Most of us are reliant on our cars to remain mobile and the use of a suitable vehicle can make a huge difference, making everyday life easier and promoting independence. The basic design of the vehicle can have a big effect on comfort and ease of use. You may also need to check that it can be adapted where required.
It is important when you are choosing a new or used vehicle that you test as many as you can. In addition, talk to other people with similar disabilities about their experience of choosing a car, they may have some valuable pointers.
Other considerations are how you can finance the purchase and the insurance.
Our information here provides some advice to support you with making that purchase.
Buying a car
Buying a car is a big decision and an important one.
There are quite a few options to consider; whether to go for a brand new vehicle, a second hand one, or lease one through organisations like Motability.
Our questions below will help you to consider the most important points in making your choice.
This information is available in a Buying A Car factsheet to download here.
The Trust are gathering information on beneficiary recommended vehicles, if you would like to submit a recommendation about a car, any adaptations, an assessment centre, or a helpful dealer, tell us by filling in the form at the bottom of the page.
How do I decide?
The most important thing is getting a car that you’re comfortable with so, whatever option you choose, try out as many as possible.
If you’re an experienced driver you’ll already know what to look out for – how easy it is to get in and out, the position of the controls and whether you can reach them comfortably, whether you feel that the car is a good fit for you.
If you’re new to driving you can ask other beneficiaries about their experiences.
What do others drive? From our records the top 5 most popular makes are currently:
Always try out the access to a vehicle in the showroom and also, where possible, test the loading of any equipment (e.g. wheelchairs) you use regularly.
Is a new car the best option?
Buying a new car allows you to make decisions about the specifications before you get it.
Specifications vary greatly and are always changing; so it’s important to test all the cars you’re interested in. Mobility Centres and the Mobility Road Show may be able to help you with this.
Many new cars come with rain sensing windscreen wipers, automatic wing mirrors and cruise control as standard but choosing a top of the range vehicle will give you additional features like automatic lights, an electric handbrake and parking sensors. Additional features come at a price but sales staff will talk you through the best deals. They often look great and can be cheaper than paying for these adaptations to be added in.
Is second hand a better idea?
There are advantages to buying a second hand car – but it doesn’t always work out cheaper.
If the car has already had adaptations made they may not be the right ones for you so check the spec carefully before you decide to buy.
What about a Motability Car?
You may qualify to lease a car through Motability if you receive the top level of PIP or DLA Mobility allowances.
Motability are highly experienced in helping people find the right car and choose the right adaptations; and leasing your car will free up some of your money to spend on other needs. Ask other beneficiaries, who have been using the scheme for some time, how Motability works for them – or see our Motability factsheet.
Can the Trust help with the cost of buying a car?
The Trust has negotiated discounts with some car manufacturers and dealers on new cars purchased by beneficiaries. The level of discount available, if any, will depend on the make and model you want to buy.
To find out more about the discounts available, please email Charlotte Black.
You can also apply to the Trust for a Major Advance on your future Annual Grants to buy a new or second hand car. See our Major Advances factsheet for further information.
What if I need adaptations to my car?
If you are going to need adaptations, don’t buy a car until you have checked with an Adaptation Garage whether the car you’ve chosen can be adapted to your requirements.
Adaptations are expensive and some new cars may not be the right specification to fit the adaptations you need. In the same way, a used, adapted car may not have the right adaptations for your needs.
As you know, your needs change over time, so it’s useful to think about what you might need later on as well as what you need right now.
See our Adapting Your Car factsheet for more information about adaptations and how to find an Adaptation Garage.
Can I buy a car VAT free?
It is possible to reclaim VAT on adapted cars but HMRC have very strict rules and not all beneficiaries are eligible.
See our VAT factsheet for more information.
What about insurance?
Insurance companies are not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of disability so you will be able to secure insurance with all the main providers. However, prices can vary and it might be useful to contact a more specialist company who acknowledge that disabled drivers pose a lower risk, and that adaptations are expensive.
You’ll need to check that your adaptations are covered by your policy as well as your car – and that the theft of any mobility equipment left in the vehicle is also covered.
Mobility Centres and disabled driver organisations have lists of specialist insurance companies. These include:
- Chartwell 0845 260 7051
- Fish 0800 012 6329
- Lockton 020 7933 0000
- Premier Care 01476 591104
- En –route 0800 783 7245
- First Senior 01582 840067
- Mobility Insure
When it was difficult for disabled people to get car insurance, the Trust put arrangements in place for beneficiaries to be covered by a fleet insurance policy. This policy is still in place and individual beneficiaries can arrange their insurance through the Trust. However in most cases it is cheaper for beneficiaries to arrange their own insurance policy.
If you are insured through the Trust we will need to be kept up to date about which car you drive, whether you’re keeping the old one for any length of time, and the dates you bought or sold the different vehicles. If you don’t do this each time a change occurs your insurance will become void and you will be driving illegally.
Before purchasing a vehicle, it is strongly recommended that you have a driving assessment at a mobility centre. This is not as scary as it sounds! It is not designed to test your driving skills, but to help you understand what driving adaptations are available to keep you mobile and give you a chance to try before you buy.
There have been a lot of advances in motoring technology over the last few years, so it is always worth keeping up to date with the most recent advances, even if you have had an adapted vehicle before. Car adaptation assessments give advice about controls, seating and vehicle access. If you are experiencing increasing difficulties with transferring, driving from a wheelchair may be an option.
There are Mobility Centres across the countries that carry out these assessments. Find your local Mobility centre
Finding and adapting a car to suit your needs requires you to consider a great number of factors and it can take up a lot of time and energy. It is essential to ensure that the car that catches your eye is capable of accepting any adaptations that you may need to have fitted, as not all vehicles can accept all adaptations.
There are some simple tips to consider, for example if you are having adaptations it is better in most situations to go for a model with automatic wipers and lights, etc, as this can work out as more cost effective than moving switches later to enable you to operate them.
We have produced a factsheet to help you - Adapting your Car Factsheet
Other places for useful advice are:
The Motability website at www.motability.co.uk/adaptations to find out about adaptations and to see video clips.
Where can I get further information?
If you need further help and advice about buying a car you can contact Health Link on 01480 226769 or email HealthLink@staging.thalidomidetrust.org
If you want to find out more about Trust-negotiated discounts on a new car or have any questions about the Trust car insurance, you can email Charlotte Black or call on 01480 474074.
Share your experiences with other beneficiaries
We would love to hear your recommendations and why you chose your car.
Do you have knowledge or experience of car adaptations that you think would be useful to other beneficiaries?
Please let us know here: