Car Modifications for People With Disabilities

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Driving a car is something that many people take for granted — the ability to go wherever you want or need to go, whenever you need. For someone with a disability, though, transportation can be a challenge.

Public transportation is not always available, particularly if you live in suburban or rural areas where transit services may be very limited or non-existent. Even if you live in a place with good transit services, times and schedules are not always convenient.

Rideshare services (like Uber, Lyft, Via and others) do not necessarily offer accessible vehicles. These companies argued in a 2018 court case that they are technology companies, so the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility requirements do not apply. Since then, both Uber and Lyft have made an effort to improve accessibility ride options — Uber introduced UberWAV, UberASSIST and Uber ACCESS, and the Lyft app now has “access mode” — but these services are still only available in select cities.

Vehicle modifications provide transportation options for people with disabilities. They range from simple additions like a pedal extension to more extensive changes like adding an automatic wheelchair ramp or special seats. These modifications can be expensive and are not available on every vehicle.

Barry Banks, a 72-year-old in Utah, had his vehicle modified after a minor stroke during surgery left his right leg paralyzed.

“After the stroke, my wife of 50 years had to take me everywhere I needed to go and do everything I wanted to do. That’s when I started looking into vehicle modifications,” said Barry. He had a left foot pedal installed and is able to drive again.

What modifications can be made

As technology has advanced, so have the ways you can modify vehicles for disabilities. You can add:

  • Hand controls and steering devices
  • Adaptive ignition controls
  • Automatic doors
  • Pedal or seat belt extenders
  • Left-foot accelerators
  • Seat modifications
  • Wheelchair lifts and ramps
  • Raised roof or dropped floor
  • And many more options

Smaller vehicles, like economy or compact cars, may not have enough space for modifications. If you need a larger car, SUV or van, the cost of just the vehicle will already be higher.

Types of modifications and average cost

Car Modifications Average Cost
Hand Controls $500-$2,000
Wheelchair Accessible $10,000-$24,000+
Amputee Rings $400-$1,000+
Pedal Extensions $50-200
Scooter Lifts $1,500-$14,000

The cost of modifying a vehicle will vary depending on what you need. An important initial action item is finding a qualified driver rehabilitation specialist who can assess your needs. You can find a list of specialists in your area through:

You do have to pay for these assessments, but vocational rehabilitation agencies, health insurance or workers’ compensation insurance may cover some or all of the cost.

Next, look for a certified shop to help with vehicle modifications. They can provide recommendations, pricing and information about what modifications will work best for you.

“It’s very easy to find them, You look it up online and find a place where they are certified to do this,” said Banks. “[In occupational therapy] I tried to do the hand controls and it was difficult for me. You have to think really fast if you’re pushing or pulling, going or stopping. I decided to try the left foot pedal, and it was very easy and much safer for me.”

The vehicle modification shop gave him two options for installing the pedal. The first was a manual pedal installed on the left that hooks to the right pedal with a short extension. When he pushed the left pedal it controlled the right one. The second option was more expensive, because it hooks into the electronic system in the car, but that is the one Banks decided to get.

“I get in the car, there’s a button you push, and it automatically switches it over to the left gas pedal. So my wife can drive my car too. It’s wonderful. It has really opened up my life,” Banks shared.

If you plan to travel in your vehicle, it’s also important to note that the laws for using disability placards issued in another state vary by state. In general, most states allow you to use a placard from another state, but there may be restrictions. AccessibleGO has a state-by-state parking guide to help when planning a trip.

Auto insurance for adaptive vehicles

Like all drivers on the road, adaptive vehicle drivers must be insured. ADA anti-discrimination laws prevent insurance companies from charging higher rates based solely on the fact that you have a disability. All car insurance companies must offer insurance rates that are reasonable and fair, and it’s important to know your rights.

However, there are reasons someone with a disability may have to pay a higher monthly premium for automobile insurance. Companies may give you a higher quote for premiums if:

  • You have a certain medical condition with increased safety risk (such as epilepsy or stroke)
  • You have a vehicle with custom modifications that would increase vehicle replacement costs in the event of an accident

Adding extra coverage

When you own an adaptive vehicle, you may want to consider additional coverage, such as:

  • Higher collision or comprehensive coverage amounts to pay for the full cost of replacing a vehicle with interior or exterior modifications.
  • Mobility car insurance, which provides temporary transportation in an accessible vehicle if yours needs repairs.
  • Roadside assistance to help with things like flat tires or other vehicle breakdowns.

These additional coverages could increase the premiums for your insurance.

It’s important to tell an insurance company about any medical conditions or vehicle modifications that could impact your coverage. Not doing so could result in loss of coverage or an insurance company that refuses to pay after an accident.

Finding affordable coverage

To keep the cost of insurance affordable, ask about:

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