Test Driving Cars as a Wheelchair User

Getting a new car is exciting, stressful, and a big decision! Not only is it a big decision financially, but it’s a big decision because the vehicle you choose is responsible for keeping you safe, taking you to your destinations, and hopefully last for a few years. This is why test driving is an important part of the car buying process, but for wheelchair users, test driving can be difficult because many vehicles are not equipped for our needs before we purchase them. 

I have talked with several of my friends who use wheelchairs and all of us have different methods for checking out vehicles and test driving options. Here’s a few to consider:

Bring Portable Hand Controls

When I test drive vehicles, I bring my own portable hand controls. Portable hand controls look like sticks and can be attached to the gas and brake pedals of any vehicle. I use portable hand controls to drive my own SUV because they’re cheaper than getting my vehicle modified with permanent hand controls. This makes it easy for me to pop the hand controls out of my SUV and transfer them into any vehicle that I am interested in test driving. I am also able to do this because I transfer from my wheelchair into the driver’s seat in order to drive. This is not an option for people who drive from their wheelchairs. 

Go to an Accessible Van Dealer or an Abilities Expo

In some larger cities, there are dealerships that specialize in accessible vehicles where you can go to check out accessible vehicles in person, however, you may not be able to test drive them. The same is true for Abilities Expos. At Abilities Expos, there are opportunities to check out several different types of accessible vehicles from different companies, but you cannot drive them. You can check out the ramps, the seating, the different options, and ask tons of questions. This is a great way to get a feel for what the vehicles are like, even if you can’t test them out on the open road. 

Rent an Accessible Vehicle for the Weekend or Drive a Friend’s Vehicle

If you live in an area that has accessible vehicles available for rent, you may consider spending the money to rent one for the weekend for an extended test drive. This won’t give you the opportunity to test drive the exact vehicle you’ll be purchasing, but you’ll be able to test out the make and model you’re interested in. Similarly, if you have a friend who has a wheelchair accessible vehicle, ask if you can take it for a spin. You may find that you love your friend’s van or you might find that it isn’t a great fit for you. 

Sit Passenger Side While a Friend Drives

If you’re not able to test drive a vehicle yourself, sometimes the best option available is to sit in the passenger seat while your friend or a person from the dealership drives the vehicle. While this doesn’t allow you to personally get a feel for the steering, gas and brakes, it does allow you to feel how the car drives and determine whether you like the ride. It’s not the greatest option, but when you’re in a pinch, it’s definitely better than nothing!

About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.