5. Who's the manufacturer?
By a pretty wide margin, the two leading ramp manufacturers are Braun and VMI. If a wheelchair van is on your shopping list, you'd be wise to limit your search to conversions made by these two industry leaders.
"Both Braun and VMI are the leaders out there of putting together high-quality products," Brixon says. "The investment in R&D and fit and finish is incredible. Also, both companies do a great job of listening to the people that they have moving the products for them, as well as the clients that own vans."
What's more, both these companies have seen tremendous improvements in product quality in recent years. "Over the last decade they've made strides in putting together a conversion that works better" and is more dependable, Brixon says. "The conversions are on par with the quality of products made by the chassis manufacturer."
Though both companies make first-rate conversions, VMI's in-floor ramp offers headroom and interior floor space advantages relative to the Braun product. With a VMI in-floor ramp (on a Toyota Sienna chassis), you get a door opening height of 57 inches, versus 54.2 inches with a Braun in-floor. And the floor length behind the front seat is 60 inches with a VMI in-floor ramp. With Braun's competing product, you get just 51 inches of space.
6. How price-sensitive are you?
A ramp conversion is a big investment. A conversion on a new Toyota Sienna, for example, can run you between $23,000 and $28,000. Still, you can save money by making an informed decision, since there are price differences that are dependent on ramp type and manufacturer.
An in-floor ramp will cost you at least $1,000 more than a fold-out. And while Braun and VMI offer similarly priced fold-out ramps, VMI's in-floor ramp has a price advantage over the Braun product (in addition to the functional advantages mentioned earlier).
You can lower your conversion cost by making calculated choices. Finally, though, these savings may be outweighed by the convenience of being able to avoid the wait that comes with the conversion process by simply choosing from what's available on the lot.
For many shoppers, ready availability trumps cost. "The Braun product is more expensive, but that's not usually a factor," says Brixon. "A bigger factor is availability: which units we have ready to go."
If someone is looking for a van in Deep Cherry Red "and the only one on the West Coast is a VMI conversion, then that's what we're going to have," Brixon says. "Because it's a limited industry, we often don't have as much inventory as a regular car dealership to pull from, and that's a factor that can drive purchasing decisions."