Getting into and out of a car easily can be simply a matter of technique - you may even find that you don't require adaptations or aids. Here are some examples of techniques that you may find helpful.
From a standing position
Most people get into a car in a way that means stooping to move sideways into the door, putting in one leg, sitting down and then bringing in the other leg.
If you have difficulty with this, try sitting on the seat first and then bringing your legs in afterwards - mind your head on the door frame.
If your legs are long or stiff, it may help if you move back across the car until there is enough room to swing them into the footwell.
Some people move right back and sit over the parking brake to do this - you may need a cushion.
Many people find it easier to get out of the car by swivelling round in the seat and putting both legs out first.
You don't have to balance on one leg, and you don't need to stoop as much.
Because your feet are on the ground it's easier to stand.
If you can't stand up, you can use one of the following techniques.
- Transfer your body sideways to the seat first, and then bring your legs inside.
- Put your legs in the footwell first, and then move to the car seat. You need a safe grabbing point and some strength to do this.
Make sure that the car and chair are on reasonably level ground and that the wheelchair is in the right position and is stable before you start to transfer. Parking by a kerb may make it easier to get the wheelchair in and out, but may make it more difficult for you to slide into the car, because the wheelchair seat is higher.
Some drivers get into the car from the passenger's side and slide across to the driver's seat. This can be difficult if there's a large transmission tunnel and because the gear stick or brake lever can get in the way. A cushion may help with this.
Some wheelchair users can put their chair in the back of the car and walk the few steps round to the front. Some people who can't do this transfer into the car and pull their wheelchair in behind the front seats, or they lift their rigid wheelchair frame on to the front passenger seat.
For this you have to be:
- quite strong and flexible
- confident that you can do it even on a bad day, if your condition is variable.
It also involves putting your wheelchair in the car with you - you may get your clothes or upholstery muddy in wet weather.
The car needs to have:
- enough clearance around the seat and doorway
- low door sills and wide, square doors
- seats that are easy to adjust
Here we describe some common techniques. If these techniques aren't suitable for you, your car or your wheelchair, you may be able to develop your own. This will be easier (and safer) if you get some professional advice (eg, from a Mobility Centre).
Alternatively, you may need to get some equipment to help you. See our guide Getting a wheelchair into a car.
Note: For safety, park facing the traffic so that you can get out on the kerb if you are entering from the driver's side. If this isn't possible, leave something in sight to alert other drivers. A large luminous wheelchair sticker on the inside of the door may help.
Get in through the rear hatch and stow the wheelchair in the back
This works only if you are small and agile and have a vehicle with a flat rear sill and a low floor. You get in through the back, drag the wheelchair after you, and clamber over to the driver's seat. In small cars, this will be possible only if the rear seats fold flat.
Get in on the driver's side, put the wheelchair on the passenger seat
Once you're in the car, remove the larger wheels from the wheelchair and stow them behind the seat or on the floor in front of the passenger seat.
Lift the wheelchair frame over your stomach and on to the front passenger seat. You may have to recline the backrest to make more room between you and the steering wheel. If you have a steering ball, this may reduce the distance between your stomach and the steering wheel.
Place the frame on the passenger seat. Make sure it is strapped in securely; secure the wheelchair with a strap or the front passenger seat belt. Otherwise, it could cause an injury if you have to brake sharply.
Get in on the driver's side, put the wheelchair behind the seat
Once you're in the car seat, turn the wheelchair to face the car, and fold it. Lift the front castors over the sill behind your seat so that the wheelchair cannot roll away or topple over.
Then edge yourself and the car seat forwards to make enough space to get the wheelchair in between the back of the seat and the door pillar. It may be necessary to tilt the seat backrest forwards to give you more room. Now pull the wheelchair in so that the back wheels ride up and over the sill. Finally, move the car seat to your driving position.
A sliding swive seat may make this easier (see Swivel seats).
Get in on the passenger's side and put the wheelchair behind the seat
This technique means you don't have to go out into the road. It also leaves you more room for getting the wheelchair in.
Transfer to the front passenger seat, fold the wheelchair and lift the front castors over the sill. Slide across to the driver's seat. Move the passenger seat forwards as far as it will go and tilt the backrest forwards. Lean across and pull the wheelchair in over the sill. A walking stick or piece of rope may help you do this. This is much easier if the whole car seat tilts forward.
You need to be able to reach the lever to tilt the seat forwards. Some cars have levers on both sides. Alternatively, it may be possible to attach a cable to it or to swap the driver and passenger seats round so that the lever is in reach.
Getting over the sill
Some people put a small piece of carpet over the door sill to protect the car from damage and make it easier to slide the wheelchair over the sill. If the car footwell is deep it might help to make an internal ramp or build up the well. Adaptation firms may be able to help you with this.
Seat belts will protect you from injury, and you have to use them by law. If you are unable to use a seat belt, see your doctor about an exemption certificate. You should do this only if there is no alternative, and you must tell your insurance company.
Securing your wheelchair
You also need to secure your wheelchair when driving. Some common methods:
- Fit seat belts to the luggage compartment. Their plug-in ends may be easy to fasten. Don't use inertia reels (like standard seat belts) because the chair will be able to move and damage the car.
- Use webbing straps fixed to the floor.
- Use tracking bolted to the vehicle floor, with webbing to tie round the chair.
- Fit a 'boot roll' - a sheet of strong material which you throw over the wheelchair. It is secured to bolts with webbing straps.
The main specialist suppliers of restraint systems are:
Things to watch out for
- Make sure anchoring points are strong. They need to be firmly fixed to the metal bodywork of the car with reinforcing plates underneath.
- Use strong ties. Don't use elasticated bungies or rope that can stretch. In a crash at 30mph, the load is up to 20 times the weight of the wheelchair.
Last updated: November 2013