Get the Wheelchair into the Car
Do you need help loading a wheelchair or mobility scooter into your car and transporting it safely?
Getting a light wheelchair into a car is easy for some people. If you have some strength and the right car, you can pull it in front of the passenger’s seat or behind the front seats. And if you can lift and walk a little, you may be able to put the chair in the back of the car without any equipment.
Some wheelchair users can put their chair in the back of the car and walk the few steps round to the front. Some people who can’t do this transfer into the car and pull their wheelchair in behind the front seats, or they lift their rigid wheelchair frame on to the front passenger seat.
For this you have to be:
- quite strong and flexible
- confident that you can do it even on a bad day, if your condition is variable.
It also involves putting your wheelchair in the car with you – you may get your clothes or upholstery muddy in wet weather.
The car needs to have:
- enough clearance around the seat and doorway
- low door sills and wide, square doors
- seats that are easy to adjust
Here we describe some common techniques. If these techniques aren’t suitable for you, your car or your wheelchair, you may be able to develop your own.
Note: For safety, park facing the traffic so that you can get out on the curb if you are entering from the driver’s side. If this isn’t possible, leave something in sight to alert other drivers. A large luminous wheelchair sticker on the inside of the door may help.
Get in through the rear hatch and stow the wheelchair in the back
This works only if you are small and agile and have a vehicle with a flat rear sill and a low floor. You get in through the back, drag the wheelchair after you, and clamber over to the driver’s seat. In small cars, this will be possible only if the rear seats fold flat.
Get in on the driver’s side, put the wheelchair on the passenger seat
Once you’re in the car, remove the larger wheels from the wheelchair and stow them behind the seat or on the floor in front of the passenger seat.
Lift the wheelchair frame over your stomach and on to the front passenger seat. You may have to recline the backrest to make more room between you and the steering wheel. If you have a steering ball, this may reduce the distance between your stomach and the steering wheel.
Place the frame on the passenger seat. Make sure it is strapped in securely; secure the wheelchair with a strap or the front passenger seat belt. Otherwise, it could cause an injury if you have to brake sharply.
Get in on the driver’s side, put the wheelchair behind the seat
Once you’re in the car seat, turn the wheelchair to face the car, and fold it. Lift the front castors over the sill behind your seat so that the wheelchair cannot roll away or topple over.
Then edge yourself and the car seat forwards to make enough space to get the wheelchair in between the back of the seat and the door pillar. It may be necessary to tilt the seat backrest forwards to give you more room. Now pull the wheelchair in so that the back wheels ride up and over the sill. Finally, move the car seat to your driving position.
A sliding swivel seat may make this easier.
Get in on the passenger’s side and put the wheelchair behind the seat
This technique means you don’t have to go out into the road. It also leaves you more room for getting the wheelchair in.
Transfer to the front passenger seat, fold the wheelchair and lift the front castors over the sill. Slide across to the driver’s seat. Move the passenger seat forwards as far as it will go and tilt the backrest forwards. Lean across and pull the wheelchair in over the sill. A walking stick or piece of rope may help you do this. This is much easier if the whole car seat tilts forward.
You need to be able to reach the lever to tilt the seat forwards. Some cars have levers on both sides. Alternatively, it may be possible to attach a cable to it or to swap the driver and passenger seats round so that the lever is in reach.
Getting over the sill
Some people put a small piece of carpet over the door sill to protect the car from damage and make it easier to slide the wheelchair over the sill. If the car foot well is deep it might help to make an internal ramp or build up the well. Adaptation firms may be able to help you with this.
Unable to get a heavy wheelchair or mobility scooter into a car?
One of the following may help:
- a ramp to help get the wheelchair or scooter into the boot
- a hoist that lifts a manual or powered wheelchair into the boot
- a rooftop hoists that winches a manual wheelchair up and on to the car roof
- racks or trailers
Things to Consider
Pros and cons
Below is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of each method for getting a wheelchair or mobility scooter into your car.
- use with manual wheelchair, powered wheelchair or mobility scooter
- need to walk to your seat, or have helper
- wheelchair stored in boot
- ramps can be portable
- use with manual chair, power chair or scooter
- need to walk to your seat, or have helper
- wheelchair stored in trunk
- use with manual chair
- transfer from wheelchair to seat
- wheelchair stored on roof, in trunk or in back
Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle
- use with manual or power chair
- entry by ramp or lift
- remain in wheelchair so independent
- driver and passenger types available
- trailers, racks and bags
- need to walk to your seat or have a helper
Ramps are a comparatively cheap way of getting a wheelchair or mobility scooter into a car. You just need good dexterity and a large enough vehicle.
- are widely available from adaptation suppliers
- are portable, carried in the boot and hook on to the back of the vehicle
- enable someone to push a light wheelchair or scooter up the ramp
- enable a powered wheelchair or scooter to run up under its own power
- can be fitted with an electric winch to your vehicle to help.
Folding ramps or telescopic ramps make them easier to especially if they have carrying handles.
Which ramp for which use?
Ramps have sides that help keep the wheelchair or scooter in line. Check that the side guards are high enough to stop your wheelchair from falling off and that they don’t catch the underside of the chair when you’re pushing it up.
For wheelchairs, use two narrow ‘channel ramps’. Make sure the channels are wide enough to allow the castors to turn.
For a three-wheeled mobility scooter, use a wide ramp or three channel ramps. Look for a ramp that is wide enough to take the wheels easily.
- Ramps often need to be quite long, so that the incline isn’t too steep
- To leave enough room behind your car for the whole length of the ramp plus the length of your wheelchair or mobility scooter.
Using a hoist to lift a wheelchair or mobility scooter into a car:
Hoists for lighter chairs are usually two-way hoists. They lift the chair up and down by power but you push the chair by hand to swing it into the car.
- use power to swing the wheelchair into the car AND lift it up and down
- are generally used if your scooter or wheelchair is heavy
- are easier to use on roads with steep slopes or hills since you don’t have to push your wheelchair up into the trunk
- can be fitted to almost any vehicle, while others are made for larger vehicles
Using a hoist to get a wheelchair or mobility scooter into a car
You’ll probably need:
- to use both hands to use the hoist
- to be able to stand without much support while you are hooking on and lifting the wheelchair or scooter
- to fold or dismantle the wheelchair or scooter before you lift it, especially if you have a small car or a large or heavy wheelchair or scooter
Attaching the hoist
There are different ways of attaching the hoist to the wheelchair – open hooks or hooks that close:
- open hooks are easier to use but can come off when the lifting cord is slack
- closed hooks may be more awkward If you have limited grip or dexterity
- if the hook has a spring, try it to see whether you need both hands, or if your fingers get caught easily
You need to use both hands for some hoists – one to hold it in the right place to stop the hooks falling loose, and the other to take up the tension with the control unit. This may be difficult to do standing if you have poor balance.
Nearly all suppliers provide a range of hooks, so discuss what you need with them before you buy, and make sure you try all the functions.
With four-way hoists especially, the wheelchair/scooter needs to be in just the right place, which may take a bit of getting used to.
Controlling the hoist
Most hoists have hand-held control units which can be:
- either attached by wires
On a few hoists, there are control units that are fixed to the hoist’s arm or base which means you can hold on for support while you’re using it. Some people find these easier to use than a hand-held control.
Most suppliers have a choice of switches and should be able to find something to suit you. Try the control before you buy.
On some hoists, you have to remove the lifting arm when the wheelchair is stowed in the boot.
If you’re traveling without your wheelchair, some hoists allow you to remove the swinging arm to get it out of the way, leaving more room for luggage. The removable parts can be heavy, especially on heavier-duty hoists. Some can’t be taken out of the car because the lifting cords are permanently threaded through them.
To use a platform lift:
- you bring the platform out of the boot under power
- push or drive the wheelchair on and secure it
- and then transfer the platform back into the trunk
Platform lifts are easier than a hoist because:
- you don’t need to fold or dismantle the wheelchair or scooter
- you don’t need the same strength or dexterity to load the wheelchair
- you can secure the wheelchair to the platform before loading
Platform lifts are:
- generally used for larger wheelchairs and scooters and they need quite a large load space
- designed to fit in larger vehicles and vans.
- best fitted into a large trunk
- a bulky solution: you need the same amount of room behind the vehicle to load the wheelchair onto the lift platform
- A four-way hoist is easier to use with a heavy wheelchair/scooter.
- Some users find it difficult to position the wheelchair/scooter in the right place to attach it to the hoist.
- Some find it difficult to load the wheelchair/scooter using a four-way hoist as they could not operate the control while moving to help guide it into the boot.
Straps and cords
- Hoists where the wheelchair/scooter is attached to the end of a strap or cord can cause users difficulties.
- The load is more likely to swing and sway and it requires at least one hand to steady it as it is being hoisted.
- Some users may worry about getting their fingers caught in the winch on some of these hoists.
- Users often prefer hoists where the wheelchair/scooter is attached directly to the end of the lifting arm.
Where Do you want to stow your manual wheelchair?
Once you’ve transferred onto your car seat, you can stow your manual wheelchair:
- in the trunk
- in back-seat area of your car
- on your car roof
These hoists can be fitted to either the driver’s or the passenger’s side of the car.
How they work
- Transfer to your car seat
- Use a switch to bring the hoist mechanism to the car door
- Hook your wheelchair on by hand
- The hoist then lifts the chair on to the roof or transfers it to the back of the car and secures it safely.
- You usually have to attach the wheelchair to the hoist
- Some are easier than others – with some rear-loading systems you just need to position the wheelchair in the right place
- Note: for all of them you need to be able to twist into position to use them.
A rooftop system means
- the trunk of your car remains free to carry luggage
- an increase in the height of the car with some needing a lot of headroom to stow the wheelchair
- they can’t be used in some indoor parkades
Most rooftop systems carry the wheelchair in a box. However, in some the chair is exposed to the weather. Rooftop systems can be fitted to most cars without any modification.
Trunk-loading systems are slightly less flexible than rooftop systems, as your car’s trunk has to be large enough, and the right shape. Systems that stow the wheelchair in the rear seat area can be fitted to a limited range of vehicles, and require considerable modification.
Besides ramps, hoists and lifts, the other ways you can carry a wheelchair in a car are by using:
- a trailer
- a bag or trunk slider which helps you lift a wheelchair into the trunk of a car
Trailers let you carry a wheelchair without dismantling or folding it, while keeping the trunk free.
Trailers can easily carry large items including mobility scooters. However, they will make reversing and parking difficult.
In both cases, you may need a license plate if the one fitted to your vehicle is obscured.
- Whatever option you go for, make sure you are able to use it every time you go out in the car even on a bad day.
- Make sure you know exactly what you need to do to load and secure your chair and you can do it comfortably and safely.
- When using a hoist, you also need to secure the hoist itself. Sometimes it stays attached to the chair, which holds it securely but some hoists need to be detached and secured separately.
Your car and equipment
- Make sure the car you choose has enough space for all the equipment you need plus anything else you want to carry. Where will you put your shopping?
- If you have to fold or dismantle your chair, can you do it? Can you pick up the heaviest part?
- Check the weight of any equipment you use
- If you’re using a hoist, check with the supplier that it can take the weight of your wheelchair.
- Check the car can take the weight of the hoist and wheelchair together, and check its towing weight if you’re using a trailer (ask the car dealer).
- Some hoists and other equipment can only be fitted to a limited range of cars. Check with the supplier.
- Most suppliers will adapt equipment to suit you, your car and your wheelchair. Discuss what you need with the supplier before you start.
- Hoists, lifts and stowage systems are usually installed by vehicle adaptation companies or by their local dealers. Some will come to you to fit the hoist. Otherwise you will have to arrange for your car to be taken to them.
- Most hoists can be fitted to the right or left hand side of the boot – check with the supplier. Some hoists come in one size. Some are cut and shaped individually for each car to give as much room as possible for swinging the wheelchair in.
- Some stowage systems require considerable modification of the car, which may not be reversible.
- Winches need to be fitted correctly: the winch cable must be aligned with the vehicle so it pulls the wheelchair in a straight line.
Securing things in your car
It’s vitally important to secure the wheelchair when the car is moving. If a wheelchair or parts of a hoist or stowage system came loose, they could cause severe injuries if you have to brake suddenly.
- secure both your wheelchair or mobility scooter and the ramp
- secure the wheelchair or mobility scooter and, with some hoists, the lifting arm, too
- some two-way hoists come with securing mechanisms built in
Four-way hoists and lifts
- Four-way hoists and lifts do not require you to secure the wheelchair or mobility scooter
- the wheelchair or mobility scooter remains attached to the hoist which is secure
Wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs)
WAVs come equipped with restraints for the wheelchair and for the passenger. Both should be used properly at all times.
In summary, if do not have the ability to just “pop” the wheelchair into the car without encountering problems, there are many things that you can do in order to prevent the hassle of pushing and pulling your wheelchair and hoping that it fits inside the vehicle. In order to be able to fold and store your chair in your car, consider the assistance of additional mobility equipment, such as a ramp, hoist or a wheelchair accessible van.