How We Chose A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV)

How We Chose A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV)

I see posts about this on Facebook so often and this week someone specifically messaged me asking to write a post about how we chose our van.  For us, it wasn’t a difficult decision but I know for many it is a very hard choice to make as there are so many factors to consider when choosing which wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) suits you best.

So, here are some important factors you should consider when choosing a WAV, and how we chose ours.

What is a WAV?

There are so many different types but in short a WAV is a vehicle which is specifically adapted to allow a passenger to travel in their wheelchair rather than in a standard car seat.  This might be in the rear with other passengers or up front next to the driver. It could even be as a driver but that isn’t relevant to us!

Of course the most important thing we usually think about when we choose a new car is the make, model, colour etc but when picking a WAV there are other, possibly more important, things we need to consider too.  So I will cover those first before we even think about make and model.

It is really important to remember that if you are getting a motability vehicle you will have a long wait.  All their WAVs are converted to order so don’t wait until you need it.  Start looking in plenty of time so you can order it as soon as possible.  We had to wait 6 months for ours, but friends have waited longer!

Size matters!

If you are used to driving a small car then it is going to be a massive jump to suddenly be the driver of a large van.  I was used to driving a van as my husband had a Volkswagen Transporter for work, which is why that was the van at the top of our list.

You may be surprised at how quickly you get used to driving a van so don’t let size put you off without taking one for a test drive.  Parking sensors can also make it far easier for you so do factor those in as well when making your choices.

You're going to need either a ramp or a lift in your WAV and there are pro's and con's to both options.

In order to get the wheelchair into the WAV, you’re going to need either a ramp or a lift and there are pro’s and con’s to both options.

A ramp can either be fixed or removable but will usually be manually operated. If the wheelchair is heavy you might find it tricky to push it up the ramp without a winch so that is something to consider as well.

Lifts are much easier to use with a heavy wheelchair but many people worry that they may break down. Our lift has never broken down in the 3 years we’ve had it (touch wood) but even if it did we do have a manual override and Motability assistance will come out and fix it pretty quickly so it has never been something that has concerned us.

You will also need to consider whether you are better off with a side or rear loading vehicle.  Our WAV has a side loading lift which is great for us as we usually park on the street and can load/unload onto the pavement.  But when we are in a car park it can be tricky as we need lots of space to the side, as you can see below this can cause some issues.

side loading wheelchair accessible van

Rear loading WAVs are better for using in a car park but if you are parking on the street you risk having someone park close to the back door.  You’ll also have to consider whether you are happy to unload into the path of oncoming traffic in the car park.

Where the lift is will also determine how easy it is to access other parts of the WAV and how much storage you have, I’ll cover that in a minute.

Think about where you park most and how easy it is for you to push the wheelchair.

Other passengers

This is a really important thing to consider.  Do you have other children or regularly travel with family or friends? Do you regularly have a PA or carer travelling with you?  Maybe you need space for your do?

Consider how many seats you need to have as a minimum and go from there.  If you are getting a motability grant then you will only be able to get funding for the minimum number of seats you use.

We have 2 removable seats in the back of our WAV to accomodate passengers. They are easy to swivel out of the way if needs be but to take them out of the van is pretty impossible as they are so heavy.  So do consider whether you’d be happy to do that on a regular basis.swivel chairs in a volkswagen transporter wav

Position of wheelchair user

This may be the most important consideration if your child has medical needs so do ensure you look at the different layouts each WAV offers.  We wanted to have William immediately behind us due to his epilepsy, which immediately ruled out several options to us.  We also wanted to ensure we could get to him easily if needs be, which is why we went for 2 seats in the front of our van rather than having a bench seat which could accomodate 3 people.

If you have other children then you will want to consider whether it is important for them to be closer to you or whether you would be happy for them to be between you and your child in the wheelchair.

The Volkswagen Maxi- Cadi for example, has a 3 seats between the driver and the wheelchair user so you may struggle to hear the child in the wheelchair if they are in the back behind your other children.  And you will certainly not be able to access them easily in an emergency without deploying the ramp or lift.  But this wouldn’t be an issue for all families.

You may need to have your child in the front next to you for medical reasons, this option is not currently offered by motability for children but you could purchase privately if this was essential for you.

What else do you need to take with you?

If you are regularly transporting other equipment with you, or go away every weekend with lots of luggage then space is going to be an important issue to think about.  But don’t just think about how much space you need, also consider where you need it.

If your storage is behind the wheelchair and your ramp is at the rear then you will need to remove it every time your wheelchair user needs to get out of the car.  That might not be practical if you do a lot of long journeys with stops at motorway services.

We wanted to be able to get William out of the WAV quickly without having to move any shopping or other equipment / luggage if needed.  If we had a rear loader we would not have been able to do this as his exit route would have been our storage area.  We chose a side loader so that we could use the area behind his wheelchair as storage.

How long will it be suitable for?

If you are getting a Motability vehicle then you’ll need to ensure your WAV is going to last for 5 years.  If you are buying one then you’ll probably want it to be suitable for much longer than that.   That’s why it is important to consider things such as whether you plan to grow your family, or if your child may need a larger wheelchair in the near future.

If your needs change then Motability will allow you to change your vehicle sooner but you will need to cover the down payment again so it can make it very costly if you’ve not planned for the future.

Motability or private purchase?

This will be a personal choice but there are benefits to both options.  We went for a Motability van as we didn’t have the money to privately purchase something, plus we wanted the security a Motability vehicle provides and the knowledge the only outgoings we would need to cover would be for diesel.

You might prefer a private purchase if you need something quickly and don’t want to change it in 5 years time when a Motability vehicle would require an additional down payment.

If it is purely a matter of cost then ensure you factor in things such as insurance, new tyres, MOT and servicing on the lift or ramp, all of which are covered by Motability.

side loading vw transporter wheelchair accessible vehicle


While Motability may not cover all the extras you want it is important to consider them anyway. Some vehicles will come with them as standard while others won’t.  Things such as rear air conditioning and tinted windows were really important for us as William’s seizures are affected by the heat. We needed the tinted windows as the lack of Changing Places toilets means we have to change him in the van quite frequently.

Parking sensors come as standard in some vehicles but at an additional cost in others.

Once you’ve considered all those things, you are ready to start looking at WAVs.  Contact some converters, explain your needs and wants and book in a test drive or two.  Remember that not all converters offer the same types of conversion so do shop around for the best price and best features to suit your needs.

Our Volkswagen Transporter is from Brook Miller via Motability.  We chose it because I felt comfortable and safe driving it and the size was perfect for us to transport William in his wheelchair, along with his other equipment and still be able to use a car seat for long journeys.  We have no regrets about our choice at all, we have upgraded the stereo though because I have to have good music when I’m driving (to drown out my singing!)

Of course all families will have different considerations when choosing a WAV so please do comment below with any tips for other readers who might be in the process of choosing one.

Need help choosing?  Ask in the Facebook community.

This post is in collaboration with Accident Advice Helpline

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