Tips for Buying a Used Wheelchair Van

With a new wheelchair accessible van likely to set you back upwards of $60,000, a good used van at a lesser price can be an appealing alternative. Whether via personal ads, online listings or a dealer, the used van of your dreams is probably out there, waiting for you to roll in. The trick is sorting through all the nonsense to find it and then confirming it really is everything you thought it was.

Finding the Right Van

Listings for used accessible vans for sale by individuals can be found virtually anywhere and are common at Disabled Dealer, which serves as a marketplace for all types of new and used equipment needed by the disability community. Some mobility equipment vendors host listings from private individuals on their websites. Michael Holmstrom, director of marketing at, an online mobility vehicle marketplace, says they will even help individuals by assisting with drafting their ads prior to posting. The company also welcomes listings for used vans from other dealers, which gives the company a relationship with about 100 local offices. currently has over 3,000 new and used accessible vans listed for sale on its website. Other locations where used accessible vans can be located include Ebay, Craigslist, Auto Trader magazine and the website of the Kelley Blue Book, in addition to many other locations.

Another option that alleviates most of the work and many of the concerns about buying a used accessible van from a private party is to purchase a certified pre-owned vehicle from a mobility equipment dealer. These are vans that have either been taken in as trades on purchases of new vehicles or purchased outright by the dealership for the purpose of refurbishing and reselling them. Purchasing a used van from a dealer that specializes in mobility equipment sales and service has many advantages.

Specialized dealers are often staffed by savvy wheelchair users, like Jemal Mfundshi, a C6-7 quad, who knows the ins and outs of different models and options better than most.

He has been helping customers of Performance Mobility (now United Access) in Portland, Oregon, for almost 20 years and points out that each of the refurbished vans they offer for sale undergoes a thorough evaluation, is appraised to determine its value for possible financing, has new floor covering installed, and undergoes a thorough mechanical review with repairs completed wherever necessary.

Would you buy a used vehicle from this guy? (NM editor Ian Ruder shows off his first van.)

Would you buy a used vehicle from this guy? (NM editor Ian Ruder shows off his first van.)

That entire certification process can take about 20 days. Performance Mobility (now United Access) requires each wheelchair user who intends to drive or ride as a passenger in the van to take a needs assessment to ensure the van will work for them. Besides the height of the user and weight of the mobility device, a needs assessment will also determine if a buyer needs a driving evaluation due to changing hand controls or the method of driving the vehicle.

Many mobility equipment dealers are part of a network that specializes in a particular brand of vehicle or region of the country. Eddie Rivera, co-owner of Absolute Mobility Center in Woodinville, Washington, points out that his company is part of a nationwide network of BraunAbility dealers. That provides the dealership with advantages that may not be available to smaller, independent dealers. Besides selling new vans, they receive pre-owned vans from BraunAbility after they have been repaired and refurbished. These vehicles are sold with a three year, 36,000-mile warranty on all conversion components. That warranty is then honored by all members of the BraunAbility dealer network, which can provide peace of mind when traveling at a great distance from the dealership that sold the vehicle.

The services provided by the companies listed above are just a few examples of the types of services available from mobility equipment dealers when shopping for a used accessible van. When you combine the inventories of such dealerships with the number of vans available from private sellers, there are a surprising number of used accessible vans out there. Now you know how to find them.

The Inspection

Once you’ve found the used van of your dreams, it’s critical to make sure it really is everything you thought it was. If you’re buying from a reputable dealer, there is a good chance they offer extensive inspections, guarantees and/or warranties. As an example, Scott Andrews, the director of sales and marketing for Rollx Vans in Savage, Minnesota, says that each of the pre-owned vehicles Rollx offers for sale receives a 171-point inspection in order to allow the company to guarantee satisfaction and offer a 30-day warranty.

If you decide to buy from an unknown individual, it is even more important for you to do your due diligence. Make certain that the seller is legitimate. If the seller claims to be a business, is there an actual store or business location where the van can be inspected and repaired?

Personal ads placed online may not be accurate, as there is usually no requirement or process for the host website to verify the condition of a vehicle. Insisting on a first-hand inspection by you or your qualified representative is a must.

A pre-purchase inspection of any vehicle should include some basic items. Mechanical condition is important, but some indicators of the vehicle’s condition do not require the expertise of a mechanic, such as:

Fluid levels, like oil, power steering and cooling system fluids. If any of them are low, it may be an indication that there is a leak somewhere, so check beneath the vehicle to see if there is any dripping where it is parked.

Signs of wear and tear that might indicate that the vehicle was used in commercial service prior to being offered for sale.

Excessive or unusual tire wear patterns that may indicate problems with the suspension or that the van was damaged in an accident.

The vehicle title: Make sure that it is “clear,” and owned by the individual who is selling it.

A Carfax report, which will identify some service records and any prior accidents that necessitated major repairs.

Warranties that are still in effect for the vehicle and any assistive devices like lifts or ramps and the remote controls and switches that  operate them. Also, are those items still available if replacement is necessary?

The next step when buying from a private party is to obtain an independent mechanical inspection from a certified mechanic. Some insurance carriers, like the American Automobile Association, operate facilities that make those types of inspections available to their members. A mechanic can check braking systems, suspension, engine compression and that all lights are working. They can also learn if there are any manufacturer’s recalls in effect for the particular vehicle and can check the van’s computer record to see if there are indicators of repeat breakdowns of a component.

Some final considerations include whether the driver’s or passenger’s mobility devices will fit in the van, as wheelchair width and weight might require replacement of a wheelchair lift in order for the vehicle to work for you. Some private sellers offer their vans with hand controls still in place; make sure that those are professionally installed and safe for your needs. Will a nearby mobility equipment dealer be willing to service or repair the vehicle? Some may restrict their services to vehicles that were purchased from them originally. If an outside entity like a bank, credit union or government agency will be providing funding for the purchase or paying for subsequent modifications, are they willing to provide that support for a used van?

Once you’ve checked off all these boxes, you should be ready for that long-awaited date with your dream van.

• Carfax,
• Disabled Dealer,
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association,