Easily Enter and Exit Your Adaptive Vehicle with a Wheelchair Lift

wheelchair-liftsIn this section we explain the various types of lifts available on the market, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is highly recommended that, before you make a purchase, you get to know the lifts available and the product lines, as well as your nearest NMEDA dealers and their qualifications to ensure that there is a professional within a reasonable distance to provide service and repairs for your wheelchair lift equipped vehicle. Always consult a NMEDA Mobility Equipment Dealer before you buy.

There are two basic types of wheelchair lifts:

  1. Platform Lift
  2. Rotary (or Swing) Lift

In addition, these two lifts come in various types: hydraulic, electrical mechanical, gravity and those that combine hydraulic and electrical. All of these lifts depend, at least in part, on the battery. If your battery is weak or dead, the lifts will not work.

If you are a scooter user, measure your scooter’s length. Some scooters are longer than the standard platform on lifts. An extended platform is available to accommodate these longer scooters. Be aware, though, that this could require a raised roof, too.

Hydraulic Lifts
The hydraulic lift uses a pump and a cylinder filled with fluid pressure, which enables the pump to raise and lower the lift along with the power from the van’s battery.
Electrical Mechanical Lift
An electrical mechanical lift operates either by chain or screw rod, with power provided solely by the battery.
Gravity Lift
The gravity lift has power to lift and fold, while gravity lowers the lift platform to ground level.
Platform Lift

This lift is stored either in the side, the rear, or under the floor of a van. The lift requires two doors or a sliding door on the side of a van. The platforms have expanded metal in the upper half of the platform for better visibility when the lift is folded and the van is being driven.

Lifts stored under the van require modifications to the exhaust system, gas tank, etc., depending on the make of the van. Only the pump and motor are located inside vans using under-the-floor lifts.

Platforms may also be different, depending on the lift. There are both solid and fold-in-half platforms.  The fold-in-half platform folds to give better accessibility to the doors. Some fold-in-half platform lifts are mounted on a single post.

Be aware of the differences between automatic and semi-automatic lifts. A fully automatic lift will fold, unfold, lower and raise by operating a switch located inside (on the side of the lift) or outside (on the side of the van), and, in most cases, on the dash. A semi-automatic lift requires manual folding and unfolding of the platform. Using a hand-held pendant switch, the platform can be mechanically lowered and raised. You MUST have assistance with this type of lift, as it is designed for passengers who will not be riding alone.

Rotary Lift (or “Swing Lift”)
The platform of this type of lift never folds. Instead it “swings” inside, outside and up-and-down. The rotary lift swings into the van and the lift platform sits on the floor in the middle of the van.Some individuals like the rotary lift because of the parking convenience. Less room is needed to enter or exit the van. Also, this lift is mounted on one post inside the van. The post controls the swinging action of the lift. One of the drawbacks to the rotary lift, though, is the cross-over bar. On some rotary lifts this bar connects the platform to the swing bar, limiting space for loading and unloading on the platform.Switches serve very necessary functions in this lift. In most cases there are three switches on the dash. They operate the lift as well as provide an open and close function for the power door openers. The motors fit into or beside the doors and are manufactured to fit only one brand of lift.

Back-up System
You may also want to purchase a back-up system for your lift. Many government agencies require a lift to have a back-up system for use in emergencies. With a back-up system the lift can be manually maneuvered and users can exit the van with assistance from an outsider. Most back-up systems are hard to operate alone, so a caregiver’s help might be necessary.
Safety Flaps
All lifts have an extension or “curb” at the edge of the platform which is approximately three-to-four inches high. This safety flap is designed specifically to prevent the wheelchair or scooter from rolling past the edge of the platform.

Finally, when purchasing a lift, be sure to check on the use of raised doors. If needed, your lift will have to be ordered for the extended doors. Determine if this is necessary before completing your vehicle equipment decisions. It will help you avoid very costly errors.


Be sure to consult a NMEDA Dealer Member for all your automotive needs.