoring the needs of the handicap and their (support) families any longer!