Discover what American companies are making wheelchair-accessible transportation today
Mobility vans are typically built on existing chassis of popular vehicles like the GMC Savana, Chevrolet Express and Ford E series. However, these vans must be converted from the standard manufacturer design to more accessible specifications.
There are a number of US-based companies that alter or build custom wheelchair-capable vehicles. But short of going the custom route, there’s only 2 big names in the industry building specialty vans for folks who use wheelchairs:
At the time of this writing, Braun was the de facto leader in the wheelchair-friendly space, but VMI continues to innovate and keep pace.
BraunAbility & VMI dominate the industry
It wasn’t always just these 2 dominant forces in the wheelchair-accessible van market. Twenty-five years ago, there were at least 4 major companies building wheelchair-capable vehicles. In addition to VMI and BraunAbility, companies like Ricon and Independent Mobility Solutions (IMS) also vied for supremacy from the dozens of small “mom-n-pop” fabricators across the country who could turn many types of vehicles from sedans to vans into wheelchair-accessible rides.
However, Braun purchased Ricon in 1999. In 2004, they also bought IMS. Purchasing a vehicle altered by Braun or VMI means you’re getting a high-quality product—and any product with the IMS nameplate is also a good one even if they’ve been out of production for many years.
Alternative options for mobility van conversion
Apart from the 2 big guns for wheelchair van conversion, there are many other smaller-scale manufacturers across the country that convert vehicles for wheelchair-accessibility—both small for personal use and large for commercial applications.
Some of the more notable and well-established conversion companies include:
- MobilityWorks (Richfield, Ohio)
- M-Power (Tarzana, California)
- FR Conversions (Westminster, Maryland)
- Triple S Mobility (Pinellas Park, Florida)
- Assisted Transportation Systems (Columbia, Kentucky)
- Revability (now includes the ElDorado Mobility and AutoAbility brands) (Clarkston, Michigan)
- Diverge (Richfield, Ohio)
What types of vehicles are most commonly converted for wheelchair users?
The main auto brands most wheelchair-accessible companies use for their base platform are products by Dodge, Chrysler, Toyota, Ford and Honda. Some builders will use Ram trucks or other SUVs for their wheelchair conversions. Most wheelchair-friendly platforms are minivans, but some builders will work with a full-size van or pickup truck.
The most popular vehicles for wheelchair conversions are the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, which remain popular despite production ending in 2020. The Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Voyager are the current production minivans and are expected to reign in the wheelchair conversion market in the coming years.
In second place for the most commonly converted chassis is the Toyota Sienna, and a distant third is the Honda Odyssey, which is considered in the wheelchair conversion market to be an “upscale” choice.
The most popular full-size van conversion is the RAM ProMaster 2500 due to its size, front-wheel drive and capacity to accommodate any size wheelchair.
Two companies in particular —ATC and Ryno—are known for their pick-up truck conversions.
What types of modifications are made to convert a vehicle for wheelchair accessibility?
The various modifications manufacturers make to a vehicle can vary from one to another. These changes made to (usually) a van generally fall into 2 categories depending on whether the person in the wheelchair is the driver or a passenger.
To create a conversion that is ADA compliant, the following tasks must be implemented to the vehicle:
- Floors in minivans must be lowered between 10 to 14 inches for side entry, and 10 inches for rear-entry.
- Door heights must be 56 inches or bigger, with a 30-inch wide ramp installed with 2-inch edges and a rise of 6:1 ratio angle.
- Seating must be changed to accommodate a wheelchair-bound driver or passenger, as well as allowing a wheelchair to ride in the middle of the vehicle. Usually, second-row seating is completely removed to allow for the drop-in floor height and rear-entry ramp.
- Some vehicles are equipped with rotating seating (also called a “turney seat”), which can be useful for a person who isn’t confined to a wheelchair at all times.
- Suspension changes to the vehicle are often made to allow for a higher ride height and to accommodate the lower floor. This is done by using taller springs, but some vehicles use an airbag system to raise and lower the vehicle at all 4 points.
- Some vans with side ramps are equipped with the ability to “kneel.” A powered kneeling system can be added to the van to allow side-entry that reduces the slope of the ramp.
- Further modifications are often made to the vehicle’s brake and fuel lines, gas tanks, mufflers, electrical systems and door panels. Side-entry conversion vans typically have many more modifications compared to rear-entry vans.
- L-track, which allows for safety tie-down points, is typically added to the floor of the van, especially if the conversion in question is a full-size van.
- Some manufacturers use crane-type lifts, combined with seats, to shift a person to-and-from a drivers’ or passenger seat to a scooter or wheelchair.
Most converted vehicles—when purchased new—come with a 3-year/36,000 mile warranty. The vehicle’s main systems also retain the original manufacturer’s warranty.
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not mandate crash-testing for wheelchair-modified vehicles, many conversion manufacturers will conduct the proper testing to earn NHTSA certification.
How long does it take to convert a wheelchair accessible van?
Clearly, a good deal of effort goes into making a fully-equipped mobility van, car or truck a reliable and safe vehicle for years or decades to come. The time it takes for a manufacturer to alter a vehicle into a mobility-friendly vehicle can take up to 5 weeks, but possibly longer.
If you need a vehicle sooner, you can buy a van “off the shelf” or talk with a conversion company about your options to convert a vehicle other than a van.
Where can I buy a new or used mobility van?
At Classic Vans, we keep a stock of full-size vans and minivans adapted to suit the needs of folks with wheelchairs. We’ve been in the mobility business for more than 30 years, and we’ve helped hundreds of people find the right handicap-accessible van for them. Our helpful and friendly sales team can help you make the right decision for you—from the size and color of vehicle, to pricing and warranty fulfillments.