Choosing a car can be a complicated decision. Manufacturers' brochures and test reports in magazines will help you weigh up and compare such things as performance, running costs and reliability. However, if you have a disability or are just getting older, there are additional things you may need to consider.
Choosing a car if you're older or have a disability
Many cars have features that will make your life easier. There are simple gadgets and more complex adaptations that can help with almost any driving problem. Here, we set you on the road to knowing what to look out for. We also describe some of the simpler equipment that can make driving a car easier and details of where to go for adaptations, information and help.
- Prices of adaptations mentioned on these pages are those typically charged and should be used as a guide only.
- Shop around and talk to several companies, as prices do vary.
- Adaptation companies are specialists and can often come up with a solution even when no standard product meets your needs.
Some companies will give you the opportunity to see equipment, try it out and get more information and advice.
If you know what features and specifications you need, check car measurements as well to find a vehicle to suit your needs
Four steps to getting on the road
Prepare to compromise, as you may not find everything in one car. Think about what you need now and what you may need in the future.
1. Ask some basic questions
Will you drive the car?
If not, you only have to think about getting yourself and any equipment you use into the car, and your comfort once inside.
If you are going to be the driver, you need to think about how you're going to drive safely and comfortably, and whether you'll need specialist equipment to help you.
Will you need specialist equipment?
There's a wide range of specialist controls, from simple attachments such as wider mirrors and steering knobs to more elaborate controls that make it possible for almost anyone to drive as long as they meet the RSA requirements for a driver's licence.
You can also get specialist equipment to help with getting in and out, from swivel cushions and transfer boards to powered lifting and swivelling seats and hoists. This guide gives some information about the simpler equipment.
How much space will you need?
You may need space for passengers, luggage or equipment such as wheelchairs or scooters. If you have bulky mobility equipment, you may need more room for shopping trips or holidays.
Will you travel with someone?
If not, will you need any equipment to help you get in and out, or to help with anything you may carry?
How will you transport your wheelchair?
Think carefully about how you will carry your wheelchair in any car you are considering. How will you transfer from the wheelchair to the car? Will the wheelchair fit in the boot? Will you need equipment to help you?
If transferring is difficult, or if you prefer to travel in your wheelchair, some cars and vans can be adapted to make this possible.
2. Collect information
There's a lot to think about when choosing a vehicle, and it's unlikely that you'll find all of the information you need in one place. Comfort, reliability, performance - including fuel consumption and CO2 emissions - price and running costs are things everybody needs to consider. Motoring magazines, the internet, newspaper reviews, radio and television programmes and manufacturers' brochures should help you piece together the information you need.
Things to think about if you have a disability:
After you've looked at articles in motoring magazines and the internet, as well as manufacturers' brochures, you'll need to work out how all of this applies in relation to your disability.
Most people will simply choose a car at a dealer. However, if you need specialist or made-to-measure adaptations, you'll have to discuss this with a specialist adaptation company before choosing your car – to make sure they will fit.
3. Try out before buying any car
Try out before buying any car you are considering. Dealers may bring one to you, and should be able to find an automatic version. Try getting in and out several times. If you use a wheelchair, check that it fits.
You might be able to try out adapted cars at a mobility exhibition or an adaptation firm. They will tell you whether your adaptations can be fitted to the car.
4. Get plenty of practice
It's a very good idea to have lessons with an instructor using any adaptations you have chosen - and it's essential when you're learning to use a left-foot accelerator. Make sure that you are not driving with adaptations for the first time when you collect your car.
Acknowledgements: This guide was produced by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers with funding from Motability and in partnership with Driving Mobility (the network of Mobility Centres) https://www.ridc.org.uk/content/choosing-car