Editorial: Second-Rate 2009 Ford E-Series Wheelchair Vans


Ford has been rolling out E-Series vans since 1961, when they still referred to the series by the Econoline name. The E-Series vans are incredibly popular and they’ve made Ford the dominant force in the world of new full-sized wheelchair van sales.

The E-Series’ success stems from its reliability and ability to handle the daily challenges of serving as a work van. They’re highly functional vehicles that are built to serve the world of work more than they are to appeal to individual buyers. However, there are those who like the idea of converting an E-Series van to use as a wheelchair vehicle. That strategy has some advantages, but probably isn’t the wisest investment for most individuals.

Looking at the E-Series

Let’s be honest. The E-150, E-350 and E-350 Super Duty aren’t particularly attractive wheelchair vans. They’re basically big plain boxes set on slightly undersized wheels with a front end that looks little bit like it a shortened pickup truck nose. It would be unfair to call it ugly, but it would be dishonest to say it’s a real looker! The van is built for function, not for winning beauty contests.

That goes for the interior, as well. It’s spacious, practical and plain. Ford has dressed up the 2009 edition of the E-Series with a new instrument panel and it does look much better in that respect than the last several editions which featured an outdated panel. However, better-looking instruments don’t change the overall feel or look of the van’s inside.

Ford understands that most people will use E-Series vans to do specific jobs. That’s one reason why the sell industry-specific interior prep packages, tool racks and other add-ons. The E-Series has long been a favorite of up-fitters and Ford is consistently doing its part to continue that friendship.

Driving E-Series Handicap Vans

Driving the E-Series isn’t a particularly wonderful experience. These vans simply aren’t meant to impress anyone with the way they handle or with their comfort. It’s not part of their makeup and there’s no disguising the fact that the E-Series handicap van is all about being a tough workhouse.

Put simply, the van doesn’t really handle very well. The brakes can feel a little mushy. The steering has too much give. If the road sways or bounces, you’ll sway and bounce, too.

If you want a great ride, don’t bother looking at this rear-wheel drive, full-sized vans.

Modifying the 2009 E-Series For Wheelchair Access

E-Series vans are easily modified. In fact, that’s a large part of their perennial appeal. Buyers love the fact that they can transform these vans into the perfect work vans for their specific industry’s needs.

While Ford doesn’t sell a prep package for those who’d like to use an E-Series van as a mobility vehicle, it is possible to make the conversion. In fact, many E-Series vans are used as wheelchair-ready vans in commercial settings when their used to move both wheelchair users and other passengers.

The fact that the E-Series vans offer so much space and have such an impressive track record of durability may lead some people to consider transforming the slightly smaller E-150 into a wheelchair van.

On the bright side, these vans can handle even the toughest wheelchair and scooter lifts in both side and rear entry setups. They also offer the kind of interior space that really boosts accessibility and easy of entry.

The most common modification of an E-150 for wheelchair van use involves installation of a lift (though ramps will work), lowering the floor of the vehicle to increase interior vertical clearance and installing an auto kneel system. Necessary interior adaptations round out the package. The result is a rock-solid wheelchair van.

Unfortunately, it’s a very expensive, fuel inefficient, oversized wheelchair van that offers a second-rate driving experience.

While there are undoubtedly some E-150 wheelchair conversion van owners who love their big vehicles, most folks will probably be happier finding a minivan to use as a wheelchair van.

Options for the E-Series

You can buy an E-Series van as an E-150, an E-350 or an E-350 Super Duty (SD). All variations are available in both XL and XLT trim packages. The XL editions are stripped down and will generally appeal only to hardcore commercial buyers. The XLT adds power doors, power windows, power mirrors, tilt steering and cruise control to the XL’s short feature list.

Ford sells a wide variety of other options and packages, as well. This year, the feature emphasis in on technology. You can add a rear seat DVD player, a messaging and navigation system, satellite radio and several other new and improved gadgets in addition to all of the other expected features.

The E-Series wheelchair vans come with different engine and transmission combinations. A stripped down E-150 comes with a V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. The upgrade provides for a more powerful flex fuel V8 with the five-speed transmission. E-350 and E-350 SD buyers can stick with the V8 or go with a massive optional V10 that delivers even more power.

Safety and the E-Series

Ever since the E-Series was officially the Econoline, the wheelchair van has developed a reputation for indestructibility and safety. This year, the muscular van has received on of its first truly negative safety assessments in several years. With antilock brakes, air bags, stability control, traction control and other safety features available, it isn’t surprising that the E-Series did well in both insurance industry and government crash tests. However, the government did give the van a poor ranking in terms of rollover resistance. For most users, the prospect of a rollover isn’t going to be a determining factor in the purchase process. However, it is something tat one should think about before investing in one of these big full-sized vans.


If you’re running a business and need a no-frills van that will start and run day after day for your employees, you might want to talk with your Ford dealer about an E-Series. If you’re an individual searching for an ideal wheelchair van, you will probably want to give up on the E-150 in favor of a more efficient and fun to drive minivan option.

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