Behind the Wheel of a New Van

Honda OdysseyWow, am I sitting up high now!  So high in fact, I can see over almost all the other vehicles on the road. What a feeling of power behind the wheel!  It’s also one of the benefits of ditching my much smaller and lower Honda Civic for a  newly equipped and very accessible van.

I’ve blogged about this before, starting with the agonizing decision to go from car to van. I didn’t feel ready mentally (was I giving up or giving in?) and I worried that the cost of a new van would crush me with debt. Or, the purchase of a used van would crush me with bills for future repairs.

The project felt like a lose-lose, but I pushed ahead because I knew I had to. I was getting more and more isolated since it was getting harder to transfer into my old car, much less take my wheelchair apart and haul into and out of the back seat.

What surprised me was how long it took — five months — to finally park the converted Honda Odyssey in my driveway. Financing took quite awhile to arrange, and the bad winter weather slowed up the process even more. (More on that later.)

Believe me, I’m not complaining. It’s been great fun and a great relief to roll up the ramp into the minivan, hop into the special driver’s seat, and take off.

Just in case some readers are considering buying an adapted van, let me share some of what I learned during this process. Here’s hoping I can spare you at least some of the frustration.

1. Talk to your mobility specialist before buying the vehicle. I did the opposite, and though I had done my research and purchased a minivan that’s commonly converted, I wasn’t aware of some important options. For example, the rear door of my mini-van is manually operated and very heavy. Other van makers offer automatic rear doors, which would make dealing with the groceries safer and easier.

2. I didn’t know that my mobility specialist didn’t do the conversion work locally. Instead, my van was shipped to the Braun facility in Indiana, so my bill included the cost of shipping to Braun and back.  Had I known that winter weather and the Christmas holidays would slow the process even more, I would have waited until spring before shopping for a van.

3. Speaking of the bill, getting the financing almost killed the project. The vehicle itself could be financed through Honda, but its finance company wouldn’t cover the cost of the conversion. Banks and credit unions wouldn’t loan the money for the conversion only — they wanted to cover the combined cost, but at a much higher interest rate than Honda was offering.

What saved me were two caring and diligent men at my Honda dealership who called in some favors from their associates at a local bank, and got me a loan that covered the van plus conversion at a reasonable interest rate.

Why Honda wouldn’t finance both is beyond me. Not only do we pay exorbitant prices for a modified van, but we’re forced to also pay higher loan costs? Do I dare call that discrimination? Granted, the circumstances I’ve described are for a brand-new vehicle with conversion, and many people purchase used vans, so financing options may be easier for them.

4. You want your van to accommodate you for a long time, so think about your future needs when making decisions now. For instance, I opted to transfer into the driver’s seat, but since my transferring ability is getting shaky, I paid extra for an adjustable seat that swings back and around so it’s closer to my chair for an easier transfer. I’ve also been assured that when it’s time to drive from my wheelchair, those changes can be made inside the van.

Also, for the times I’m a passenger in my own van, tie-downs and a special seat belt were installed to keep me safe.

In the end, getting around safely has always been the goal.

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