Guide to Wheelchair Ramps in Handicap Converted Vehicles

March 22nd, 2021 by

Handicap accessibility is essential for people who use wheelchairs. They need to be able to enter and exit their home, work, restaurants and stores comfortably. Public places are required to make those accommodations. However, if you or your loved one uses a wheelchair, you need an accessible vehicle to get to the places on your schedule. You can either purchase one specifically designed for wheelchair access or add a ramp to allow side or rear entry into your car, van or SUV.

Choosing what kind of wheelchair ramp to add to your car is a personal factor to consider. What kind of car do you want? What kind of ramp can that vehicle accommodate? What size does the ramp need to be in terms of both length and width? Learn more about your options so you can find the best fit for your car and your needs.

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Different Kinds of Ramps

The type of ramp you choose plays a role in its size and how it’s operated.

1. Rear-Entry vs. Side-Entry Ramp

While both rear-entry and side-entry ramps can be either manual or automatic, there are some key differences to understand.

Rear-Entry Ramps

Ramps can be placed at the back of a van, minivan or SUV. Here’s what you can expect with a rear-entry ramp:

  • Pros: Rear-entry allows the wheelchair to be placed behind the driver’s seat. Rear-entry ramps are typically a good choice for the budget-conscious. In most parking scenarios, a rear-entry ramp is a plus. Rear-entry is usually the best option for someone who has severely restricted mobility. It’s also great for families as the children can sit in the back with other passengers. If you have more than one person with a disability in your family, a rear-entry ramp can sometimes fit two wheelchairs.
  • Cons: Parallel parking represents a challenge for vehicles with a rear-entry ramp, especially in dense, urban areas. Additionally, this option doesn’t allow you to put the wheelchair in the front of the car. You’d have to place it behind the driver’s seat or the front passenger seat.
  • Ramp size: Wheelchair ramp size in rear-entry vehicles can be wider, allowing room for bigger wheelchairs. Rear-entry into a spacious SUV like the Kia Telluride can be a good fit for people who need space for a wheelchair and other passengers. Rear-entry ramps can be larger than side-entry ramps, up to 48 inches in width (in our minivan models).

Side-Entry Ramps

Ramps can also be placed at the side door of your vehicle. Here are some considerations for a side-entry ramp:

  • Pros: This option is typically the choice for people who have limited mobility but can still drive. They can easily enter the vehicle via the ramp and then transfer to the driver’s seat or position their wheelchair in front of the steering wheel. Side-entry also offers the flexibility of placing a wheelchair in the front or back passenger areas. The side ramp allows a safe exit onto the curb and can retain space inside of the car, particularly if the ramp is an in-floor model.
  • Cons: Side-entry ramp conversions can be more expensive than a rear-entry conversion. Additionally, it can make entering and leaving the vehicle difficult, depending on the parking situation. In a parking lot, you will need to find a space that allows room for the ramp and your wheelchair. On the other hand, side-entry ramps can be useful if you spend a lot of time parallel parking.
  • Ramp size: The ramp size for side-entry tends to be smaller. For example, you might find a Toyota Sienna with a side-entry ramp with a width of 28.75 inches or 30 inches. If you need a wider ramp, rear-entry may be the appropriate choice.

2. Automatic vs. Manual Ramps

The ramps used to help make a vehicle handicap accessible can either be automatic or manual.

Automatic Wheelchair Ramps

Automatic wheelchair ramps are powered by a motor, which means the driver or caretaker does not have to physically unfold and put the ramp in place. Automatic ramps can be installed during the conversion process, offering an easy-to-use solution for entering and exiting the vehicle. The ramp operates with a simple remote control.

These ramps can either be in-floor or fold-out. In-floor ramps are a popular option because they allow you to make the most of space in your vehicle, leaving a clear, unobstructed area. These ramps are retracted and stored beneath the floor of the vehicle, leaving room for passenger seats and cargo storage. However, this type of ramp is typically the most expensive option.

Automatic fold-out wheelchair ramps lower to and rise from the ground when powered. When not in use, this type of ramp is stored either on your vehicle’s floor or upright on the door. Some fold-out models also come with handrails, but these take up more space in your vehicle.

Manual Wheelchair Ramps

Instead of having motorized power, fold-out wheelchair ramps can also be manual. Manual wheelchair ramps are the least expensive option to purchase and maintain. You can opt to install this solution for rear or side entry into your vehicle. Since there are no automatic components, manual wheelchair ramps are usually a better option for people who have the upper body strength to extend and retract them or for people who are regularly with a caretaker or family member who can raise or lower the ramp easily.

Different Conversion Types

While wheelchair ramp size in a Chevy or any other vehicle is defined by width, half-cut and full-cut refer to how much the floor has been lowered inside the vehicle. Your needs can help guide your decision between a full-cut and half-cut conversion. Here are the pros and cons of each type of conversion for a car, van or SUV.

1. Full-Cut Conversions

A full-cut wheelchair conversion typically reaches from the back of the car just behind the driver and front passenger seat.

  • Pros: A full-cut conversion allows more wheelchair space inside of the vehicle. The ramp extends further back into the vehicle, creating ample room for drivers and passengers. Depending on the size of the wheelchairs and the car, a full-cut ramp may even make it possible to fit more than one wheelchair. A full-cut ramp is ideal for individuals with limited mobility who plan to drive the car via a transfer seat that allows for easier access to the driver’s seat.
  • Cons: The full-cut option tends to be more expensive. For some people, the amount of space the ramp takes up could be more of a downside than a benefit because it reduces the amount of passenger or storage space available.

2. Half-Cut Conversions

A half-cut ramp begins at the rear of the vehicle and stops behind the second row of seating instead of the first.

  • Pros: Half-cut wheelchair conversions are a more budget-friendly option than full-cut ones. They also maintain more traditional passenger seating in the car. If you plan to drive often with others, this conversion is a suitable option for you.
  • Cons: If the wheelchair user is  interested in easy access to the driver’s seat, a half-cut wheelchair ramp may not be the right fit for you or your loved ones. Additionally, people who need space for an additional wheelchair are likely less concerned with the additional passenger seating and storage space afforded by a half-cut wheelchair ramp.

Ramp Sizes in Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

ramp size guide

Wheelchair ramps come in a range of widths, from 28 inches to 48 inches.

1. Smaller Ramp Sizes

Smaller ramp sizes include:

  • 28 inches: Ramps with a width of 28 inches are typically side-entry models. This narrower ramp could be a good fit for smaller, compact wheelchairs, either manual or motorized. A 2019 Chrysler Pacifica minivan is an example of a vehicle that can accommodate this ramp size.
  • 28.75 inches: A slightly larger ramp is also another good fit for a minivan, such as a side entry Toyota Sienna. If you plan to use a relatively small wheelchair, this ramp offers slightly more width for maneuvering in and out of the vehicle.
  • 30 inches: Thirty-inch ramps are a good fit for a rear entry Toyota Sienna or a Rear Entry Dodge Caravan. This size ramp should accommodate a standard manual wheelchair, as well as some light-weight smaller electric or motorized models.
  • 30.5 inches: A ramp with a width of 30.5 inches is often a good fit for mid-size SUVs, such as the Kia Sorento. This size ramp is usually rear-entry, allowing for a larger wheelchair to enter and exit the vehicle.

2. Standard Ramp Sizes

Standard ramp widths work with most wheelchair sizes.

  • 32 inches: Thirty-two inch ramps are often paired with rear-entry vehicles, such as the Kia Soul, so it’s best for people who will be passengers in the vehicle.
  • 34 inches: Several minivan models, such as Dodge Grand Caravan and Toyota Sienna, often feature 34-inch rear-entry ramps. The Honda HR-V crossover SUV also can accommodate this width ramp.
  • 35 inches: A few different vehicles can work with a 35-inch ramp. Rear-entry ramps of this size can be used with vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave. In the past, the Honda Element could also use a 35-inch side entry ramp.
  • 38 inches: A 38-inch ramp also has the versatility to work as both a rear-entry and side-entry option, like with the Chrysler Pacifica.

3. Superwide Ramp Sizes

These large ramps are an ideal option for large wheelchairs, such as those designed for bariatric needs. These superwide ramps are available only from Freedom Motors USA.

  • 40 inches: A 40-inch ramp is an ideal option for rear-entry on vehicles like a Dodge Grand Caravan.
  • 48 inches: A 48-inch ramp, the widest ramp available, can handle most larger wheelchairs. Available for rear-entry, this ramp size pairs well with vehicles like the Toyota Sienna.

Maximum Slope of a Wheelchair Ramp

The slope of the ramp is an important factor to consider. If that incline is too steep, it will be difficult or unsafe to enter and exit the vehicle. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends a maximum slope of 1:12 for wheelchair ramps. All vehicles manufactured by Freedom Motors comply with ADA ramp slope recommendations.

Which Wheelchair Ramp Size Is Best for You?

When determining your ramp’s size, consider the dimensions of your or your loved one’s wheelchair and whether they’ll be using the vehicle as the driver or a passenger.

1. What Size Is the Wheelchair?

Wheelchair size is determined by a few different factors, including:

  • Seat width: The width of a wheelchair’s seat is typically 1 to 2 inches wider than the person’s hips. Narrow wheelchairs are typically 18 to 22 inches in width, while wider wheelchairs designed to handle more weight will be at least 23 inches.
  • Overall width: Besides seat width, you also need to consider the width of the whole wheelchair, including the armrests. You’ll want to make sure there is ample clearance on the ramp to enter and exit the vehicle easily. If you or your loved ones have a wider wheelchair, a rear-entry ramp may be the best option.
  • Height: The height from the seat to the floor can determine how easy it is to conduct seat transfers. Typical height is 18 to 20 inches, but some wheelchairs have a feature to adjust the height to meet the user’s needs. If you plan to transfer to the driver’s seat, a side-entry ramp may be the best option.

It’s also important to consider the interior space of your vehicle and whether the wheelchair folds.

2. Will the Wheelchair User Drive the Vehicle?

Giving people with limited mobility independence is the main goal of handicap converted vehicles. Regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive, one that has been modified to fit your or your loved ones’ needs could encourage travel with little to no assistance.

Depending on the type of converted vehicle, the wheelchair user can either drive while sitting in their wheelchair or easily transfer from the wheelchair to the driver’s seat. Depending on the model, a minivan can be equipped with a side-entry wheelchair ramp or a rear wheelchair ramp. Side-entry vehicles are usually the best option for people with limited mobility who plan to drive.

3. Is Assistance Needed to Get Into the Vehicle?

Seat transfers can be a major challenge for people with restricted mobility. If you or your loved ones plan to drive without assistance, a side-entry ramp option that eliminates the need for a transfer may be an attractive choice. If assistance is available from a caretaker or family member, a side-entry ramp that requires a seat transfer could work for you. Rear-entry wheelchair ramps are more often used for people who will be passengers.

Contact a Mobility Specialist to Determine the Best Ramp Size for Your Needs

The right wheelchair ramp type and size depends on a wide range of factors, including the type of vehicle and the disabilities of the people in your family. Whatever your situation, our mobility team at Freedom Motors has years of experience converting vans, minivans, SUVs and cars to fit your accessibility needs.

With precision engineering, we can add the right ramp and accessibility technology to your vehicle to help you and your loved ones get where you need to go. Contact us to learn how we can help you find the right vehicle for you.