We all know the drill: you browse a second-hand dealer’s selection of suitable cars and vans, you narrow down your options, you um and ah for a bit, and then you decide (maybe). Next up is the all-important test-drive, and that’s when you have to really work out whether you’re happy to buy or need to reconsider.
With wheelchair accessible vehicles there are a few extra checks that you should ensure you make, but most of the basics that you should look out for on any test drive still apply too. By all means refer to Auto Trader’s test-drive ‘Golden Rules’, but don’t forget Mobility Nationwide’s guide too…
The basics of test-driving a wheelchair accessible vehicle
Many of the checks that you’ll want to make when test-driving a second hand mobility vehicle come naturally — you almost don’t even have to think before you make the checks. The things that are immediately obvious when you get into the vehicle for the first time are things like general comfort, the look and feel of the interior, and the seating position behind the wheel. The ease of actually getting into the car is also a very obvious thing to consider that really shouldn’t be ignored.
There are so many conscious and subconscious considerations that you make the moment you sit down and put your seatbelt on for the first time, and it’s important to listen to your instincts at this stage. If you’re sat uncomfortably the first time you get into the car — perhaps the ride height is too low, or you have to strain slightly to use the controls — make the necessary adjustments. If you just can’t get comfortable when you’re sat with the dealer, who should know the car inside out, the chances of you getting used to this vehicle in the long run are slim.
What else to look out for while test-driving a WAV
There are handy checklists that you can refer to when assessing the vehicle for the first time. The AA offers a list of ‘test drive tips’ that are very useful for prospective car buyers. We have also written in the past about the important features that a wheelchair accessible vehicle should have before you consider buying it.
You should look for cabin storage areas at some point during the test drive. It’s really important to have adequate space for your everyday possessions, and the inability to keep them all within easy reach can be a pain.
Listen out for any unusual or unexpected noises that come from the vehicle. For example, a knocking sound from one wheel arch when you drive over a bump or pothole could mean that a coil spring has broken, and this is an easy fix that your dealer should provide you with before you drive the vehicle away. Always ask the question if you hear a sound that you’re not sure about — the dealer should be able to ameliorate your worries pretty quickly, otherwise it could mean there’s a bigger issue.
You should try to engage all of the electronic extras at some point whilst on your test drive. If there’s a radio, turn it on, have a listen, use the windscreen wipers at different speeds, and check that the controls are easy to use. If the vehicle has electric windows, open them and close them. Don’t worry about annoying the dealer, they’re used to it! Besides, this is what the test drive is for, you want to make sure everything in the vehicle works satisfactorily.
It is also important to try to give yourself about twenty minutes or half an hour when you’re test-driving a vehicle for the first time. Rack up a few minutes on different types of road too. Driving around town for five minutes won’t tell you much about the car — get it out onto a dual carriageway or motorway as well. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time on motorways generally. Drive the vehicle as normally as possible, in as many different surroundings as possible.
The biggest and most important check pertains to the ‘A’ in WAV: there really is no point in purchasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle if it’s not perfectly accessible for the people using it. Beyond the obvious essentials — can the vehicle can be entered and exited safely, comfortably and efficiently? The nuts and bolts of the means of access should also be assessed.
Most WAVs can be accessed via a ramp from the rear doors, and some utilise a ramp from a side door. You’ll find that access from the rear poses far fewer problems than a side-accessible vehicle. This is because of the difficulties of access when the vehicle is parked alongside others, such as when you’re in a car park.
You should go through the process of accessing the vehicle from start to finish, and then make sure the process is palatable when exiting as well. The ramp should be lightweight and simple to use effectively. There should be no difficulty in lifting the ramp into position, and you should be able to stow the ramp easily too. Safety is the most important factor at play here, but ease of use is almost as important in the long run.
If you’re looking to buy a larger second-hand mobility vehicle, you may find that access is via a lift rather than a ramp. If this is the case, ask about maintenance costs, and make sure the lift is fully operational by testing the mechanism several times in a couple of different environments. Lifts are very useful if you anticipate several wheelchair users using the vehicle at one time, and as such you should test the ease of access for several people on the test drive if you can.
Once you know that you’ve chosen the right WAV for your needs, you need to make sure it drives well too. The test drive is so important, and it really is your time. Use it wisely, and don’t forget anything obvious. You’ll want to feel confident you’re making the right choice when you get back to the dealership and say ‘I’ll take it!’ So make sure the test drive answers all of your questions.
Looking for a second-hand mobility vehicle at a great price? We’ll be with you every step of the way on your test drive. Get in touch with Mobility Nationwide now and browse our showroom of fantastic models.