Used Adapted Vans Increase Your Buying Power

by Bill Norman on May 1, 2007 - 2:09pm

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 3

Why buy used? The most common reason is price.

New vehicles cost more than their older counterparts, and new, modified vehicles commonly go for $40,000 to $50,000, although they can easily climb to twice that range. Used adapted vans, in comparison, may save a consumer several thousand dollars.

At one time, buying used also meant quicker acquisition of a fully equipped and operating vehicle, back when there were only a few “modifiers” or adaptive equipment installation companies in the country. But today, increasing numbers of modifiers have joined the industry, and delivery times of newly converted vehicles have dropped dramatically.

Mike Harris, president of Rollx Vans in Savage, Minn., offers a third reason to buy used.

“It depends on how far the vehicle owner is going to drive,” he says. “If they’re going to drive only 4,000 to 5,000 miles a year, they might well be able to get eight to 10 years of life from a used vehicle, and save the cost of buying new.”

Preferred options

We’ll address two primary ways in which to obtain a used vehicle with adaptive equipment:

  • buy a used vehicle that’s already equipped with accessible modifications (used/used)
  • buy a used but unmodified vehicle and have it “converted” with new adaptive components (used/new)

Is one preferable to the other? Definitely yes, says Diana Conte, general sales manager of Adaptive Mobility Systems (AMS Vans) in Norcross, Ga.

“We’ve found that many people are not in a position to shell out $40,000 for a new, adapted vehicle. By buying used, unmodified vehicles, then converting them with new adaptive systems, we think we offer the best of both worlds,” she says. AMS buys and converts about 600 used Dodge or Chrysler minivans a year.

Conte adds, “Someone else has already taken the depreciation hit on a new van — which essentially occurs right after you’ve driven off the dealer’s lot — but you have the assurance of knowing you have a brand-new conversion package under warranty.”

Conte points to two other reasons for buying a used vehicle/new adaptations:

  • Used/used vehicles (used chassis with used conversion equipment) may have unknown problems with the equipment.
  • The used conversion may not be under warranty, and even if it is, it can be difficult to determine if a warranty is in effect.

That’s not to say consumers should never buy a used/used adaptive van, just that they should be extra cautious. The price tag for a used/used adapted vehicle is somewhere in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, including adaptive equipment. Prices drop as vehicle mileage increases, of course. One with mileage approaching 100,000 could likely be purchased for under $10,000.

See “Costs and Considerations” for estimates of new adaptive equipment costs. Those would need to be added to the cost of a used vehicle for buyers who choose the used/new option. Costs of used vehicles vary widely, so it behooves buyers to shop around.

Checking out the merchandise

A dealer’s showroom display demonstrates how one type of hand-operated brake and gas control system could be added to a vehicle.

Vehicle dealers offer specific recommendations for checking out the chassis of a used vehicle you plan to convert.

A logical first step, says Larry Finman, president of Special Needs Vehicles in Tucson, Ariz., is to search the history of the chassis in question. Several companies offer this service (usually for about $25).

A search of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can tell whether a vehicle was previously wrecked, if its odometer reading is suspicious, if it was stolen, if it was a heavy-use fleet vehicle and much more.

Companies that conduct VIN searches include CARFAX and DMV.ORG. Others like Consumer Guide Automotive offer free cursory summaries but charge for full details.

Conte cautions, however, that VIN checks apply only to the chassis and won’t reveal anything about added adaptive equipment.

In addition, your van dealer always should examine the vehicle from top to bottom (tires, brakes, etc.), and send it to a competent auto mechanic for technical evaluation if needed. As a matter of course, most dealers do an oil and filter change and replace worn tires.

Life span of adapted vehicles

Rollx Vans converts and refurbishes more used vans (from different manufacturers) than any other company in the country — on the order of 1,000 vehicles a year, President Mike Harris says.

A van’s life span is a function of both mileage and maintenance, he explains.

“I had one customer who maintained his van well, and got more than 200,000 miles from it. Another, who wasn’t much inclined to maintenance, had his vehicle break down after 70,000.” Generally, Harris says, a well-maintained adapted vehicle should go for 150,000 miles.

AMS Vans’ policy is that it won’t buy a used vehicle and add adaptive equipment if the van has more than 75,000 miles on it.

What equipment do I need?

When you visit your MDA clinic, you can ask the doctor or therapists for a general idea of the type of vehicle and modifications that would be appropriate for you, as well as what needs may come up in the future because of disease progression. From there, you can begin to home in on your selections.

For starters, “try before you buy.” Visit mobility dealers and ask to experience the adaptive equipment in one or more of their vehicles. Check out ease of access and exit, roominess, comfort, visibility, headroom and other factors of importance to you.

The components of your tailor-made conversion package depend on whether you’ll be the driver or passenger. Adaptive equipment is seldom inexpensive, so select carefully to avoid spending on unnecessary extras.

Drivers should confer with a certified driver rehabilitation specialist who can discuss their situations and recommend components. (See “Used Van Resources.”)

Passengers should consult a reputable mobility dealer who will take the time to understand their short- and long-term needs, advises AMS’ Conte.

“I have a whole list of questions that pertain to things such as wheelchair size and special equipment,” she says. For example, knowing whether a user’s wheelchair has a ventilator mounted on the back tells her how much space to include in a conversion.

Taking delivery

After a used vehicle has been outfitted with all the adaptive equipment you require, there’s still the matter of taking possession. If the modifier/mobility dealer is in your hometown, that usually presents little problem. If the dealer is some distance away, travel costs could be involved.

However, some larger companies accommodate buyers nationwide. AMS Vans (which sells only directly to customers — no dealers or other middle parties) promises “delivery to your doorstep.” Rollx Vans delivers, but it also offers to pay airfare or other transportation expenses for buyers who want to pick up their converted vehicles at the company’s plant in Savage, Minn.

Adaptive equipment warranties

Adapted vehicles usually have separate warranties (original or extended) for the chassis and conversion equipment. For example, AMS warrants its new conversions for seven years or 70,000 miles from date of purchase.

Special Needs Vehicles’ Finman points out that extended warranties on both chassis and adaptations usually cost less when bought while a vehicle is still relatively new. Owners of vehicles with less than 36,000 miles often don’t have to pay a deductible if repairs are needed, but after 36,000, they almost always do, he says.

Financing options for modified vehicles

Some of the larger mobility dealers offer in-house financing for used vehicles with conversions. Others have several lending institutions they recommend. As a rule, none will finance a chassis/adaptations package for more than 10 years, and for older vehicles, the period is less.

If you’re seeking financing from a personal bank or credit union, keep one caveat in mind. Not all lenders understand or appreciate the value of the adaptive equipment in these special vehicles. As a result, they may not offer financing sufficient to cover the full cost.

Hand in hand with that caution is another in the area of insurance. When insuring a converted vehicle, make sure the insurance agent is aware of the adaptive equipment on board. It may be necessary to add an insurance rider to your policy to cover that gear.

The federal/state Alternative Financing Program (AFP) grants low-interest loans to people with disabilities, their parents, relatives or advocates in order to purchase big-ticket items like adapted vehicles (including used ones). AFPs operate in 33 states and U.S. territories.

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.

For information, contact the RESNA Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project at (703) 524-6686.

Looking at the full picture

Before embarking on your journey to secure a vehicle that will provide you with safe, comfortable and reliable transport, be sure to investigate all your options. Of these, the single most important will be finding a mobility dealer who is reputable, fully understands your needs and runs an operation that’s technically sound.

For more help in making an informed selection, see “Used Van Resources.”


Adaptive Driving Alliance
(623) 434-0722

Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project (RESNA)
(703) 524-6686

Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
(800) 290-2344
ADED supports professionals in the field of driver education/driver training and transportation equipment modifications for people with disabilities.

The Boulevard
directory of products and services for people with disabilities
(619) 222-8735

Disabled Dealer
magazine listing used equipment for sale, organized by region
(800) 588-5099

National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA)
(800) 833-0427
The NMEDA Quality Assurance Program (QAP) is a national accreditation program that helps consumers find qualified dealers of adapted vehicles. NMEDA has stringent requirements for QAP certification.

No votes yet
MDA cannot respond to questions asked in the comments field. For help with questions, contact your local MDA office or clinic or email See comment policy