Choosing a wheelchair ramp over a lift system is a matter of budget and personal preference. Both can get you safely in and out of a new or used wheelchair van; however, handicap lowered-floor vans with ramps tend to be less expensive, take up less space and are more fuel-efficient compared to a full-size van, which is used for most wheelchair-lift applications.
Wheelchair van conversion ramps normally come in permanent van conversions where the floor is lowered to allow enough headroom for entering and riding in the vehicle. Most lowered-floor vans come with wheelchair ramps and kneeling systems that lower the wheelchair van and reduce the angle of the ramp. There are two styles of wheelchair ramps—one type folds up in a vertical position, and the other type slides out from the floor of the van.
New and used handicapped accessible vehicles with wheelchair ramps come with either a manual or power conversion. Power wheelchair ramps operate by remote control or by a switch located either on the dash or just inside the side-door panel. Push a button and the door slides open, the ramp extends out and, in cases where a kneeling system is needed, the van lowers. (In case of a power failure, the ramp can be easily operated manually.) Guide your wheelchair or mobility scooter inside and push the button or switch, and the system reverses. Manual systems are spring-loaded to easily fold out and retract into the van.
A vehicle wheelchair lift is a mechanical device used to raise a person in a wheelchair effortlessly into a vehicle. Wheelchair lifts are typically installed in full-sized vans.
There are several wheelchair lift types: cassette lifts that slide out from under the van, horizontal folding lifts that provide users better vision through the windows, vertical folding lifts that enable passengers to enter the van without deploying the lift, and platform wheelchair lifts, which are the most basic of wheelchair lifts.
Hydraulic lifts are the most common type, since they allow for heavier steel construction and higher lift capacity. The other type is the electric lift, made with lightweight aluminum and lighter lift capacity. Lifts require either a lowered floor or a raised roof to provide enough headroom for wheelchair passengers to ride comfortably inside their chairs.
Wheelchair lifts work when space limitations or height requirements make a ramp prohibitive. Wheelchair lifts are often less expensive than a lowered-floor conversion with a ramp, but there are other considerations that include difficulty parking due to their size, high gas prices, and if the floor isn’t lowered, then the wheelchair user can’t see out the windows.