Car choice: Take all the help you can get

Vehicles to suit disabled users are a matter of practicality and price over comfort and look, says James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Margaret Rigby, 66, needs to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle with disabled access. Her husband is seriously ill and has lost the use of his legs. Although she is not used to driving a large vehicle she is willing to learn and needs four-wheel drive because of their rural location. Margaret has £15,000 to spend.

We are very sorry to hear about Margaret's predicament, but it is by no means a unique one. I wonder if she is aware of the existence of the Motability scheme.

To be eligible for any of the Motability schemes you must receive either the higher-rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance, or War Pensioners' Mobility Supplement.

There are then two motoring schemes, either a new car on a three-year contract hire lease or a new or used car on hire purchase, over a term of two to five years.

According to Motability, most of their customers choose contract hire as they find it's the best option to obtain and pay for a brand new car. They like the convenience of a single, regular payment that includes comprehensive insurance, maintenance and breakdown cover.

Each month they produce price guides for the most popular cars on the contract hire scheme, as well as a guide to hire-purchase rates. (Motability hotline: 0845 456 4566.) In Margaret's case, she needs a vehicle that has been, or can be, converted.

That conversion work must be fully approved by the manufacturer so she needs to speak to them, or a fully accredited company such as Atlas Conversions (023-9275 6265), which has been doing this type of work for 20 years. As for Margaret's driving skills, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (020-8996 9600) is ideally placed to help.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

I feel that Margaret may not need a full-size four-wheel drive, but a vehicle with four-wheel drive ability. They are not all huge and one of the most popular conversions is the Renault Kangoo, which has been available with four-wheel drive, and is known as the Trekka.

It has a suitably high roof but would need to have a lightweight folding ramp installed, around £5,700, and a suspension system that drops down at the rear, £8,700, and that's on top of the cost of the vehicle. So it is not a cheap option, but one I think that Margaret should seriously consider even if it means spreading the cost on finance.

The Trekka has a good level of standard equipment and masses of room inside. It is also one of the safest cars in this class with ABS brakes, a brake-assist system and airbags.

Unlike many huge four-wheel drives it handles like a car and is not top-heavy or clumsy. With 200mm ground clearance and permanent four-wheel drive it offers decent ability over rough ground and muddy tracks. It has been described as fun and functional and I would agree with that. Fitting one out for wheelchair is access is not cheap, but that goes for any vehicle.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

There isn't really a car for the heart here. Margaret just needs a vehicle that is practical and probably one that she can buy right now.

To be honest, I looked hard for four-wheel drive with wheelchair access and could not find very many at all. There is, though, a product called a Baboulin Wheelchair, which cleverly and simply converts from one role as a car seat to another as a wheelchair.

It looks very simple to operate and, powered by an electric motor, it simply swings out from the passenger side where wheels are then attached, and off you go.

So, again, a large vehicle with lots of headroom is not required. Margaret could get a Toyota RAV4, which is easy to drive and a reliable small off-roader, for under £10,000 from a dealer and with a warranty.

However, it is absolutely vital that Margaret visits as many specialists as possible to find out what is best for her. Often there are special deals and promotions on new vehicles that make them better value.

There are also organisations that offer great benefits and advice. For £14 a year (£18 for joint membership) you can become part of the Disabled Drivers' Motor Club. This pays for a range of services including insurance discounts and RAC membership (01832 734724).

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.

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