A Guide to Car Accessibility and Modifications for Drivers With Disabilities

Driving can be an obstacle for people with disabilities, but knowing your options for car accessibility modifications can help you navigate this challenge.

A man in a wheelchair on a lift of a vehicle for people with disabilitiesShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

Accessibility and Driving: A Guide to Car Accessibility and Modifications for People With Disabilities

According to a 2018 report by The U.S. Department of Transportation, 25.5 million Americans above the age of 5 have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. According to the same report, 3.6 million of those Americans with travel-limiting disabilities do not leave their homes because they are disabled or housebound. Even for those who do leave their homes, travel is greatly reduced among Americans with travel-limiting disabilities, with 7 out of 10 respondents reducing their amount of day-to-day travel because of their disabilities.

These numbers clearly show that driving is a substantial barrier in many ways to the lives of people with disabilities. However, there are also many solutions available to overcome these roadblocks through vehicle accessibility options and modifications.

Evaluating Your Needs: Questions To Ask

There are some important things you will need to determine about your needs before starting the process of modifications to your car. Planning for what your specific needs might be will make vehicle modification a much smoother process — and could potentially save you a significant amount of money with future modifications.

  • Will the primary driver be a caregiver/family member or the individual with a disability? Whether the primary driver of the vehicle is an individual with a disability or a caregiver/family member can drastically change the type of modifications needed to the vehicle and the scope of modifications needed. If the individual with a disability will be driving the vehicle themselves, modifications may be required to operate the vehicle.

  • Is the individual a wheelchair user, and if so will they be driving? This will help you determine what kind of wheelchair accessibility modifications are needed for the vehicle (such as a ramp/lift and chair modifications), and where on the vehicle these modifications are needed.

  • Do you have a preference between a rear-entry vehicle or a side-entry vehicle? On the same note, deciding where you will enter the vehicle is important for determining which vehicle is best for you. If rear-entry is your best option then the vehicle must be one where that is possible.

  • How many people will routinely travel in your vehicle? If other people such as family members or a carpool might be routinely traveling in your vehicle, it is important to factor that into the assessment of your needs. Make sure to factor in the modifications that will be done to the vehicle and if any of those might affect the overall number of seats available.

  • Do you need extra room for height, weight, or a large power wheelchair? If you need extra room for any of these factors, you must know the amount of space needed before looking at vehicles so that you can be sure a vehicle will satisfy your requirements.

  • Do you prefer a fold-out ramp or a slide-out ramp? Knowing what type of ramp you will need is important to ensure that the vehicle you choose will accommodate the installation of your preferred modification.

Finding the Right Vehicle for You

Once you have evaluated your specific needs for your vehicle and any modifications you will need to make, your next step is finding the right vehicle to meet those needs. To make this decision, there are some further decisions you must make to send you down the right path, starting with whether a new, used, or certified pre-owned vehicle is best for you.

Determining whether a new, used, or certified pre-owned vehicle is best for you is an important decision that comes with many questions to consider for anyone looking to purchase a vehicle. However, this is even more important for someone factoring in a disability, the additional considerations that come along with accommodating that disability, and potential modifications that might be needed to that vehicle.

Buying a New Vehicle

Buying a new vehicle is undoubtedly the most expensive choice when buying a vehicle. However, if you are looking for the greatest peace of mind in your purchase and the higher price tag is comfortably within your means, then buying a new vehicle might be the best option for you.

Advantages of buying new include:

  • As close to perfect as a vehicle gets in terms of condition.

  • New-car warranty, plus many automakers include free roadside assistance, connected services, and maintenance programs for a limited time.

  • Wide variety in terms of color, interior materials, and features.

  • Generally lower loan financing rates.

  • Equipped with the latest safety and technology.

  • No repair bills during the warranty period, and in some cases, no maintenance bills for the first couple of years.

  • If you are planning to make modifications to the vehicle, then you do not have to worry about existing problems with the car due to previous use.

Disadvantages of buying new are:

  • Can be costly; you’ll rarely pay more for a vehicle than when it is new.

  • Steep depreciation during the first several years of ownership.

  • Potentially higher cost to insure and register.

  • Modifications to the vehicle can already be expensive, so buying a new car for this purpose can quickly become cost-prohibitive.

  • If you are considering buying a new car to make modifications to it, then keep these pros and cons in mind.

Buying a Used Vehicle

Generally, if saving money on the purchase of your vehicle is your primary objective, then buying a used car is likely the best course of action for you.

Advantages of buying a used vehicle:

  • Potentially save thousands of dollars compared to a new vehicle’s price tag.

  • Can get a larger or more luxurious vehicle at a similar cost to a standard new vehicle.

  • Typically lower insurance and registration costs.

  • Since making modifications to a vehicle can already be costly, buying a used car for this purpose will help offset some of that cost.

  • Though it is not guaranteed, it might be possible to find a used vehicle for sale that already has the modifications you need already installed.

Disadvantages of buying a used vehicle:

  • No way to be 100% certain the vehicle was properly cared for by the previous owner(s).

  • Imperfect cosmetic and mechanical condition.

  • No warranty or guarantee of any kind after the factory warranty expires.

  • Less flexibility in terms of matching vehicle conditions to desirable colors and features.

  • Older safety engineering and systems.

  • Aging infotainment technology.

  • If financing, you’re likely to pay a higher interest rate.

  • A used vehicle has a higher risk of issues from previous use that could complicate the modifications you need and/or cost money in repairs down the line.

Buying a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle

If you are drawn to the benefits of buying a new vehicle but also wish to save money, then buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle might be the best of both worlds you are looking for.

Advantages of buying a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle:

  • Typically costs less than the same vehicle when new.

  • Includes vehicle history report, multi-point inspection, and reconditioning to make it as close to new as possible.

  • Frequently offered with extra warranty coverage that extends the original warranty time and mileage period.

  • They are usually a few months to a few years old, so they often have up-to-date safety and infotainment technologies.

  • Automakers frequently offer low-APR financing on their CPO vehicles.

  • Similar quality assurance of purchasing a new vehicle for making modifications but at a lower price.

Disadvantages of buying a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle:

  • The peace of mind that comes with a CPO vehicle costs a premium over the same vehicle, not in a CPO program.

  • CPO vehicles are sometimes dealership loaners or former rental cars treated indifferently by many different drivers.

  • Higher price than buying a used vehicle, which can still be cost-prohibitive with the additional price of modifications.

Now that you have all of your needs for modifying your vehicle determined, make sure to have them easily referenceable while shopping for a car. If you are not certain about whether the car you are looking at meets any of these prerequisites then take the time to do your research or ask questions.

What are the Benefits of Modifying a Vehicle?

There are many benefits of modifying a vehicle for an individual with disabilities. Even if the individual can drive without modifications, they still might be worth making for the added ease of use and quality of life they bring.

Here are a few of the greatest benefits of modifying a vehicle:

  • Provides an Alternative Option for Transport: Living with a disability can make transport very difficult logistically. However, having a vehicle with the necessary modifications made to it can help ease these issues greatly.

  • Offer Freedom: Beyond the logistical side of things, the additional freedom offered by having your own vehicle with the modifications needed can offer a great sense of personal freedom.

  • Ensure Optimal Control: Even if you can operate a vehicle without modifications made to it, having the most optimal situation for controlling your vehicle while on the road improves the safety of both yourself and others.

Costs Associated With Modifying Or Purchasing An Accessible Vehicle

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a new vehicle modified with adaptive driving equipment for an individual with disabilities will generally cost between $20,000-$80,000. However, the specific cost for an individual to make these modifications can vary greatly depending on their specific needs.

Here are some common vehicle modifications for people with disabilities and the typical price range associated with making those modifications:

  • Emergency brake extension: $20-$50

  • Pedal extenders: $50-$200

  • Steering knob: $100

  • Manually-operated ramp: $125-$600

  • Automatically-operated ramp: $9,000-$24,000

  • Power-operated lift: $1,200-$3,000

  • Left foot accelerator: $150-$300

  • Mechanical hand control: $400-$1,000

  • Transfer seats: $2,500-$4,500

  • Raised roof/door opening: $4,000-$6,000

  • Reduced-effort brakes/steering: $6,000

  • Assistance bar/strap: $10-$30

Getting Help Paying for Vehicle Modifications

As just discussed, making modifications to your vehicle can become costly very quickly. However, there are options available to you that might help you pay for them. Here are some options to keep in mind and look into further before making the modifications:

Grants and Assistance Programs

There are also many grants and assistance programs available that you may qualify for to help pay for your vehicle and/or modifications to it:

Extended Vehicle Warranties

Extended vehicle warranties do not typically cover accessibility modifications to a vehicle. However, there are mobility dealer warranties available through mobility car dealers that cover both the standard things covered by an extended warranty as well as the modifications.

Additional Accessible Vehicle Resources

Purchasing and modifying a vehicle for an individual with disabilities can be a complicated and very specific process depending on a wide variety of factors. With what we have covered in this guide in mind, here are some additional resources that may be useful to you:

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Capital One
Banking should leave you with the same great feeling you get when you drive casually on a weekend afternoon. And that’s how I feel when writing helpful tips and reviews – passionate about cars and passionate about financing and everything in between when buying a new ride.