Friday 23 March 2018

Finding a car to accomodate my four kids, a powered wheelchair and a large assistance dog

If buying a car is a problem squared, finding one to accommodate four children, a powered wheelchair and a large assistance dog is a problem cubed, writes Tom Clonan

Tom Clonan's son Eoghan and the Transit Tourneo Custom
Tom Clonan's son Eoghan and the Transit Tourneo Custom
Tom Clonan's Transit Tourneo Custom

So, here's the problem. We have four children - three boys, aged 16, 15 and nine, and a young lady of 12. Eoghan (15) has recently graduated from a manual wheelchair to a very large power chair. In addition, he is accompanied everywhere by his assistance dog Duke, a 37kg adult male golden retriever. The problem is how to fit them all into a family car.

When they were younger, I did once manage to ger them into a Nissan Micra for an emergency dash to Nenagh in Tipperary. By the time we had got to the M50, however, the youngest boy, Rossa, was able to pull the driver's hair even though he was strapped into his car-seat in the back at the time.

Until January of this year, we had tried a variety of people-carriers and seven-seaters to accommodate our growing family along with wheelchairs, dogs and luggage. We eventually settled on a SsangYong Rodius, which, surprisingly perhaps, comfortably seats six passengers and can accommodate a manual wheelchair in the rear luggage space.

However, the advent of the large power chair meant that we needed to find a family vehicle that Eoghan could drive his chair into but could comfortably and safely get us all from A to B. I began my search for the right car last September, when the Rodius had reached almost 380,000km on the clock. This apparently, is the distance from the Earth to the Moon - a long way to drive with three teenagers and a large dog on board.

After a lot of reading and researching, I initially focused my search on Mercedes and Volkswagen for their Viano and Transporter passenger vehicles. While the Mercedes and Volkswagen offerings were attractive, their pricing was a little over budget and styling a little clunky and dated.

I discovered the Ford Transit Tourneo option quite by accident. I was passing by Spirit Ford Sandyford, Dublin, and spotted a Transit passenger vehicle in their showroom window. On impulse, I called in and was surprised and impressed by the styling, interior design and build quality.

For car dealers reading this, the next bit is probably the most important part of the sale from my perspective. While I was looking over the vehicle, I was approached by the salesperson at Spirit Ford - Marcus Nicolai. When I explained the family situation and requirements, Marcus went away and returned with a full and explicit list of prices and specifications. I cannot emphasise enough how important this aspect of the sale was to me. The prices were there in black and white. There was no ambiguity or fast-talking sales patois. None of the hocus pocus that one often gets on the forecourt.

In fact, the understated, helpful and informative approach adopted by Spirit Ford sealed the deal for me. That and the price. We settled on the Ford Transit Tourneo Custom, Trend model and chose the short-wheelbase model for ease of manoeuvre and parking.

The kids call the car 'the Tardis' because it is deceptively large on the inside. Ford have updated the styling of their entire range, and the Transit has benefited from this development. It is less 'van-like' in appearance than many of its competitors but retains a massive, roomy interior.

Having researched and visited a number of vehicle adaptors, I chose Parfit to install a hydraulic lift at the rear of the vehicle to make it accessible for Eoghan's power chair. Pat Fitzsimons, CEO of Parfit, called to our family home several times to observe the family - and Duke the dog - to design a tailor-made adaptation to suit our particular needs. Parfit installed a Ricon hydraulic lift to the rear of the vehicle and modified the interior seating arrangement so that the Transit can accommodate seven passengers, including Eoghan in his chair. The vehicle also has ample space for Duke to travel in comfort next to Eoghan. The staff at Parfit were also extremely helpful in assisting in the process of claiming the VAT and VRT refunds for adapted vehicles for passengers with disabilities.

The specification levels in the Ford Transit Trend are very high, with air-conditioning as standard - which is very important for us as we intend to drive from Dublin to Girona, Barcelona, Seville and Morocco this summer. The stereo system is also Bluetooth-enabled and the teenagers can take turns in listening to their Spotify playlists when we are on the move. The drive quality of the vehicle is excellent - and being so high up, the driver and passengers have a bird's-eye view of the landscape.

For all of these reasons, much of the stress of the cramped family car experience is eliminated and travel becomes an adventure - the classic road trip. Most importantly, however, the Ford Transit has given Eoghan the independence to explore the wider world in his power chair.

Tom Clonan is a retired Irish Army Captain, author and security analyst.

The Ford Transit Tourneo Custom Trend model cost €44,000, including metallic paint and alloy wheels. Vat and VRT refund from Revenue for vehicles adapted for passengers with disabilities is €16,000 (maximum).

Sunday Independent

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