4/4/2008

Keeping Clients Rolling

In an emergency, accessible vehicle rentals can be tricky. Know the ins and outs to best serve clients and manage costs.

By Dale Richardson

When was the last time you thought about accessible vehicle rentals? If you’re like most insurance professionals, the answer is probably rarely or never. It’s time to take a second look because knowing how to serve wheelchair-bound clients can help you not only strengthen relationships but manage costs as well.

The option of renting a vehicle for clients rather than using a medical transportation service can be beneficial to all parties involved. Medical transportation services often charge the same amount, or more, per trip than the daily cost of renting a wheelchair accessible van. For example, daily rental rates can cost $100-$130 per day while medical transportation firms usually charge $100-$150 per trip. For wheelchair-bound or scooter-using clients who are involved in auto accidents, accessible van rentals are the only option available while their vehicles are repaired. By renting, they gain flexibility in their schedules, don’t have to wait for a driver to arrive, and can make multiple trips and appointments on the same day, thereby saving money in claims payouts. In addition, having their own transportation, even a rental vehicle, gives back a sense of control over their lives.

Many wheelchair and scooter users end up buying their own accessible vehicles. New models of modified minivans run $45,000-$60,000 and full sized modified vans about $55,000-$75,000. But for those who are temporarily wheelchair-bound, newly handicapped or simply can’t afford to purchase their own vehicles, accessible rentals are an excellent option.

Finding a company that understands the unique needs of your clients can be challenging. Some work exclusively with people who depend on wheelchairs and scooters to get around. Others may have owners, staff or family members who use wheelchairs, which provides an extra understanding of the unique needs involved.

Vehicle and Chair Type
Your first consideration is to determine the type of vehicle your client needs, which is largely based on his or her chair type. Here are a few questions to ask:

Does your client use a manual chair, a motorized (power) chair or a scooter?
There are two major types of manual chairs: temporary chairs and high performance sports chairs. Temporary chairs are those used by the elderly or ill, with a caretaker to push them. These chairs tend to fold for trunk or rack storage. Active individuals, however, use high performance sports chairs and are more likely to drive themselves. These chairs do not collapse. Keep in mind that only a fraction of manual chairs are collapsible for transport; high performance chairs, motorized wheelchairs and scooters do not collapse. Also, motorized chairs and scooters can weigh 300 pounds or more. Accessible vans have ramps and/or lowered floors to allow wheelchair/scooter users to roll right in.

Is your client the primary driver or a passenger?
Some accessible vans are modified so that the wheelchair user can be the driver; some are designed only for wheelchair-bound passengers. If a manual chair user needs help getting in and out of his/her chair, a van rather than a car modified with hand controls would be recommended.

How many people need to be transported, and how many are in chairs?
There are now accessible vans that can hold several wheelchair passengers plus a wheelchair-bound driver. If your client will typically be the only one in a chair and will have an able-bodied driver, a smaller van with different modifications is a more affordable option.

Know the Industry
Like any other industry, there is a wide range of quality among different service providers. Make sure to ask plenty of questions and choose a service-focused, highly experienced rental agency that you’re comfortable recommending to your clients. Ask how long they’ve been in business, how much they understand the needs of wheelchair users, the age of their fleet and what kind of services they offer.

Fleet size can vary from location to location. Unlike major national rental agencies, most accessible van rental firms have fewer than 10 vans. You’ll want to make sure equipment is available for your client when needed.

Remember that during peak periods agencies may sell out. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, are often booked weeks in advance. Along with the obvious holidays and long weekends, make sure you ask about other peak periods as those dates vary for each area.

Accessible vehicle rental firms come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small, serving only a limited geographic area, while others have multiple locations covering many states. Accessible vehicles are specialized and those who are part of a national system have a leg up in meeting your client’s needs. For example, if your client is involved in an accident while traveling out of state, a national agency will have connections in other states and quickly can determine where to rent a van.

Just as the number of vehicles available can differ from agency to agency, so can their condition. Select a company with a young fleet, e.g. vans under five years old and with less than 60,000 miles.

Typical accessible vans are full-size or minivans that have been modified with ramps to allow wheelchair and scooter access, as well as wheelchair restraint tracks and belts to secure chairs in the van.

Ask for specific details—model names, years, seating capacity and interior space —so that you can look at photos online and ensure your clients’ comfort and safety. As with any rental car, one size does not fit all. Some agencies offer vans with lowered floors to accommodate taller individuals using wheelchairs or scooters.

Since many customers have companion animals, it’s a good idea to ask about the agency’s policy regarding pets. Service animals can never be denied access (Americans with Disabilities Act protection), but the family dog may not always be welcome.

Service is Everything
As in any industry, the level of service that is offered by different accessible van rental agencies varies greatly. Here are some factors to consider:

Understand delivery policies. Similar to car rental agencies, some smaller accessible van rental companies simply leave a van in a parking lot after providing instructions about where to find the keys. Others will deliver the vans to a variety of locations depending on your client’s needs.

There’s a world of difference between agencies whose employees park the van and leave the keys under the mat, and those whose staff will help with luggage and instruct companion drivers on using the ramp and securing the chair/scooter. You’ll want to find out what your clients can expect so there are no surprises.

Know what kind of emergency services are offered so your clients know what kind of help they can expect. Accidents happen, whether it’s a fender-bender or a drained battery. Before your client needs help, find out if there is a 24/7 emergency number available and whether the agency will deliver another van.

Does it make more sense to buy?
There are times when buying an accessible van makes more economic sense than renting one, e.g. when physical therapy lasts two to three years after an accident. Often, insurance professionals are the first resource clients approach about where and what to buy.

To keep their fleet current, many rental agencies sell vans before 60,000 miles. These used vans are often a bargain for buyers or for insurance companies looking to replace “like-for-like” vans.

It’s a much safer bet to buy from a reputable national agency that regularly services its vans and has kept all service records, rather than looking in the newspaper classified ads or online. Buying a late model used van with low mileage (i.e. 15,000-39,000 miles) can cost $30,000-$38,000—a considerable savings.

There is a lot to learn about the accessible vehicle rental industry and the needs of wheelchair and scooter users. Being knowledgeable about their concerns and necessities presents a great opportunity for you to help your clients gain mobility, freedom, and get to all their medical appointments as quickly as possible. Take some time to get to know your local accessible vehicle rental agency. Find out what they offer and how they can work with you to help your business and your clients. A one-on-one conversation, a facility tour and even a ride in an accessible vehicle are all great ways to get answers before your clients need them.
Dale Richardson is president of Wheelchair Getaways, a national franchise of rental wheelchair accessible vans, with 45 locations in 43 states. For more information, please visit www.wheelchairgetaways.com



Dale Richardson is president of Wheelchair Getaways, a national franchise of rental wheelchair accessible vans, with 45 locations in 43 states.

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