Shopping for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle is not a task to take lightly. The main reason being there are a multitude of disabilities that call for customization and precision.
That’s why we are focusing on ramp van nuances in our post.
From side to rear entries, fold-out to in-floor ramps, and various layouts, we give you a complete breakdown of the different accessibility methods to help you make the best choice for your needs.
All About Folding Van Ramps
Probably the most defining feature of a handicapped van is the ramp. There are two main types: fold-out and in-floor ramps, which can be installed from the side or rear of the vehicle.
Both of these mobility ramps for vans can be either powered or manual, depending on the design.
- Fold-out ramps reside within the van, stored vertically inside the passenger side door. When it’s needed, it folds out like a bridge upon the curb or driveway for easy loading.
- In-floor ramps slide into the floor at the threshold of the side passenger door. To use it, simply pull it out and lower the edge down onto a hard, solid surface.
When choosing a wheelchair ramp for a van, it’s important to observe your daily routine and establish how often you’ll use the van, where you typically park, who rides with you, and where you like to sit.
These factors help shape your conversion priorities so you can decide which type of ramp van aligns with your lifestyle.
The fold-out ramp offers many benefits, the main draw being that it is incredibly versatile.
For instance, if you must park your van in a less-than-favorable place where the curb is taller than the vehicle floor, the fold-out ramp pulls out and lowers down for flexible deployment.
Maintenance with this type of ramp for transit vans is also a breeze. Because it’s stored in the open passenger compartment, the constant air circulation decreases the risk of corrosion developing on the surface.
This is good news for wheelchair users who live in regions with high levels of humidity, rain, or snow.
Depending on the user’s needs there are a few drawbacks of the fold-out portable ramp for vans. They consume a lot of interior space, blocking the passenger entry when folded.
This might be frustrating if you live and drive with family members or colleagues regularly.
Fold-out ramps are also known to be noisy, making a nonstop rattling sound when on the road.
On the other side of the parking lot, we’ve got the in-floor ramp for van loading, and it boasts its share of advantages.
The biggest advantage is that since this ramp is stored inside the floor, it’s virtually invisible. It doesn’t block any doors or gobble up space, making it ideal for larger families or multiple passengers.
In-floor ramps are also longer than fold-out ramps, but only by ¾ of an inch. Still, it’s a tiny amount of usable ramp that can make a big difference when dealing with a difficult curb.
However, the in-floor ramp is not everyone’s ideal manual or automatic wheelchair ramp for a van.
Many of these ramps come with a secondary flap that creates a steep angle for users to descend upon when transitioning from the ramp to the van. This is especially true when the in-floor ramp rests upon a sloped surface that skews the angle.
As well, you’ll need to inspect and clean your in-floor ramp regularly. Although it’s hidden out of view, the enclosed space makes it prone to moisture that can cause surface corrosion.
You also don’t get the same level of flexibility as a fold-out. An in-floor ramp slides straight out but doesn’t lower down, so if it butts the curb, you won’t be able to toggle it into an accessible angle.
Instead, you might have to call it quits and pull out and find a new space with a level curb.
The final debate between fold-out and in-floor ramps centers on durability. While it’s said that in-floor ramps provide less headroom and decreased reliability compared to fold-out ramps, this isn’t completely true.
There’s only 1” of headroom lost, which isn’t enough to make a huge difference. Plus, in-floor ramps are simple, easy to use, and built strong.
What it comes down to is personal preference and the number of passengers along for the ride.
Side-Entry Conversion of Ramp Van
After deciding on the best electric or manual wheelchair ramp for a van, it’s time to consider which type of entry point suits your daily life.
A typical van with a ramp for wheelchairs may offer either a side-entry or rear-entry conversion.
The side-entry provides the most maneuverability for five passengers plus one wheelchair to sit comfortably inside the vehicle. It even allows for the wheelchair user to pivot 360 degrees.
You get direct access to the driver seat and passenger seat, making quick-release seating possible if you want to remove seats for full access.
But beware that side-entry isn’t the most cooperative feature for parking since you can only park in an accessible or parallel space.
Side-entry vehicles also can’t be stored in narrow garages, where a lack of space makes it difficult to deploy the ramp.
Rear-Entry Conversion of Portable Ramp for Van
If a side entry doesn’t sound like the right fit for you, your other choice is a rear-entry conversion.
This type of entry allows you to park almost anywhere, including in most garages, since the ramp deploys right out of the back of the van.
You also get a higher passenger capacity, fitting six passengers and one wheelchair. However, wheelchair users have less seating flexibility, as they must park between the two middle-row passenger seats.
While the wheelchair user is smack dab in the middle of all the socializing, maneuverability is limited, and one might feel cramped.
The floor channel measures around 31” wide, which is enough space, but it narrows between the passenger seats, which can be as little as 18” in-between seats.
Therefore, you certainly can’t pull a 360 spin like with a side-entry vehicle.
If you do prefer the parking capabilities of rear-entry, you can discuss seat sizing with a conversion company. Some offer narrower passenger seats to create more room, widening the wheelchair user space to 30”.
Bear in mind that the passengers lose some comfort with narrow seats, so it might be something to discuss if you’re living in a family household.
Finally, many conventional rear-entry vehicles sport a half-drop floor. This means that the floor channel is lower behind the driver and front passenger seats. This inhibits the wheelchair user from being able to access the front.
On the other hand, a full-drop floor allows the wheelchair user to roll from back to front without hindrance.
The sacrifice here is for the other passengers. In order to achieve full-drop status, the channel follows a path from rear to center to front and the right of the van.
This cuts out some seats, so only three passengers and 1-2 wheelchair users can ride. Or, if the wheelchair user is driving, then only two passengers can be seated.
For self-drivers, an electric seat pivots the wheelchair user into position during the transfer.
Our Final Thoughts on Ramp Van Nuances
As you can see, there are many ramp van nuances to consider, but one thing is clear: one ramp or entry is not better than the other.
Mobility vans are built to be safe and durable, and each nuance offers its own advantages that complement different lifestyles.
That’s why it’s important to make a plan first, establishing how many passengers travel with you daily, the amount of space and seating you prefer, and the parking capabilities.
Resources & References:
- Lift vs. Ramp: Which is Better for Your Wheelchair Van, the newswheel.com
- Accessing America: Birth of an Industry, americanhistory.si.edu