Guide to car modifications for people with disabilities
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People with disabilities have long known the struggle of finding safe, affordable travel that can also accommodate the things they need to travel.
Grabbing an Uber or hailing a taxi is an entirely different matter when you have a disability, one fraught with disappointment from a lack of accessibility. Taxis and popular ride-sharing services often fail to account for the accommodations that people with disabilities require to ride. Even public transportation can fail you, especially if you live outside of urban areas and city transportation systems. That is why many people with disabilities take travel into their hands by purchasing their own vehicles.
With your own car, you gain more than freedom of travel. You can outfit your vehicle with equipment and customize adjustments specifically to you, making for a safe, comfortable and reliable ride.
Technology has made it easy and, in some cases, affordable to customize your vehicle to accommodate your disability. From hand controls to swivel seats and chair lifts, living with a disability does not have to prevent you from driving.
Modifying a vehicle
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), has invaluable resources to guide you in the process of adapting your new vehicle. These modifications can cost between $20,000 to $80,000 or more.
Of course, this all depends on how you choose to outfit your car. Something as simple as swivel chairs can make an enormous difference and may not be as expensive as other modifications like hand controls, which allow you to drive. It all depends on your disability and what you need to operate the vehicle safely.
Technology has made enormous improvements, allowing many to drive where it would not have been possible before.
“Many of our customers have experienced issues with disabled access vehicles in the past, but thankfully we are seeing the gears shift more and more in recent years,” explains James Ford. He is the founder of AutoBead, an elite car care and detailing manufacturer that frequently works with special vehicles. “Car manufacturers are finally waking up to the requirements of those with disabilities or movement challenges. Entering and leaving cars are two of the key problems that people with disabilities face, but there are less obvious stumbling blocks also at play such as adjusting seat height, reaching to car controls and the seat belt use.”
With these available modifications, your disability does not have to stop you from enjoying the freedom of driving your car.
These are some popular types of modifications that you can use to make your car more accessible.
Types of modifications and average cost
|Car modifications||Average cost|
|Hand controls||$500 – $2000|
|Wheelchair accessible||$10,000 – $24,000+|
|Amputee rings||$400 – $1,000+|
|Pedal extensions||$50 – $200|
|Scooter lifts||$1,500 – $14,000|
|Assist bar/strap||$10 – $30|
|Swivel cushion||$15 – $30|
Best cars for adaptive equipment
Adaptive equipment requires extreme care and a level of precision and technical know-how that not every vehicle modification company can possess.
The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) is a non-profit organization specifically designed to help. There are numerous resources that can help and a large membership that includes all service providers that you need, such as mobility equipment dealers, manufacturers and driver rehabilitation specialists. Certified technicians also participate in the Vehicle Safety and Quality Assurance Program.
Many car manufacturers also offer programs or partner with national organizations to offer car buyers the chance to customize their vehicle right out of the factory.
These are some of the best cars for people with disabilities that have adaptive equipment.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee: As a member of the Chrysler Group, the Cherokee is eligible for the Automobility Program. You can add special modifications right out of the factory that could earn you up to $1,000 in reimbursement. You can also use this program to add to your existing Jeep, Dodge, FIAT or Ram.
- Chevrolet Silverado: The Chevy Silverado offers countless ways to customize your vehicle through the General Motors Mobility Reimbursement Program, which can reimburse you for up to $1,000 on a new purchase or lease. Also, you can get two years of OnStar service with your new Silverado.
- Scion xB: Although discontinued, there are still plenty of older models available for sale. It is a great option if you are looking to keep costs low by buying a used car. Its box shape is low enough for easy mobility but large enough to fit swivel seats, hand controls, chair lifts and restraints.
- Kia Soul: The Soul’s unique box shape is similar to the discontinued Scion xB but offers newer features and technology. The high ceilings make for a very roomy interior while sitting low enough for easier in and out mobility. The Soul is also very affordable and carries a great warranty for added reliability.
- MV-1: Though it is currently not in production, AM General’s Mobility Ventures MV-1 is one of the leading choices for people with disabilities. It is already built to be a handicap-accessible vehicle with all-inclusive accessibility features like special safety lights and an oversized power ramp so that wheelchairs can roll right in. If you are looking for a turn-key option, this could be an excellent fit for you.
- VMI Honda Pilot: The VMI Honda Pilot comes ready to go with everything you need, including a 33” door for easy entry and exit and an impressive towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. You can also choose removable front seats for further customization. If you prefer something other than an SUV, Honda also offers several side- and rear-entry minivans, such as the Honda Odyssey.
- Subaru Forester: Subaru has made a name for itself with its high safety standards, and this applies to those with disabilities, as well, with its Subaru Mobility Assist program. The Forester is an all-weather, all-terrain vehicle that offers all of the modifications you need right out of the factory, like special seats, pedals, shifters and controls to make your car right for you.
Car discounts for people with disabilities
There are many automobile manufacturers that offer special mobility discounts for adaptive equipment.
|Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep||FCA US Driveability||$1,000 cash reimbursement|
|Ford||Ford Accessibility Program||$1,000 adaptive equipment reimbursement OR Up to $200 for alert hearing devices, running boards and lumbar support|
|General Motors for Chevrolet, Buick and GMC||General Motors Mobility||$1,000 reimbursement on adaptive equipment for Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC OR$1,200 on Express and Savana vans AND2 years of standard OnStar service for eligible vehicles and Remote Access Plan with in-vehicle Wi-Fi Hotspot|
|Honda||$1,000 adaptive equipment reimbursement|
|Lexus||Lexus Mobility Assistance Program||$1,000 reimbursement|
|Subaru||Subaru Mobility Assist||Up to $1,000 reimbursement on select models|
|Toyota||Toyota Mobility||$1,000 cash reimbursement|
|Volvo||Mobility by Volvo||Up to $1,000 toward adaptive equipment AND up to $200 for alert hearing device|
The introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 was a game-changer for people living with disabilities.
This legislation ensures that insurance companies cannot take advantage of customers by charging more just because you have a disability. They also can not deny coverage on the grounds of disability alone.
The ADA covers many conditions, such as these:
- Wheelchair use
- Cerebral Palsy
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
- Neurological illnesses
- Mental health disorders
If your condition affects your ability to drive safely, such as epilepsy, your car insurance cost could be affected.
“Each disability will come with its own needs for car modification. The list is endless, depending on what each individual needs,” explains Michael Lowe, CEO of CarPassionate. As a lifelong car aficionado, he has been working with cars since childhood and now shares expert advice, tips and guides. “There are some insurance companies that specifically focus on this area as one of their main selling points, which could be useful if you want an insurer you know will understand the changes and the reasons for them.”
One factor that insurance providers look for is what kind of driver’s license you have. Certain medical conditions require that you obtain a driver’s license with a special disability designation.
The NHTSA offers Driver Fitness Medical Guidelines to assist insurance providers with the medical evaluation of disabilities. Your car insurance coverage may be affected if any of the following is affected by your disability:
- Limited or poor vision
- Temporary medical conditions, such as those resulting from surgery or another intensive medical procedure
- Severe medical conditions, such as advanced heart conditions, dementia and seizures
While each state has its own laws, these guidelines are a great starting point for understanding how car insurance for disabilities works.
There are also reasons why your insurance can cost more if you have a disability.
“An insurance company can’t charge you more because you have a disability, but they can and will charge more to insure vehicle modifications,” explains Melanie Musson. She is a car insurance expert with CarInsuranceComparison.com and deals with modified vehicles every day. “You need to have those modifications insured; otherwise, if your vehicle is damaged or declared a total loss, you’ll only be reimbursed for the factory equipment costs. Because the cost to repair or replace modified equipment is higher than standard parts, your car insurance rates will likely be higher.”
Adaption insurance coverage is one such example and is available as an add-on with some companies. After investing thousands of dollars into vehicle modifications, it’s crucial to protect that investment with the appropriate insurance, even if it costs a little more.
Mobility car insurance coverage is another noteworthy item, which reimburses the cost of transportation when your modified vehicle is under repair from a collision.
“You can still purchase full coverage auto insurance, and you definitely should when your modifications add significant value to your vehicle,” advises Musson, “but you’ll need to disclose the modifications to your insurance company and confirm that coverage for those modifications is added to your policy.”
There are ways to receive a discount on your car insurance that can offset the cost of insuring any add-ons.
- Safe driver discount: Insurance companies like State Farm and Nationwide offer safe driving discounts if you maintain a clean driving record.
- Low mileage discount: If you don’t drive much, providers like Progressive and Allstate may reward you with a low mileage discount.
- Military discount: If you or your spouse are a member of the military, you could be eligible for a military discount on your insurance with companies like USAA and GEICO.
- Early shopper discount: You can receive a discount from insurance providers like Allstate and Liberty Mutual for switching your insurance before its renewal.
- Defensive driver discount: It’s never a bad idea to brush up on your skills, and many insurers, such as Geico, offer a discount if you take a safe driving course.
Buying a car is expensive enough, but when you have to add specific modifications to your vehicle, the pierce tag can quickly spiral out of control, and it can become a far more expensive venture. It is already difficult living with a disability, but finding the funds to afford a modified vehicle can make life that much harder.
Many individuals with disabilities must also outfit their homes with appropriate equipment and appliances to make it a safe and liveable space. With the cost of medical care, prescriptions, insurance and bills, there is not always much left over to put toward a vehicle.
Your medical insurance may cover some of the cost. For example, Medicare Part B can pay up to 80% of eligible equipment. Medical insurance typically requires an exam and driving assessment before benefits are granted, but every provider is different, so you should check your specific policy.
You may also receive a medical tax deduction. This is a document given to you by your doctor and could save you extra cash come tax time.
Insurance policies may provide assistance not only for equipment but also for the actual installation, which can also get pricey. However, many companies have pre-established or preferred partnerships with specific dealers, and if you don’t work with the right vendor, you could be responsible for the entire cost yourself.
NMEDA is your best bet when outfitting your car. From insurance providers to manufacturers and equipment suppliers, you can find all the vendors you need, carefully vetted and waiting.
You will also find support from others who have been through the process and can offer helpful advice to save you time and money. It’s the virtual and physical community you need to get yourself on the road.
In addition to federal and private relief, there are also grants that you can win from your state.
With the average cost of home modifications costing well over $4,200, there isn’t much left for your car. Thankfully, there are many resources available to help.
The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for your state will be invaluable for finding the funding, vendors and support that you need for your area. If you are a veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can be an excellent way to receive both financial and personal support for your vehicle modifications.
Life with a disability is hard enough. Thankfully, your transportation just got easier.