Car Choice: Have wheelchair access, will travel

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Susan Pryce's husband has given up driving for medical reasons, and Susan's mobility is affected by arthritis in her hands and shoulders. They drive around 8,000 miles a year and want to replace their reliable Skoda Felicia. Susan needs an automatic gearbox, power steering and front electric windows. Most importantly, she needs sufficient rear loading space, preferably with flat access, to accommodate an electric wheelchair and hoist. The vehicle needs to last for at least six years to justify the cost of the hoist.

I consulted the experts at Brotherwood (01935 872603), who have been building wheelchair- friendly cars for almost 20 years now. Brotherwood's Ron Heaton questioned why Susan wanted a hoist. "That suggests to me that her husband still has some mobility and the hoist is simply used to put the wheelchair on board. On a nice day, five minutes loading the wheelchair is no problem, but in a cold, windy supermarket car park, it can be a complete pain. That is why we build vehicles that have total wheelchair access."

At Brotherwood, they cut the floor out and lower it so that the wheelchair can go right up to the front seats, so the user isn't sitting alone in the boot. Susan's husband could possibly transfer to a front seat once inside.

However, Heaton made the point that if Susan's husband's condition were to deteriorate in the future, it would make sense to get a drive-in wheelchair- access vehicle now rather than later. Of course, cost is a concern and Susan needs to be aware that there are second-hand vehicles available, through Brotherwood and other specialists.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Susan says that she has already looked at the Renault Kangoo 1.6 automatic, and wants to know what other small to medium car fits the bill. The major concern is getting a vehicle with an automatic option. The excellent Fiat Multipla doesn't have one butthe Citroën Berlingo Multispace does.

Brotherwood had a second-hand 1999 three-door example, with air-conditioning, at £10,000, which had covered only 20,700 miles. Susan's challenge is to find the right specification, as many Berlingos were basically equipped.

Certainly, the rear area is huge, and there are large door pockets, storage nets and hooks for tying stuff down. Although most buyers want a diesel engine these days, as Susan covers a modest mileage, she will certainly find that a 1.6 16- valve petrol engine should be more than adequate.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Trading up from a Skoda to a Mercedes is not the giant step it once was. A Mercedes-Benz Vaneo could be worth considering.

Brotherwood has faith in the Vaneo and bulk-bought the last batch of right-hand drives before it was discontinued. It wasn't popular, hence its demise, but as an adapted vehicle it fits the bill, carrying up to 600kg.

The huge rear door has a low loading lip, which is even lower once converted. There's no denying that this is a van - the clue's in the name. But a Vaneo isn't a cheap option. Looking through Brotherwood's ex-demonstrator stock, I found one at £21,600. The specification was impressive and this 2004 example had covered just 2,800 miles. The engine is a diesel automatic and extras include heated front seats and cruise control. If Susan wants the very best, here it is.

CAR CHOICE

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested.

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