Financing options can make van buyers good to go
Without a doubt, purchasing a modified vehicle is a huge financial commitment. Added to a pile of medical costs related to your neuromuscular disease, buying a vehicle poses a major financing challenge.
In addition to the actual price of a new or used van, the conversion can cost $12,000 or more. So you ask: “How can I possibly pay for all of this?”
Fortunately, you may have more options than you realize in finding the funds for your new vehicle.
|Mobility by Volvo’s reimbursement program offers buyers up to $1,000 toward the cost of installing adaptive equipment in a new 2005 or 2006 model, including the Volvo XC90 pictured here.|
Traditional vehicle financing means taking out a loan to cover the price of a vehicle and the modifications, and signing an agreement to make monthly payments on the loan’s principal and interest over a specified period. The purchaser, the vendor and the lender, usually a bank or other financial institution, agree upon the terms of the loan.
Extended-term financing, including 10-year loans, lets you make monthly payments lower than those on more typical five- or six-year loans.
“The best option for retail clients is to have long-term loans with low interest rates,” said Oliver Ramaker, director of business development for Liberty Motor Co., which sells converted vehicles to consumers.
For example, Access & Mobility Finance, based in Lafayette, Calif., offers financing nationwide for up to 10 years for new and used modified vehicles. Tom Matson, the company’s founder and president, offers fixed rates, no prepayment penalties and no minimum finance charges.
Like many accessible vehicle dealers, Ramaker said, “We’ve had very good success with his [Matson’s] company in the past, even with people who have a poor credit rating because of their medical expenses.” The company, which has provided loans for assistive technology for eight years, will refinance a client’s loan at a lower rate when his or her credit rating improves.
“We work hard to try to help everybody,” Matson said. “We work closely with the consumer and the [mobility] dealer to create a loan package that will fit into their budget.”
Larry Finman, owner of Special-Needs Vehicles — Adapt Mobility of Tucson, Ariz., has been equally im-pressed with Access & Mobility’s flexibility because it finances the overall cost of the vehicle and mobility equipment. Some lending institutions only lend against the vehicle’s chassis.
Matson urges consumers to go through an established dealer that belongs to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), in order to get “the appropriate product for their circumstances.” For more about NMEDA, see “Eye on the Industry.”
While 10-year financing reduces your monthly payment, Matson cautions consumers that an extended term means “you’re going to be paying for that vehicle a long time. So you need to take care of it, and try to pay it off early to reduce the amount of interest you pay.”
Mike Harris, president of Rollx Vans, said that longer financing terms are becoming more popular in the auto industry (see “Resources for Modified Vehicles”).
For example, Ford’s Mobility Motoring Program offers extended-term financing for new, modified vehicles, with the loan period determined by the vehicle’s price. For those who qualify, Ford offers a nine-year term for a vehicle that exceeds $40,000.
Harris noted that extended-term financing “can lower your monthly payment by as much as $200,” though you’ll pay more interest in the long run.
|Freedom Motors offers the Honda Element X-WAV, which is available with either a passenger-side or driver-side conversion for wheelchair users who want to drive. Consumers can choose an automatic remote-controlled door or a manual, spring-assisted system for the side-entry ramp.|
Along similar lines, the federal/state Alternative Financing Program (AFP) grants low-interest loans to people with disabilities, their parents, relatives or advocates in order to purchase assistive technology or services, including big-ticket items like adapted vehicles. AFPs operate in 33 states and U.S. territories (see “Resources for Modified Vehicles”).
AFP loans feature low interest rates, loan guarantees, extended repayment periods, support services to keep payments current, and the opportunity to build credit or improve a low credit rating.
Many AFPs make allowances for bad credit, especially if the credit issues are related to a person’s disability. People who don’t qualify for traditional bank loans may find AFPs more receptive to their applications.
Another way to reduce the overall cost of a van is by buying a one- or two-year-old used (“pre-owned”) vehicle with a new modification. Finman urges consumers to focus on vehicles that have less than 30,000 miles and are no more than two or three years old.
Stephen Estes, sales manager for Nor-Cal Mobility in Chico, Calif., said that purchasing a used year-old van with a new conversion can cut the cost by $4,000 or $5,000. Or, you can get a quality, used van with a used conversion by working with the NMEDA QAP dealer in your area.
Rather than buying a van, consider leasing or renting (see “Van Rentals”).
Caraleasing, a nationwide company co-owned by Caral and Hal Masback in White Plains, N.Y., offers three- to seven-year leases for new wheelchair-accessible vans and other terms for used vans. You choose the vehicle and the conversion, and Caraleasing will custom-build your lease.
“Leasing will always be less expensive than financing,” Caral Masback explained. “When you finance a vehicle, you pay for the entire life of the car. When you lease it, you pay for what you use.”
At the end of a lease, you have a purchase option or you can return the vehicle to the dealer. Clients also can buy the vehicle at any point during the lease.
Caraleasing’s terms cover the cost of the vehicle and the conversion, but not all leasing companies include the cost of the adaptive equipment.
Masback said that the company takes an individual’s poor credit rating into consideration, especially when it’s affected by mounting medical costs related to a disability. “We really work hard to get people into a vehicle that’s going to be within their means,” she said.
Additionally, the company offers a special five-year lease that can be canceled if you no longer need the van. The arrangement requires a down payment of $2,000 and at least 15 payments.
If the vehicle is returned before the five years are up, you pay an early cancellation charge equal to five months’ payments.
|Rollx Vans has an extensive inventory of new and used minivans and full-size vans, including the Chrysler Town & Country, the Dodge Grand Caravan (pictured) and the Ford E-250. The Rollx conversion is offered with either a standard folding ramp (pictured) or an in-floor ramp that lifts the wheelchair and user.|
“We’ve had a number of people take advantage of the early cancellation program, and it saves them thousands,” Masback said.
Through their mobility programs, some major car manufacturers offer reimbursement for the installation of adaptive equipment when you buy or lease a new vehicle.
For example, Daimler-Chrysler’s Automobility program will provide a maximum $1,000 reimbursement for conversions made to new Dodge Caravan, Dodge Grand Caravan, and Chrysler Town & Country models.
Consumers can receive up to $1,000 reimbursements for vehicle conversions from Acura, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Lexus, Saturn, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Some programs, like Mobility by Volvo, cover the cost of transferring mobility equipment from an old vehicle to a new one.
If you’d like to receive a mobility reimbursement on a leased vehicle, most carmakers advise that you receive written permission from the leasing company.
The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) is a nonprofit organization that can provide guidance as you select a mobility vehicle dealer.
NMEDA recognizes that consumers who purchase adapted vehicles and mobility equipment literally put themselves in the hands of the dealers, trusting dealers to help them make the right purchases.
NMEDA protects consumers by ensuring “quality and professionalism in the manufacturing and installation of safe and reliable mobility equipment.”
NMEDA’s 650-plus members are mobility equipment dealers, driver rehabilitation specialists and other professionals who promote “quality, safety and reliability within the industry.” You can check with NMEDA to find out which dealers in your area are members.
As the voice of the mobility equipment industry, NMEDA requires that its member-dealers adhere to the safety standards established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as NMEDA’s own stringent guidelines.
Several NMEDA dealers also are enrolled in NMEDA’s Quality Assurance Program (QAP). Executive Director Dana Roeling said QAP certification helps enhance the accountability of NMEDA dealers.
Rex Bradbury, owner of Crescent Industries and a NMEDA board member, added, “We’re always promoting the Quality Assurance Program. That’s an ongoing, top priority. We’re trying to ensure quality work throughout the country so that when a person takes his van to a shop, he can pretty much depend that he’s getting consistent work and a good, quality product.”
The QAP designation forces dealers to adhere to NMEDA guidelines that are based on national safety standards, an in-house crash-testing program, and proven shop practices focused on performance and safety.
To earn QAP certification, dealers are required to meet the following criteria:
“As a QAP dealer, we are trained to sell people the vehicle that fits them the best, that’s safe and that’s built by the best standards in the industry,” said Marcus Smith, owner of Access Vans of Louisiana and a NMEDA board member.
Keeping records of all vehicle modifications “gives us a tracking method if there’s a problem with any item on the vehicle,” Smith said. Since Access Vans of Louisiana fits into three NMEDA membership categories — modified equipment installer, structural modifier and high-tech driving equipment installer — the dealership is audited twice a year to maintain its QAP certification.
Terry Miller, senior product manager for Vantage Mobility International in Phoenix, added, “Most of our full-line dealers are members of NMEDA and QAP certified. We want to make sure that the consumers get the best possible experience with VMI products, so the better our dealers are trained, the better experience the customer is going to have.”
Stephen Estes, NorCal Mobility’s sales manager, explained, “For a long time, our industry had no guidelines as far as procedures on how things are supposed to be done. The QAP program was initiated to come up with guidelines as far as what is right and what is wrong, and to make sure that the consumer is being taken care of.”
Van dealer Larry Finman said, “QAP certification forces installers to follow proper procedures, and there’s a paper trail for how that works.”
The bottom line, Smith said, is that “doing business locally with a QAP dealer is a win-win situation for everyone.” Smith noted that QAP dealers not only work with the client to build a vehicle that fits the person’s needs, but that the dealer also will “take care” of the vehicle after it’s driven off the lot.
NMEDA is investigating safety issues regarding Internet sales of adapted vehicles and mobility equipment. Manufacturers or consumers selling directly to the end user online causes some concern, members said.
For example, Smith said a client in his area purchased a modified vehicle on the Internet. He’d requested a new vehicle, but when it arrived at his home, he realized the van had 17,000 miles. Although it had a new conversion, it wasn’t what he’d requested. The manufacturer refused to take back the van.
When Quest searched eBay for modified vehicles and equipment, we found two used vans with wheelchair lifts and hand controls — 1994; and 2003 Ford E-150 vans. We also found a used wheelchair lift made by Braun and a set of used hand controls made by Drive-Master for sale by the owners.
Although NMEDA can’t stop these items from being put up for sale on the Internet, Smith said that NMEDA monitors eBay because it’s a “huge safety issue.”
Recently, when NMEDA noticed that someone had placed a set of hand controls for sale on eBay, the organization contacted the equipment’s manufacturer. The manufacturer then instructed the person to remove the hand controls from the site.
“Those need to be installed by qualified, trained technicians,” Smith emphasized. “They’re not just made to be put in by the nearest gas station.”
Peter Hilcoff, owner of Automobility, a hand controls manufacturer, said that some portable hand control systems for sale on the Internet don’t meet safety standards.
“People should be very careful,” Hilcoff said. “They’re dangerous, and there’s a reason you can’t go to our Web site and hit a button to buy our hand controls on the Internet.”
In addition, mobility equipment such as hand controls can’t simply be switched from one vehicle to another.
“We’re worried about the end user getting what they paid for and safely being placed in a vehicle,” Smith said. “We’re trying to find a solution to this problem by educating people and telling them that they’re buying something special that’s tailored to fit one individual’s specific needs.”
Accessible van rentals are handy on vacation, when you need a vehicle for only a few weeks or months, or for occasional medical visits. It’s good to know you can rent a modified van if yours breaks down, is damaged in an accident, or if you’d like to try out a model before you buy.
Wheelchair Getaways, based in Versailles, Ky., has helped spearhead the accessible van rental industry’s growth for more than a decade. Its nationwide fleet boasts about 400 full-size vans and minivans, and the company serves more than 450 U.S. cities. The rates vary by location, but a van rental typically costs $100 per day.
Owner Richard Gatewood explained that Wheelchair Getaways rents accessible vehicles in the same way other companies rent conventional vehicles. A renter must be 23 and have a valid driver’s license and auto insurance. Accessible van rentals, however, are more expensive than conventional car rentals, Gatewood added.
“Many wheelchair/scooter users are not accepting limits on their daily lives and are demanding better transportation solutions,” Gatewood said. “The van rental concept is growing and expanding because it allows wheelchair users to travel on their own terms with freedom and independence.”
Gatewood said rental vehicles have become more reliable over the years, with more service facilities, largely due to the expansion of NMEDA and the QAP program.
Accessible Vans of America, based in Phoenix, is a member-owned organization of mobility dealers, with 33 locations nationwide. Executive Director Paula Nystrom said that member-dealers must meet two requirements: They must service and sell wheelchair-accessible vehicles and mobility equipment, and be NMEDA members. Some 95 percent of AVA’s member-dealers also are QAP accredited.
“Our rental locations are the ‘specialists’ in the industry,” Nystrom said. “It’s a specialized industry, and you can be assured that the dealers know what your needs are as an individual in a wheelchair.”
In order to rent an accessible vehicle from an AVA member, an individual must be 21 with a valid driver’s license, and must have personal automobile comprehensive, collision and liability insurance.
Nystrom, who is based at AVA Wheelchair Van Rentals of Phoenix, said her dealership’s five vehicles are booked 98 percent of the time.
“It’s great, because you couldn’t rent a vehicle like this 20 years ago.”
Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED)
National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA)
Access & Mobility Finance
Burhill Financial Services
Acura Mobility Program
Ford Mobility Motoring
General Motors Mobility
Honda Mobility Assistance Program
Mobility by Volvo
Access Vans of Louisiana
Bruno Independent Living Aids
Electronic Mobility Controls
Independent Driving Systems
Ride-Away Handicap Equipment
SpecialNeedsVehicles — Adapt Mobility
Vantage Mobility International
Accessible Vans of America
“Buying a Used Car” (consumer guide from Federal Trade Commission)
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
RESNA Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project