The United States is a HUGE country, and many first-time visitors don’t really understand how much time it can take to travel within a city, let alone between cities and states. As such, disabled visitors from abroad who want to explore beyond what one location’s public transportation can offer may need to rent an accessible car or van. Some wheelchair users are even inquiring about what it takes to rent an accessible recreational vehicle (RV) for longer road trips. Some rental options are easier than others, and they all vary in cost. Below are some of my tips for how to rent the wheelchair accessible vehicle that’s right for you during a trip within or to the US.
Cars or SUVs with Hand Controls
This is by far the easiest vehicle for wheelchair users to rent. However, cars or SUVs that have hand controls can only be used by drivers who only use manual wheelchairs or electric scooters that fold, come apart, or will otherwise fit into a trunk. With the former, a disabled driver can self-transfer into the driver’s seat, take apart the manual chair, and put the components in the back seat. With a heavier scooter, you either need someone else to store it for you, or you need to be able to walk from the trunk to the driver’s seat. I used to do this when I could still take a few steps, but didn’t have the foot control to drive using foot pedals.
To rent a vehicle with hand controls, you need to give the rental agency some notice – usually at least 24 hours. Every agency’s inventory of vehicles with hand controls is different at each location, although given enough notice, their technicians can install hand controls on certain vehicles by request. Typically the cheapest category of sedan you can get with hand controls is a Standard sedan. In most cases, you have to call to rent a vehicle with special accessibility options like hand controls, spinner knobs, and swivel seats. Some agencies will also remove seats in some vehicles to allow for more storage space. The good news is that renting a car with these modifications won’t cost you extra. To find out what each agency’s services are, I would suggest doing a Google search for “hand controls [agency name]”.
Wheelchair Vans with Lifts or Ramps
Many travelers with physical disabilities have no choice but to travel with a larger and heavier power wheelchair. If you fall into this category, you’ll be required to do two things: rent an accessible van from a specialty agency, and bring someone with you who can do the driving. Standard car rental agencies do not offer accessible vans with lifts or ramps for rent. Fortunately, there are companies like Wheelchair Getaways and Wheelers Accessible Van Rentals with locations in most major US cities that offer newer model modified vans for short-term and long-term rental.
However, you should be aware of a few things before researching an accessible van rental. First, they’re a LOT more expensive than renting a standard car or van – on average from $80-$145 per day, although you can get a discount for longer term rentals. Many rental locations require you to return the van to them when your trip is complete. Few locations allow one-way trips, and those who do often charge a hefty fee for the service. You are also limited to drop-off locations where the agency has a presence. Also, if you’re a solo traveler like me, you won’t be able to drive. Wheelchair accessible rental vans are provided with the assumption that an able-bodied person will be doing the driving. They don’t have hand controls or transfer driver seats installed, so either you have to travel with a companion or forgo the rental altogether. The explanation provided to me by these agencies is always the same – the demand from wheelchair users who drive isn’t big enough for them to make the investment in their fleet. This is despite the fact that anyone can drive a van that’s been modified for a disabled driver…but, whatever.
Finding and renting a wheelchair accessible recreational vehicle is the most difficult, least practical, and most expensive option for transport in the US. But it’s an option nonetheless! RV dealerships don’t rent out accessible models because the vast majority of them are custom-designed by their owners. However, there are websites and forums where accessible RV owners rent them out to other wheelchair users. One such site is called RVShare. Accessible RV listings are mixed in with all the regular ones, so you have to invest a considerable amount of time to find one that might work for you. You will also be limited to traveling to the location of the RV (as the owners don’t usually deliver) and returning it to the same location. The good news is that the RV community is very supportive and friendly, and some accessible RV owners even advertise their rentals on their own separate sites or forums. Finding them will require some research, but it can be done.
Have a Travel Plan
While planning your trip in the US, please keep the above information in mind when considering how you’re going to get around once you arrive. Depending on your abilities and needs, renting an accessible car or van may work very well for you if using public transportation or taxis isn’t an option. Sometimes it may be easier or cheaper to fly or use Amtrak to travel between cities. However, the US is a beautiful country with lots to see from the road and experience during unexpected stops. I hope this helps you when deciding on your accessible rental vehicle options!
Are you ready to head to the US, or need rental vehicle options for a domestic trip? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel and ask me how I can help!