Is a WAV right for me?
WAVs are very different from standard cars and each of these differences can impact whether a WAV will suit your needs. Here are some of they key features and differences to consider.
Many WAVs will have had their floor specially lowered to allow enough headroom for the wheelchair user. It also helps make access easier by allowing the ramp to be as short as possible and the angle to be less steep.
Ramps are the most common way to access a WAV. The ramp is usually manually operated with the carer physically unfolding the ramp from the back of the vehicle. They can be automatic, where the ramp folds and unfolds at the touch of a button – however this will cost extra. Some manual ramps are lighter in design, and others can be gas-assisted to make raising and lowering easier.
If you opt for a larger WAV, it might have a lift instead of a ramp. This can be a help if your carer has trouble pushing you up a ramp. A lift may cost more than a ramp so your Advance Payment could be higher.
Travelling in a WAV will feel different from sitting in a standard car. You will be seated in your wheelchair which, although safely restrained, is not fixed to the floor in the same way as a car seat. You will therefore experience some movement when seated in your wheelchair, which will likely be more noticeable on roundabouts and sharp bends. Most people get used to this in time, but some may not.
Your height when seated in the wheelchair may give you a different eyeline out of the windows and with most WAVs the wheelchair user is seated towards the back of the vehicle and so hearing and talking to the driver can be more problematic than in a standard car. Again, in time most people get used to these compromises, but you should check whether you are happy with these aspects before you decide if a WAV is right for you. The travelling experience will vary between each WAV as well as between conversions from different suppliers, so we would always recommend a few demonstrations to test each out.
Some WAVs are larger than regular cars, and as a result will offer a very different driving experience and may require some adjustments in driving style to make sure everyone is safe and secure. It is extremely important to ensure that your driver feels comfortable and confident operating the vehicle.
Most WAVs will have had their floor specially lowered to allow enough headroom for the wheelchair user. As the floor has been lowered, you will need to make sure the WAV allows for enough ground clearance in the places you usually drive, and the driver will need to be more careful over speed bumps.
WAVs can be bigger than the type of car that you're used to, so it's important to think about how this will affect your travel from day to day. All WAVs are fitted with either a ramp or lift, and access will either be from the back or side of the vehicle depending on the conversion. Think about where you normally park and if there is enough space for a ramp or lift and room for wheelchair user to manoeuvre. If you opt for a larger vehicle, make sure the height of the vehicle will be able to clear any height restrictions that you regularly pass through, for example multi-storey car parks.
When the converter lowers the floor of a WAV, the fuel tank may need to be modified or replaced, reducing its size or changing its shape. This can mean your WAV will need to be refuelled more regularly than a standard car and the fuel gauge may be less accurate. Ask your converter if this applies to the WAV you’re looking at.
When making the vehicle accessible for wheelchair users, the converter usually has to remove some of the standard seats. Some vehicles have rear seats designed to fold out of the way to make room for the wheelchair, or you may be able to request to have the wheelchair user to be located in the passenger seat. Layouts also depend on the size of the WAV.
Front or back?
Most WAVs position the wheelchair user in the back of the vehicle, but the actual position can vary quite a lot. Some layouts position the wheelchair user right at the back where the original boot would have been; others try to position the wheelchair user closer behind the driver. The position will affect the travelling experience as the closer forward the wheelchair user is positioned the more inclusive many people find it, however these conversions typically cost more. Additionally, some converters specialise in supplying WAVs that allow the wheelchair user to sit in the front next to the driver, although these will have a higher Advance Payment.
The space you have inside a WAV is vitally important – not just for all passengers, but also to accommodate the things you will be travelling with regularly such as shopping or mobility aids.
All WAVs have a restraint system that has been tested as part of the conversion type approval. Most WAVs have four restraint belts that attach to the front and rear of the wheelchair to keep it in position inside the vehicle. The front restraints are adjustable and are usually self-locking, similar to a seatbelt. They are easily attached to the wheelchair to lock it in place, minimising movement when you are travelling.
There are different mechanisms for attaching the restraints to the wheelchair, some of which a carer might find easier to operate than others. An automatic tie-down system is available at additional cost.
The wheelchair user will also have an appropriate seatbelt fitted to keep the user safe when travelling.
All WAV conversions are tested for safety of the wheelchair user, however, some WAVs will be tested with a heavier wheelchair than others. It is important that your supplier knows which wheelchair you are currently using when you order your WAV.