What is a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle?

what is a wav 1

Ok, so what is a wheelchair accessible vehicle or a WAV? We aren’t talking about that WAV, an audio file known as a Waveform Audio File. Instead, we are talking about the other WAV, the acronym for a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle. The following description defines what a wheelchair accessible vehicle or WAV does:

“A wheelchair accessible vehicle allows a wheelchair user, under their power or assisted by a third party, to enter, be safely secured, travel, and exit the vehicle without needing to leave their wheelchair.”

Of course, this does not mean that a wheelchair user cannot leave their wheelchair at any point; that would depend on their ability and their desired location in a WAV.

Who needs a WAV

In short, anyone who uses a wheelchair full or part-time or those that use a mobility scooter. Whether you are using a wheelchair or considering buying one for an older adult, looking into suitable wheelchair accessible vehicles early on can be beneficial to you or any of your family members. Mean decision-making can be less fraught later on. Let us look into what is a wheelchair accessible vehicle or WAV.

Vehicle modifications

For a person with difficulty riding in a traditional car, wheelchair accessible vehicles are the most convenient solution. They can considerably reduce the pain of many being transferred from their wheelchair into a vehicle. With the advancement of technology, many companies offer these modification services to fit the needs of their clients.

Fine-tuning needs

Companies also complete stage two adaptions and fine-tune needs for those who need driving aids, more flexible seating, steps, and grab handles. Many secondary products are worth investigating to ensure the transition from home or work to a WAV is as stress and pain-free as possible.

Where can a wheelchair user be in a WAV

Some WAVs are designed for wheelchair passengers to transfer from their wheelchair into the driver or other passenger seats.

Some WAVs are designed to receive wheelchair users directly into the driving position.

An often loved place for a wheelchair user to travel is next to the driver in the infront or upfront position; these WAVs are often sought after and aren’t built in large numbers.

If the front is not a preferred position for a wheelchair user, then they can be accommodated in the mid vehicle position. Ideally, this is in line with the second-row seat or seats. However, this is not easy to ensure due to the nature of most vehicles built and the need for extra room for most wheelchairs.

Finally, there are the WAVs that accommodate a wheelchair user in the rear. Taxis, patient transport and private hire WAVs tend to opt for this build style as it allows the maximum number of standard seats in a WAV and is the quickest and most convenient way to on and off-board a wheelchair user from a WAV.

Southern Mobility Vehicles Ltd

Read more about us and find out why we are the right people to provide you with the right wheelchair accessible vehicle for your needs.

About SMV

What sizes do wheelchair accessible vehicles come in

What generally drives the size of a WAV is how many seats you will need or want, but this is just a guideline. It is important to note that some seats must be removed to allow a vehicle to become wheelchair accessible.

The rule of thumb is two to three seats, depending on the vehicle, will need to be removed to allow enough space for a wheelchair user to gain access comfortably.

If you consider that most vehicles that can be converted for wheelchair access have between five and seven seats, you will likely end up with between three and five post-conversion. If you are seeking six or more seats in a WAV, you will be moving into a much larger vehicle.

There isn’t anything we’d class as small in the WAV sector, and whilst this can be frustrating, there are available options that aren’t huge and are relatively easy to drive and handle. Higher driving positions help, and we select vehicles that will hopefully be more familiar to potential buyers than not.

Unfortunately, buying a WAV is usually a compromise, and we actively encourage prospective seekers of WAVs to view a selection. Most often, once people have had a chance to acclimatise themselves, they feel less pressured and more focussed on their needs and decision making gets easier.

We know no one really wants to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle, but needs must.

Lowered floor or flat floor WAV

We will cover whether a lift or ramp is better for you in the next section, but we advise you not to dismiss either at this stage; otherwise, you may be ruling out the best WAV layout for you and your family.

Lowered floor WAV

There are two main advantages of a lowered floor WAV over that if a flat floor conversion. Firstly, ride height for a wheelchair user is key to the quality of experience for a wheelchair user. As wheelchairs tend to be taller than most seats in a WAV, a person in a wheelchair may feel they are too tall in a flat floor car, and the effect of a lowered floor means they ride lower.

A lowered floor is good news for wheelchair users because a lower centre of gravity means you are travelling more or less as you would if you were a seated passenger.

A lower ride height means sociability is generally easier and a person’s ability to see through the vehicle windows properly makes for a more comfortable ride. As we actively encourage our customers to take our WAVs out for a good run, they find out before they buy whether it’s comfortable and suits their needs effectively.

Travel sickness can be an issue for wheelchair users, and lower ride height can effectively prevent this. Wheelchair movement and sway during transit can also be an issue if the ride height is too high, making lowered floors often the better choice. Aesthetically, they are less pleasing to look at. We understand this, but it is better to have the most effective WAV for your needs because they are a functional rather than a desirable choice.

Total height of wheelchair user

One of the questions we ask prospective buyers is the height of the wheelchair user from the floor to the top of their head. Knowing a wheelchair user’s height helps us see if a flat floor WAV will work or whether a lowered floor would suit better. This measurement allows us to check vehicle entry heights, too, as we don’t want you to have a wasted journey to find out the WAV you wanted didn’t suit your needs.

Used and second hand WAVs

We only sell the very best WAVs available on the market, so you can rest assured that buying a used WAV from SMV will be problem free.

See all used WAVs

Is a lift or ramp better for a wheelchair accessible vehicle?

Whether a lift or ramp is better is an individual choice and a decision that will likely need guidance. Lifts do not work for some wheelchair users; entry height and internal roof height can be a problem because WAVs with wheelchair lifts will have flat interior floors.


Lifts can sometimes be on the underside of the nearside rear passenger doors of vehicles such as the VW Caravelles and Ford Tourneo Customs. Usually, most have internal rear lifts, and the simplest way to separate WAVs with lifts or ramps is to know that the larger the WAV, the more likely it is to have a wheelchair lift versus a ramp.

Side underfloor lift for a wheelchair accessible vehicle

Not all vehicles the size of Caravelles and Customs are converted with wheelchair lifts. Wheelchair ramps are often a preferred choice for those who are taller seated in their wheelchairs. Ramps for WAVs are almost always on the rear of vehicles, but there are one or two exceptions.


Ramps tend to be fitted to medium-sized WAVs and allow a wheelchair user to be moved onto the internally lowered floor of a WAV with no lifting required. Optimum angles for ramps tend to be in the region of 14.5 degrees; otherwise, the vehicle will likely lend itself better to a wheelchair lift.

A lot of our WAVs have ramps designed by SG Technical Systems who designed the ramps for ambulances.

Side underfloor lift 1 for a wheelchair accessible vehicle

Explore all WAV options first

It might sound like we are labouring the point, but it is essential to ensure you explore all the possible WAV options before deciding. A two-minute test drive won’t cut it, and you may end up with the wrong WAV for your needs; if acquiring one of these vehicles isn’t enough, you do not want to decide in haste. Take your time. We are always available to help, and we want you to know that you made the right decision for yourself.

Read more about the VW Caravelle and Ford Tourneo Custom here.

Learn more

Electric, petrol, hydrogen, hybrid or diesel WAVs?

It seems grossly unfair, but there is a real lack of choice of fuel types in the WAV marketplace. Hydrogen WAVs are non-existent and petrol variants are almost as rare as electric WAVs. That leaves diesel but thankfully the diesel engine is a vastly more efficient unit than it was for nearly all modern cars now.

As for electric WAVs, we wouldn’t wait, our industry is usually five years behind the traditional standard car industry so rarity and high prices won’t help especially as most EVs are quite tricky to convert and many won’t be accessible from the rear to lower floors inside.

eWAVS are very rare and expensive, too. All are larger vans, and having higher floor levels to accommodate the batteries makes for good flat floor WAVs but much more challenging for smaller electric vehicles to be converted for wheelchair access. Hydrogen would seem the most environmentally sound option, but it looks like Betamax versus VHS revisited on this.

You name it; a WAV has been called it

The public has developed, created and applied many different terms for wheelchair accessible vehicles, making them challenging to nail down should you find yourself in need. Here’s a list of phrases used, and the list is more extensive than this in reality:

Mobility vehicles, cars, or vans, Motability vehicles, cars, or vans, disability vehicles, cars, or vans, wheelchair vehicles, cars, vans, adapted vehicles, cars, or vans. There are more, but these are the most common search phrases. And then we have WAV’s, and we don’t know where the apostrophe came from either!

The WAV Industry

The likelihood is that by their industry name, WAV, they have been undermarketed as the need for the product has risen. Still, a WAV is a need only sought because of circumstances. In other words, a family member or friend is now in a wheelchair, and regular transport is needed to replace the family vehicle. It’s not exactly a field of dreams, so you wouldn’t be looking for a WAV unless you had to.

This need is a life changer for all concerned and can happen all too quickly. As a result of the underdevelopment of the industry’s marketing to the public, most people don’t suddenly realise they need a WAV. Still, they do realise they need some form of transportation that will allow their loved ones to travel in a vehicle without leaving their wheelchair. The self-learning begins via online searches.

We would sooner you made contact with us here at Southern Mobility Vehicles. We can help you avoid long searches, confusing and contradictory information, and endless phone calls.

SMV says:

We here at Southern Mobility Vehicles actively encourage people to contact us as your first port of call because we advise independently, so you can be confident you will start on the right track with us.

Whether you are eligible for the Motability Scheme, looking for a short-term rental, or want to learn more about the possibilities, contact us for all the expertise you’ll need, and we’ll put your mind at rest.

Would you like to sell your existing WAV?

We are always looking for clean low mileage WAVs. See how much you can get for your wheelchair accessible vehicle today.

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