Accessible Car and Van Rentals Made Easy
One of the most troublesome areas of accessible travel can be the simple act of renting a car. So many questions arise. Will the vehicle have hand controls? Will my wheelchair fit? Do I have to take a shuttle to get to the pickup? Will the shuttle be wheelchair accessible? What if the car I'm given doesn't fit my needs?
We've sometimes travelled with more than one wheelchair, sports equipment, and a variety of additional, and necessary, apparatuses. When this is the case the question then becomes, can I get an accessible vehicle that is large enough without breaking the bank?
The answers are complex and many. However, I will try to simplify the process a bit.
In our travels and on the site, we try to caution travelers about which companies have wheelchair accessible shuttles, hand controls, etc., in hopes that it will help narrow down the process a bit. However, that still doesn't help answer ALL the questions. We wish that we could tell you to just call the company you wish to rent from and you will get ALL your questions answered, but that isn't always the circumstances. While we believe that most providers are well meaning, they are often uninformed. Knowing what questions to ask and who to talk to may reduce any surprises you have when you get to the pick-up point.
Here are our tips:
Reserving the Car
1. Do not call the toll-free number or use chat with a representative online. After researching pricing call the actual location where you will be renting the car and speak with the manager. Each location has different accessible cars or vans in stock. By speaking with the location directly you can discuss what your needs are and narrow down the type of accessible vehicle you wish to reserve. Some things to let them know:
a. How many doors you need.
b. How much equipment you are traveling with.
c. How low the car needs to be so that transferring is possible.
d. Whether hand controls are needed.
e. How much driving you will be doing.
f. If you know that a certain car or van works for you, let them know. If they don't have it, they may have something just like it.
2. Many companies will not guarantee a certain model car; however, certain companies will do everything they can if they know you are coming and have specific needs. They want to rent you a car not just this time, but in the future.
3. Not all companies are the same. We have had great success with Avis and Hertz. They have handicap accessible shuttles in every location we've been to (which is a lot), and their customer service has been fantastic. If something doesn't work for us, Avis and Hertz have enough cars in their fleet to get something to work. However, there may be other companies that offer equal service and we'd love to know who they are!
4. Be sure to reserve your hand controls in advance.
5. Ask if a shuttle is required to get to the pick-up point. If you need to take a shuttle, be sure to ask if they have a lift or ramp to get on the shuttle. Also ask if all their shuttles are wheelchair accessible, or if there is a specific one.
a. If there is only one in the shuttle fleet, be sure to let them know you are coming ahead of time and then call when you clear luggage claim and choose a meeting point.
6. If they do not have a shuttle, arrange to have them pick you up in the car or van you will be renting at the terminal.
7. If a shuttle is necessary, and all their shuttles are accessible, go to the shuttle pick up area in Ground Transportation.
8. If they only have one accessible shuttle, or are bringing the vehicle to you, be sure to go to the company's counter in the terminal and speak with the staff to confirm they are picking you up at your designated meeting point.
9. If the car they have waiting doesn't work for you, a kind request to change the vehicle can get you a much-needed upgrade for free or at a reduced cost. That doesn't mean you should get the compact car and hope that they give you a full-size for the same price. I have found that if we are in the ballpark, meaning within one level of size, they are willing to go the extra mile for us.
On The Road
10. If you have any issues after receiving the car, call the number they give you for response as well as the local office to alert them of the situation.
11. At drop-off, you can bring the car to the return area and request that they drive you to the terminal. This has proven to be extremely helpful when the trunk is full of luggage and mobility equipment.
Wheelchair Accessible Vans
There are providers of accessible vans that can provide you with a full-size or adapted minivan that can meet your needs. We list them on our site and they are wonderful if you need the additional space and comfort. The accessible fleet typically has lowered floors and either ramps or lifts. They can be quite pricy, but you may find that they can be comparable to some of the minivan rental prices from major rental car companies.
The accessible van companies will meet you at your hotel, cruise, home or airport so pick-up and drop-off will not be an issue. There may be an extra charge for the service, so be sure to ask.
Above all, advance planning and patience will make your rental experience go smoother, and you may find that it isn't that bad after all.