Wednesday, December 7, 2011

now it's time

A class I didn’t take      Wheelchair Vans 101. It wasn’t offered, but, even if it had been, I might have chosen to take a course related to lifesaving tactics instead.  Until recently, I’d thought of those vehicles mostly in terms of first responders and medical transport services. Indeed, I’d seen the latter in use each time I’d taken Dad to dialysis.

What I hadn’t related to was another justification for wheelchair vans: they enhance mobility for people who want to travel but can’t because of the difficulty of getting in and out of even a larger, but ordinary, automobile. People like my Mom. More and more often, she chooses to leave her house only when necessary to avoid the strain (for her and her caregivers) of navigating her Buick Le Sabre’s front seat.

With a wheelchair van, she could, as they say, high tail it just about anywhere. When asked about the benefits of traveling that way, she seemed excited about the many options that afforded. Chances are that having a van would allow her to finally visit the Internet gambling facility just minutes away across the line in North Carolina. (One of her sitters had promised to take her there.)

If I seem to be painting too rosy a picture, forgive me. Attaining a van serves only to lessen the constraints of a frail condition that won’t change. Nonetheless, I now have more insight into the ads for these vans. Now I know why each wheelchair-bound person pictured in those ads is smiling.

They can venture out, can go anywhere we can go.

“Should we rent, lease, or buy one?” I asked my brother and my sister. Answers varied. So did questions.

“Where do we find one?”

“How much do they cost?”

“What mileage do we want?”

“Is there a market to re-sell them?”

Most difficult for me was where to begin.

“You have friends in the car business, don’t you?” My siblings asked me that because they didn’t have close relationships with dealers in their towns. In Danville, I did. Or I used to. The man I had bought my last car from was now in prison. (I’ve written about that injustice.)

Getting me to do that also meant that none of us really knew where to start. Although I’d found sites on the Net as well as a few vans on Craigslist, I didn’t know enough to determine how good or bad they were. Directives from my sibs were simple: relatively new, low mileage, and absolutely reliable. Of course, I concurred.

Initially, I was stymied. Dealers in and around Danville let me know that this area is not the place to find a good source for vans. “Call Berglund in Roanoke,” one of them said.

I did; it, too, was a dead end. So I called CarMax in Greensboro. “We have vans,” said a salesman, “but we send them to Ilderton in High Point for conversions.” I thanked him. Than I asked myself whether I wanted a conversion.

“That’s the only way to get a wheelchair van,” said Eric, a salesman at Ilderton. I’d driven to High Point to see his wheelchair vans because he’d seemed so well informed when I called him the day before. “We have dealerships in other parts of Carolina. We share the same inventory,” he said, showing me a list of available vehicles, their age, their mileage, their cost, their stock numbers.

I picked one. “That one was just sold,” he told me. “Let me show you this green 1999 I told you about when we talked yesterday. It’s a Dodge mini van,” he said, while turning the key. On the dashboard were three toggle switches. He flipped the first one. The side door slid open and the ramp extended out onto the lot. “You see how thew van drops down,” he told me.

I did. The incline wasn’t as steep as the ramp to Mom’s front door. “And you hook the wheelchair with restraints there and there, “ he said, ponting to rows of grates in the floor. “This comes with manual restraints, but, for $375 you can get a set that will tighten themselves. Highly recommended,” he said. After seeing both, I agreed.

“There are only four or five conversion companies. We work with the largest, Braun. They could easily buy up the others.” He told me that all of his conversions had been done by that company.

“This is a good one,” he said, as we sat in a Chrysler 2010 van. “You can open it from the outside with your key. He told me that the green van didn’t work that way. “But it’s only $18, 500.” The Chrysler 2010 sells for $39,700.

Although a warranty was available for the Chrysler, he wasn’t sure about the green Dodge. “Maybe we could offer one for $1200 to $2400. I’ll have to check,” he said.

“What about the ones with lifts that go all the way to the ground?” I asked. “Are used ones available?”

“Almost never,” he said,” those are usually bought by transport companies and ambulance services. They drive them until the wheels come off. They’re bigger, with a higher ceiling. But I can get one for you. They’re built from a Ford 250 van. Takes two weeks, about $46,000.“

“But you still have to hook up the wheelchair when the person gets inside.”
“Yes,” Eric said, “ the same as the other vans.”

“What would you do, if you were me?” I asked.

“Our green Dodge is our best value,” he said, “but, if money isn’t the most important concern, that 2010 is the one. Here’s a picture of it.” He’d found it on

“Thanks,” I said.

And I meant it. Eric had been a patient teacher. Every question I’d asked had been answered. He’d done so well that I was sure he could field any question my brother and sister would have.

But I’ll be the one to ask Mom whether she wants her van dressed up with racing stripes.

                                                        B. Koplen 12/7/11

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