Buying an adaptive van, especially a new one, may seem to be off the charts for many of us. To get a better idea of how to reduce costs and search out possible funding sources, I talked with Mike Neher, C6-7 quad and manager at Performance Mobility, a reputable dealer in the Portland, Ore., area for nearly 30 years.
Q. Is there one best source for funding for an adaptive van?
MN: Vocational Rehabilitation will be your best funding source if you are working or going back to work. Their involvement is primarily just the conversion on the vehicle, but this can vary from state to state. The client usually has to buy the vehicle, then VR pays for the lowered floor, transfer seat, lockdowns, hand controls, etc., but it’s best to check with your state to be certain what they cover.
Q. Of the new adaptive vans you have for sale, what is the average cost for the conversion?
MN: A fully modified van usually runs about $25,000 more than the sticker price of the vehicle. One way to save money is to only get the options you need on the original vehicle. Packages and upgrades can add a lot to the sticker price. A basic package on a Dodge minivan after rebate can run about $24,000. Then add about $25,000 for the conversion.
Q. What about the total cost of the more expensive minivans?
MN: Whereas the base cost of Dodges after conversion starts at about $48-$50,000, Hondas and Toyotas start at about $55,000. But some people want all the bells and whistles. For instance, a Toyota Sienna Limited with every option can run about $47,500 before conversion. So it pays to limit the package add-ons to only what you really need.
Q. What about the added cost of hand controls?
MN: There’s a wide range, depending on what you need. Just adding manual hand controls by themselves can cost about $1,400. We do hundreds of these each year, and that is the general price range. But the most advanced electronic hand controls can run $60,000. But they are few and far between. We only did about two of these last year.
Q. Wow, electronic hand controls are spendy! Who manufactures them?
MN: Primarily EMC out of Maine. But they will be paid for by Voc Rehab or the VA if they are involved in funding. A driving evaluation by a nonpartisan certified instructor is also required for electronic controls. They evaluate strength, reaction time, visibility, and hands-on driving. Since disabilities change over time, an evaluation is always needed. The cost of the evaluation is also covered by the funding source.
Q. What about used vans?
MN: You can save a lot on used adapted minivans. They are at a premium these days, very much in high demand. I sell a lot of used vans in the $20-30,000 range. Used Toyotas are in huge demand because they are reliable and last a long time.
Q. What if you aren’t working and aren’t a vet and can’t get funding from Voc Rehab or the VA? What funding options exist?
MN: There used to be a lot more nonprofits or funding sources. The Ralph Braun Foundation still exists, but they can’t fund all requests. There are other foundations but not as many as there used to be.
Q. How do you find them?
MN: Every state has them. You have to do your due diligence to find funding in your state. Big dollar or small dollar, you will have to work to find it.
Q. Where do you start?
MN: First I would go to my local mobility dealer or to a local Independent Living Center. Ask what’s available in your area. Start networking with other local disabled people, asking questions. A lot of times, word of mouth will be your best bet. Talk to a social worker at a rehab center. Start local.
Q. What about churches or maybe even crowdfunding?
MN: Leave no stone unturned. People want to help out if they can. And don’t forget friends, families and co-workers.
Q. What if you want a full-size van?
MN: We still sell full-size vans, but primarily it’s minivans. In 2014 Ford will make its last Econoline, the van of choice in the 1970s and ’80s. With high gas prices, people want minivans. The [Braun] Entervan XT (extra tall) is very popular because it has as much head room as a full-size van. I actually have a full-size Ford van that I had converted to a four-wheel drive for camping. So there is still that market segment that wants full size. Pretty soon Ford full-size vans will become like collectors’ items.