Synopsis: Information and policies you should know before renting wheelchair accessible vehicles for weekend getaways or vacations. In the U.S. most local and online wheelchair van dealers have a rental option. Will a rear entry or side entry wheelchair van conversion work best for you?
Everyone needs a change of scenery from time to time - like a weekend getaway or refreshing vacation. If limited mobility is keeping you from exploring your world, near and far, it may be time to take an often-overlooked route - rent a wheelchair van for a weekend, a week or beyond!
Handicap accessible vans can be rented in the U.S. and worldwide. You might have to take a plane or ship to distant and overseas locations, but when you arrive, you can have an adapted van waiting for you to make your adventure as comfortable, restful, and enjoyable as possible.
In the US, most local and online wheelchair van dealers have a rental option. There are hundreds of handicap van dealers throughout the US, so even if you live in a remote area, you can have a rental van delivered to your door, but expect a moderate charge for delivery and pick-up.
Outside the US, many large cities have wheelchair van dealers, which can be quickly located with an Internet search or by working with a travel agent who specializes in travel for people with disabilities.
In an adapted van, every conversion feature is designed for your ease of travel.
Terms and fees vary as with any rental, so check around.
Woman standing behind man in wheelchair with van and beach in background.
Your van's interior configuration should be determined by your specific needs, and you'll have several options. It's wise to work with the rental company's mobility expert, who will take everything into consideration, including the number of passengers, to select the best van possible.
Adapted vans can be configured for up to two wheelchair passengers, and, if you're a wheelchair user with the ability to transfer from your wheelchair into the driver's seat, you can drive! Some vans have a removable driver's seat and a wheelchair docking system, so you can drive from your wheelchair. And very often, hand controls are available.
The biggest decision is the wheelchair access point on the van - will a rear entry or side entry wheelchair van conversion work best for you?
In most situations, side entry access is preferred. Even with two wheelchair passengers and a driver in a wheelchair accessible minivan, there's seating for two passengers in the back of the van, though you won't have a lot of room for luggage in the cabin. If you're traveling with several people, a full-size van may be your best option.
With a rear entry van, you'd have the inconvenience of backing out of the vehicle, which you won't have with the side entry, but it's sometimes easier to find parking for a rear entry van. Both styles need at least 8 feet of clearance for the ramp to deploy and the wheelchair to maneuver on the ground. Parking a side entry van in a standard, marked parking lot may prevent you from deploying the ramp if someone parks in the spot next to that side of your van.
Some wheelchair vans have a "kneeling" system similar to the ones buses use. When kneeling, the incline of the deployed ramp is decreased for easier entry and exit. If you have a powered chair or scooter, or if you're traveling with a caretaker or able-bodied companions, a kneeling system - which might carry a higher rental rate--is probably unnecessary.
Make sure there's ample cabin space and seating for your travel companions. Also request a van with low mileage and powered ramp deployment with manual back-up. After all, it is your vacation!
There will always be differences in van rental policies from dealership to dealership, state to state, and nation to nation - so it helps to know the basics. For example, is a deposit required to reserve a wheelchair van
Some companies have two-day or one-week minimums, which may affect your plans, so ask. Most dealerships offer short-term (a weekend or week) and long-term rentals (monthly, and longer when necessary, like post-operative recovery during which mobility is limited.) Similarly, you may be limited to a certain amount of mileage daily, for which there may be an additional charge.
If your plans include travel to another state or, if overseas, to more than one country, make sure you ask about the company's policies regarding your itinerary, as they vary widely. You may not be able to cross state lines in the US or international borders. Wherever you rent, a mobility consultant should help you select the right van. Whether you pick up your van at the dealership or have it delivered, a mobility professional should demonstrate the operation of your accessible transportation in detail, which shouldn't take long because most of today's accessible vans are easy to use!
As you'd imagine, the rental price for an adapted van is somewhat higher than standard auto- rental prices. Of course, there might be price breaks depending on how long you want the van. Don't forget to inquire about "extra day" charges in case you're having so much fun that you decide to extend your getaway for a day or two.
While most of the information that follows should appear on the company web site and on the rental contract, there are a few things you might want to specifically ask when speaking with a rental company:
Requirements for Renting a Van:
Again, expect policies to vary, but all drivers of adapted rentals typically must meet an age requirement and have a valid driver's license. If you're an American planning to travel internationally and rent a van, you'll have some inquiries to make - a few countries require an International Drivers Permit (available through AAA offices or the National Automobile Club for about $15-$20) in conjunction with a US driver's license.
Any member of your party who plans to drive must have proof of insurance, though vehicle renter's insurance - obtained personally or through the rental company - may or may not be required. As with most rentals, you'll need to provide a credit card (American Express, MasterCard, Visa--whatever the rental company accepts).
If the rental agent doesn't do it as a matter of course, ask the agent to perform this critical inspection. Before you accept the van, carefully scrutinize the complete exterior and interior of the vehicle and document all existing dings, dents, and any interior damage to avoid paying for damage you didn't cause. Make sure 1) you take a copy of the documentation with you, and 2) the rental company keeps a copy on file. However, a reputable accessible van rental company should provide you with a van in excellent condition outside, inside, and under the hood.
Your service animal shouldn't be a problem, as they're generally permitted. That said, it's wise to let the rental company know ahead of time that you'll be bringing along a service companion or even a non-service animal. Typically there will be a one-time cleaning fee if necessary when the van is returned, depending on the van's interior condition.
If you must cancel your rental reservation, you can do the rental company a favor by notifying them as soon as possible, so the van can be made available to others. Usually there's no penalty for cancellation, and if you do it soon enough, you should get your deposit returned.
Handicap vans, like any other vehicle, can malfunction. If the van you rent is a well-designed, well-built, newer model year with low mileage, the possibility of a break-down of either the base van or the ramp system is remote. In the US, a reliable rental company will have a nationwide repair and service network (for the van) and a toll-free, 24-hour conversion help line (for the ramp system), so help is just a phone call away.
As you budget for your trip, you'll want to know 1) approximately how many miles you'll be traveling in the van, 2) how many gallons the tank can hold and 3) the miles per gallon (MPG) of the vehicle.
Upon Your Return:
As a rule, you're expected to return the van with the gas tank filled to the level at delivery or pick-up. If you stop at a gas station with a car wash, you'll benefit from cleaning the inside and outside of the van as much as possible. And pay attention to the time you're expected to return the vehicle - late charges may apply.
If the van requires more than just a routine cleaning (wash, dust, vacuum) when you return, you may be charged a cleaning fee (somewhere in the range of $100). That's why it's a good idea to take care of any necessary tidying up just before you drop off the van.
It shouldn't surprise you that smoking is usually not allowed in rental vans, and rental businesses have ways to nose out cigarette and cigar smoke odor. Don't disregard this rule, or you'll be subject to additional charges. If you're traveling internationally, it's possible some rental companies overseas have relaxed rules about smoking or might even have a few vans in which smoking might be permitted. Ask.
Multiple drivers shouldn't be a problem if you make sure they have a current driver's license, are covered under a primary renter's insurance policy, and they're listed as drivers on the rental contract.
Don't leave home without them! Check twice that you have the vehicle contract, the vehicle handbook, and ALL essential phone numbers.
Preparation is key to a safe, stress-free, enjoyable vacation.