Sunday, March 12, 2006

Caregiving: accessible van shopping

     What began as sticker shock depression, then became resigned acceptance that, with a budget of $350 for a car payment to work with, I could only afford a 7 year old “used” van with close to 100, 000 miles ended quite differently.  Out in the drive way sits a 4 year old Dodge “certified previously owned” Grand Caravan ES with only 30,000 miles and many warranties sill in effect. My original monthly payment goal is identical to the penny. How? 

Sticker shock  

     If you look at price sticker only then wheelchair accessible vehicles = luxury vehicles. This is complicated not only for your own consumer brain to process but also mainstream lending institutions, insurance companies, and in some cases, taxing authorities.

     Our 2002 Dodge Grand Caravan ES with IMS RampVan Conversion = a 2002 BMW 325xi Sedan in a 'price book'.


     It takes time to overcome the sticker shock and get back on track to shop for what you need. True hybrid machines, part vehicle and part medical equipment, you must educate yourself to insure you are not comparing apples and oranges when shopping.

Be realistic

     Personally I shop backwards for vehicles. I begin with what I want to make in a monthly payment. The Internet is full of on-line auto loan calculators and you can quickly determine what that translates to for total sales price. Don’t drift from YOUR monthly payment goal even by a penny.

Custom Conversion

     Explore having a vehicle custom converted vs. buying an already converted vehicle. This could be particularly important if your need is pediatric. Height and weight of the person seated in the wheelchair determine the scope of any modifications as well as their abilities. You may already own an acceptable vehicle, or you may be able to get a better deal on a regular van and have it custom converted. Approximate full wheel chair accessible conversion costs are $14,000-$16,000 for a mini-van and $6,000-$9,000 for a full-size van. Newer special automotive seats are available around $6,000 which act as mini-lifts and can be installed in a wider range of vehicles including certain sedans, station wagons, SUV’s, and trucks. None of these prices reflect the cost of the original vehicle. … At worse this improves your education of what you are shopping for in used accessible vehicles.

Shop death notices

     Yes, it sounds ghoulish but this is the proverbial 'needle in a haystack’. Converted vans are sold at lower than regular van prices in estate sales by distant family who has no cost invested in the vehicle or use for it. Of course, unless you are comfortable mechanically it’s pot luck. But bottom line the price savings could be dramatic enough to justify the lure and chance.


     Financing cannot be underestimated. Unlike able bodied, upwardly mobile people you cannot assume economic growth. Shop it as diligently as the vehicle. Financing is available for terms as long as 10 years. However watch those rates and always extend out the math! You don’t want to find yourself in an at risk economic scenario if you need to sell the vehicle later of owing more than it is worth.

Patience & More

     I began my shopping looking for “used” accessible vans in the 7 year old range with mileage close to 100,000. That’s what I thought I could afford.

     The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) supplied me material about PATF (Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation). PATF offered to broker financing at 4% for 72 months vs. an average market rate of 7.5%. Basically that cut “interest” in half enabling us to shop for younger vehicles.

     I’ve concluded most listed prices for these vehicles can be negotiated at least 10%. Our dealer eventually sold for 16% less than originally listed price. Bartering remains the foundation of auto sales. Don’t let “list price” chase you way.

    Additionally the NMSS offers a yearly family grant of $700 for durable medical equipment and respite care. Lord knows a wheelchair accessible van IS certainly both <grin>. Over 6 years this grant will help pay 18% of our loan. Explore any and all such grant opportunities. Grant money unlike loan money is not expected to be repaid.

      I am always grateful for the assistance of organizations such as PATF and NMSS.

      Bartering, grants, and special loan rates brought the overall costs down over 33%.  Tax deductibility could increase actual savings further, but that is to be determined.  Without ever changing my original monthly payment budget I ended up with a van with one third the mileage I assumed we could afford and half the age.

     Most importantly transferring is now safer. Multiple Sclerosis will progress and transferring was dependent on my health and strength. Our current method was increasingly failing and both Patti and I were at risk during a transfer. The future had to be embraced without inviting bankruptcy.


  1. wow you did get a good deal :) have a great week


  2. glad it worked out for you

  3. Informative and practical advice... who would have thought you could get more for less these days? Great entry, Patrick. Bea

  4. very informative; thanks for sharing how you got the vehicle; I'm sure this will be useful information to someone down the line who needs such a vehicle. Like I said before, it certainly has improved the quality of both of your lives. Enjoy it!


  5. Nice Van! I am glad that you found the right vehicle at the right price.


Blog Archive