Jason Dion

Understand How a Dodge Van Modified for Wheelchair Access Through the Conversion Process

Written by Jason Dion. Filed in Dodge Adapting & Conversion Guide

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Dodge currently produces two vehicles that are regularly used as wheelchair vans–the Grand Caravan minivan and the Dodge Sprinter full-sized van.

Neither vehicle is actually built with wheelchair use as a priority. The Grand Caravan is marketed to a mass audience of family drivers who need a spacious vehicle. The Sprinter is primarily sold to those in need of commercial delivery or fleet vehicles.

As such, both the Grand Caravan and the Sprinter must be modified in order to work as a wheelchair van. They don’t come ready for use as wheelchair vehicles. Let’s look at the conversion process for each of the these two Dodges.

Dodge Grand Caravan Minivan Conversion Process

The Dodge Grand Caravan is a direct descendant of the original minivan, the Dodge Caravan. Introduced and sold alongside the Caravan for years, the Grand Caravan is a well-appointed, feature-rich minivan with an extended wheelbase. Since 2008, the Grand Caravan has been the only Dodge minivan on the market.

In order to transform the popular passenger vehicle into a credible minivan, conversion manufacturers make a number of changes to the base vehicle in order to provide maximum access and functionality for the disabled driver. These include:

A lowered floor

Lowered floor for rear entry Dodge Caravan wheelchair vans

By lowering the floor, it’s possible to secure adequate headroom for wheelchair users, who have a higher profile than people seated in regular van chairs. It’s possible to gain as much as ten inches in height by lowering the floor. That gain is enough to eliminate the need to raise the vehicle’s roof.

An auto kneel

Auto kneeling Dodge Caravan Braun Entervan wheelchair van

An auto kneel system allows the wheelchair van user to drop the vehicle closer to the ground when it’s at a rest. That reduces the slope of the wheelchair van ramp, creating a safer and much more convenient path to entrance and exit.

Power doors

Power doors

Power sliding rear doors make it much easier to for wheelchair users to gain access to the vehicle. Traditional manual doors can be difficult for some disabled drivers to use. Replacing them with automated alternatives allows one to open and close the doors to the vehicle with nothing more than a push of a remote control button.

Ramp or lift installation

2007 Grand Caravan wheelchair van with automatic ramp

The Grand Caravan can use a wheelchair lift in rear-entry configurations. However, side entry models are much more common and they utilize a ramp. In most cases, owners opt for a motorized ramp that will deploy without any physical exertion. These auto ramps are much easier to use than manual or sprint-assisted version, which are occasionally used as a part of Grand Caravan conversions.

Wheelchair restraint

Ezlock controls

Once the wheelchair is in the Grand Caravan, it must be carefully secured. This may involve the use of traditional manual tie downs, motorized tie downs or wheelchair docking mechanisms like those produced by EZ Lock.

Seating configuration

Removable seating configuatation

Seating must be arranged to provide access the driver’s area. Additionally, it’s important to install either a transfer seat of some kind for to help the wheelchair user transition from the wheelchair to the driver’s seat. In some cases, the driver may opt to operate the vehicle when still in his or her chair. That requires removal of the stock driver’s seat.

Control Adaptations

Control adaptions

Many wheelchair users are more than capable of successfully driving a van if its controls are properly modified. This may involve the use of assistance package. Low-effort steering systems amplify the strength of the power steering system, making it easier to turn the wheel. Low-effort braking systems reduce the amount or pressure required to engage the minivan’s brakes. In some cases, pedals and traditional steering may be replaced by specialized hand controls.

Dodge Sprinter Full-Sized Van Conversion Process

The Sprinter doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity as the Grand Caravan for wheelchair van use. That’s because full-sized vehicles offer inferior handling, are more expensive and are less fuel efficient than their smaller counterparts.

However, a full-sized van like the Sprinter offers a great deal of space and flexibility for access. All of the previously mentioned conversions can be used with a Sprinter. The modifications chosen will depend upon the needs of the individual van owner.

2005 Dodge Sprinter wheelchair van with side entry

The bigger vehicle does offer a unique advantage in addition to providing more passenger and storage space. It can support side entry lifts.

While most people in the wheelchair van market will look toward the Grand Caravan before they consider the more commercially-appropriate Sprinter, it is possible to turn the bigger vehicle into a fantastic wheelchair van.

Dodge has developed a reputation for quality since the release of its first passenger car in 1914. Today’s Grand Caravans and Sprinters enjoy a high degree of popularity, representing a continuation of Dodge’s quality story. Even though both vehicles are produced for non-wheelchair audiences, a talented conversion manufacturer can transform them into compelling, fully functional wheelchair vans.

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About Jason Dion

Jason Dion

Jason was a professional test-driver is his last life and is now a full time Nurse in Seattle, WA and follows the changing landscape of Disability Rights and Advocacy. He is keen to assist in developing useful disability information and advice from his real-life perspective working with people with disabilities. Jason is an automotive guru and covers a broad range of topics, including disability automotive, health conditions and lifestyle advice.

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