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In an economy where wheelchair van conversions cost upwards of $40,000, it's no wonder that many wheelchair users remain without a practical way to transport their powerchairs.  Yet, the benefits of transporting a powerchair - from doctor visits to shopping to work - are life-sustaining activities that one needs.  Fortunately, the recent generation of powerchair platform lifts allows users to economically stow their powerchairs in or behind a vehicle, at a price that many can afford.

The evolution of powerchair platform lifts began with hitch-mounted scooter carriers, where a platform mounted on the rear of a car, allowing transport of a scooter.  With powerchairs typically heavier and more complex than scooters, platform lifts for powerchairs required increased strength and securement, leading to today's genre of platform lifts that function as true docking stations to transport non-occupied powerchairs with almost any vehicle.

Inside or Out?
Platform lifts are available as exterior and interior models.  Most traditional in design, exterior platform lifts mount via the vehicle's tow hitch receiver, typically a Class 3 receiver, available on most vehicles, from cars to vans to SUVs and trucks.  This mounting point allows easily mounting the platform lift to the vehicle, with power drawn from the vehicle's wiring or a self-contained battery pack (for those with more than one car, a battery pack is useful because the lift can move from vehicle to vehicle without requiring hard wiring).  When not in use, the lift folds against the rear of the vehicle, minimizing overhang.

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While exterior platform lifts don't require any interior space to transport a powerchair, they do potentially expose a powerchair to the elements - after all, the powerchair is suspended from the rear of the vehicle, out in the open, during transport.  Most lift manufacturers offer a powerchair transport cover, and it's advisable to use a cover in all conditions.

To eliminate outdoor exposure altogether, interior platform lifts are increasingly popular.  For vans and SUVs, an interior lift mounts inside the vehicle, commonly where third-row seating mounts (or, less commonly, in the side entry of a van), and lifts the powerchair up and into the vehicle.  

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Interior lifts provide absolute security, placing the powerchair within the vehicle, using rear or side passenger space.  Because interior platform lifts are dependent upon interior space and the size of the powerchair, measurements prior to purchase are critical to confirm proper fit and function.

To Strap or Dock?
Lifting a 300lb. powerchair off of the ground and carting it down the highway is a serious activity, and as such, security is vital.  The traditional means of securing a powerchair to a platform lift is via tie-down straps.  For those with full strength and dexterity, straps work well, but do, of course, require careful placement.

For those of limited strength and wishing automated securing, docking systems are available on most platform lifts.  A docking system works similar to an EZ Lock in that a pin is installed on the bottom of the powerchair, then it locks into a receiver block on the platform lift.  To release the chair from the dock, a manual lever unlocks the system.  A docking system is exceptionally reliable and covenant; however, it is powerchair model-specific, so it's necessary to find out installation compatibility prior to purchasing a lift with a docking system.

Is the Price Right?
Exterior platform lifts start at around $1,900, with higher-end interior lifts costing in the $2,500 dollar range.  Interestingly, pricing usually includes a docking system, resulting in very affordable packages (and on-line retailers like Spinlife.com, sell lifts at discounts, as well).

Is a Platform Lift the Right Choice?
Beyond the many practical, functional, and economic benefits, a platform lift isn't for everyone.  With platform lifts as non-occupied means of powerchair transport, the user must be able to transfer out of the chair, into a vehicle.  Also, there is some ambulatory activity required to place the powerchair on the lift and operate the system.  For full-time users who must remain in their powerchairs during transport, platform lifts are not an option.  However, for those who remain somewhat ambulatory, and those with a family member to assist, platform lifts can prove a practical means of powerchair transport.

Powerchairs are tools of liberation, and the ability to transport them beyond the home increases independence.  Platform lifts are a unique breed in the mobility market, allowing economical powerchair transport, on the widest range of vehicles, where users can focus less on vehicle expense and limited selection, and more on integrating their powerchair with their existing vehicles and lifestyles.

Platform Lift Manufacturers
Bruno


Harmar

Silver Star

Published 10/05, Copyright 2005, WheelchairJunkie.com