Ford Wheelchair Vans Big and Small

ford_econoline_2006-76721a6d5e4625a47d375cf8624e11ac

Ford Full-Sized and Minivan Options

Ford is one of only a handful of auto manufacturers who have produced both full-sized vans and minivans appropriate for conversion as use as wheelchair vehicles. The Ford Windstar and Freestar minivans, which are no longer in production, were frequently transformed into full-featured wheelchair vans. Ford’s E-Series of full-sized vans are also targeted for conversion by those needed a bigger handicapped accessible option.

Even though Ford has built two different vehicle types suitable for conversion, it would be an exaggeration to call the Detroit giant an important player in the world of wheelchair van modification. As noted, Ford has ceased all involvement in the minivan class and the E-Series, though capable of serving as a wheelchair vehicle, is marketed almost exclusively to commercial buyers.

Ford Wheelchair Minivans

Ford started producing the Windstar minivan in 1999. It was a reasonably successful vehicle in its first two years of production. At that point, concerns regarding quality and reliability, along with heightened levels of competition began to damage the Windstar’s sales figures. By 2002, Ford’s minivan was receiving consistently bad reviews. Instead of completely reconfiguring the Windstar, Ford attempted to ride out the storm. The strategy didn’t work. Drivetrain problems plagued the 2002 and 2003 editions.

In 2004, Ford had an opportunity to rejuvenate its minivan presence. As part of a massive re-branding program, they rolled out the Freestar, a successor to the Windstar. While Ford did address some of the major problems that had damaged the Windstar’s reputation, its similar build and lack of innovation prevented it from gaining much ground in an increasingly competitive field. After a few more relatively unsuccessful releases, Ford stopped producing minivans. They haven’t made another since the last Freestar rolled off the line.

ford windstar 2003 wheelchair vanDuring their production, many Windstars and Freestars were modified for use as wheelchair vans. Superficially speaking, the conversions were a success. The minivans offered more than enough interior space to do the job and conversion companies were able to implement a wide range of modifications.

The most popular conversion strategy involved transforming the minivans into side-entry wheelchair vans. Conversion manufacturers accomplished this by dropping the Ford’s floor to create additional space. Often, this was accompanied by the installation of an auto kneel system that made access to the vehicle safer and more convenient. Powered ramps were favored and most of the minivans converted were equipped with power sliding doors and keyless entry options. Interior seating was reconfigured to allow safe access and any control modifications were resolved. The result was a solid conversion built atop a shaky foundation.

Some of the minivans were converted for use as rear-entry vehicles. These often utilized manual ramps or exterior-mounted lifts to provide access the vehicle. While some of the rear-entry vans allowed the wheelchair user access to the driver’s seat, many were built more as a means of transporting the user and were not meant to be driven by someone in a wheelchair.

2012 Ford Wheelchair Vans

Before Dodge invented the minivan in 1984, all wheelchair vans were based on full-sized conversions. The Ford E-Series of vans was a popular option during that period. The E-Series, formerly known as the Econoline, was launched in the early 1960s and quickly established itself as a sector leader. Even today, the Ford E-150, E-250 and E-350 full-sized vans dominate the marketplace.

Today, minivans are usually the first choice for wheelchair van drivers. The E-Series remains popular primarily due to its use in a range of commercial applications. However, these big vans can be converted for use as wheelchair vehicles.

Most E-Series wheelchair conversion vans are owned and operated by care facilities and other medically-related enterprises. They’re used as a means of transporting wheelchair users and aren’t generally operated by someone in a chair. However, some individual buyers use E-Series vans as personal vehicles. They’re usually motivated by a need for additional cargo or passenger space or by the desire to use a wheelchair or mobility chair lift. Minivans are too small to support these lifts, but the E-150, E-250 and E-350 are more than capable of handling them.

E-Series vans can be set up for side- or rear-entry. Those who prefer a ramp in place of a lift find that the Fords will handle virtually any options. The conversion process usually involves lowering the floor, installing a kneel system and making any other necessary conversions to provide access to the cabin and to facilitate driving.

The E-Series has a strong reputation for durability and is built with upfitters in mind, making it a clear choice for anyone in need of a full-sized van for wheelchair transportation.

Conclusion

Ford may not build vehicles with the wheelchair van market in mind, but they still do produce one option that can be used for commercial or private wheelchair transportation. The Ford tough E-Series vans are amenable to virtually any conversion. Past Ford minivan efforts were converted for wheelchair van use, but their demise in the late 2000s has made Ford a non-factor in that sector of the marketplace.

to top