Motability Scheme customers often ask why Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) tend to be converted from commercial vehicles.
With almost 20 years’ experience in the industry, Graham Lloyd is well-equipped to answer this question. He started working for Motability in 1999, and then moved to the other side of the industry and worked for WAV converters for many years (converters are responsible for changing standard vehicles into wheelchair accessible ones). In 2018, Graham joined Motability Operations Ltd, working with a number of Motability Scheme converters. Graham has answered some frequently asked questions about WAV conversions for our readers.
Typically, what type of vehicle is used as a base vehicle for a WAV?
Usually it’s either a car based on a commercial vehicle, or a commercial vehicle. The latter are designed to accommodate packages and boxes, so they’re square at the back. This means there’s more room for a wheelchair and the access required to get in and out.
How are vehicles converted for wheelchair access?
Almost all WAVs will have a ramp installed so that the wheelchair user can access the vehicle. The ramp is usually manually operated, although you can get automatic and gas-assisted ramps. Plus, in most conversions the floor in the rear of the vehicle is lowered so that the wheelchair user can sit comfortably in the vehicle. However, in the largest WAVs, convertors tend to keep the floor completely flat and instead install a lift to allow access for the wheelchair user.
What are the benefits of converting a commercial vehicle to a WAV?
There’s more space. Lowering the floor gives the wheelchair user maximum headroom when they’re inside. It also means that they’ll be able to see out of the windows.
If the floor wasn’t lowered, then you could potentially get a wheelchair user inside but they’d be high up and may not be able to see out of any windows – this could make passengers feel travel sick.
Can I get a WAV that was originally a standard production car?
The car industry rarely makes cars the shape you need for a WAV. Most cars are sloped at the rear, so there’s less space and very little headroom for a wheelchair user. The rear of 4X4s are square, but the four-wheel drive system runs through the middle of the vehicle. You can’t cut through the driveshaft to put a lowered floor section in, so it’s not possible to convert a 4X4 to a WAV.
Are there any cars that can be converted but aren’t?
Multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) can be converted, but they’re not an ideal shape. Plus, as fewer are made now, they cost thousands of pounds more to convert.
Will there be changes to the types of vehicles converted in future?
Convertors are reliant on what the car manufacturers build; cars are usually designed and developed to meet the needs of the wider retail market. At the moment, crossovers and SUVs are the cars people want, and their shape means they can’t be converted into WAVs. Until car trends change, commercial vehicles will continue to be the best solution.
However, there have been improvements in recent years. Most people now have access to the Internet, so can go to WAV suppliers having done some research. This access to more information has forced the industry to improve, so you’ll find that many commercial vehicles now offer what is available in cars. It’s still not perfect, but compared to 10 years ago, it’s much better.