Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Checklist for choosing a car

You should always try any car that you're considering for long enough to be sure of your choice. Here, we outline some of the things you might need to consider. It would be a tall order to check out all of them, so pick out those criteria that are most important to you.

You may find it useful to print out this page. Tick off each feature that is suitable for you - the more ticks, the better. Then take this list with you when you're looking at vehicles to buy.

If you have reached this page directly from an internet search, we recommend that you read the full guide for more information about the points listed below, starting with Choosing a car - Introduction.

Getting into and out of the car

Most people find it easier to get into a front seat, so we have assumed that this is what you will do.

Unlocking the door

  • Is central remote locking available?
  • Are keys or remote controls easy to use?

Door handles and catches

  • Are they comfortable?
  • Can you operate them easily?

The door

  • Is the door light enough to open easily?
  • Will it stay open on a hill or in a high wind?
  • Does it open far enough?
  • Can you reach it from the seat if it opens very wide?

Space

Consider the best way of getting on to the seat.

  • Check that seats can be pushed back far enough to bring your legs in. If you need to, can you recline the seat back easily?
  • Check that the door pocket won't get in the way.
  • Is there enough space to stow any mobility equipment you use?
  • If you use any special techniques to get into the car, try these out to see how they work.

Handholds and supports

Look for the best places to hold on to as you get in. Try varying your technique - you may find that small changes make a surprisingly big difference. Make sure that anything you want to grasp or lean on will take your weight. Ask the car dealer if any fitted handholds are strong enough. Check for sharp edges.

Would any of these handholds work for you?

  • Parts of the door, including the window sill - some sills are more conveniently shaped than others.
  • Parts of the car body - around the door space, including the roof gutter if the car has one.
  • Interior handles or arm-rests.
  • Parts of the seat or head restraint - check that the upholstery is firm and durable.
  • An open sun-roof.
  • The steering wheel.
  • The dashboard.
  • Any grab handle above the door.

Door sills

  • Is the sill low enough to the ground?
  • Is the sill low enough to the floor?
  • Check you don't catch your heel or toe, or callipers (if you wear them) on it.

In the car

The seat

Sit in the seat for a good while to get an idea of comfort. Remember that the distance between the seat and the ground will be different depending on how high the kerb is.

  • Is the seat the right height?
  • Can its height be adjusted?
  • Check that its shape, such as its wings, doesn't cause problems for you.
  • Is it hard enough? Soft edges can be dangerous if you need to sit on them when getting in or out.
  • Do the controls move easily and stop where you want them to?
  • Will you still be able to use the controls once any equipment you carry with you is in the car?

Seat belts

You have to be able to turn and stretch at the same time to reach the seat belt. Adjust the seat and the mounting point, if it's adjustable. Then try fastening and releasing the seat belt.

  • Can you easily turn and reach for it?
  • Can you pull the belt across your body? Some have a strong spring.
  • Can you locate the socket and plug the belt into it?
  • Does the belt sit comfortably, particularly across your lower neck and shoulders?
  • Can you easily release the seat-belt buckle?
  • Check it does not retract too quickly.

Stowing a folding wheelchair

If you usually stow your wheelchair after you get in, try this on the new car to see how it works. 

If you stow your wheelchair behind you

  • Can you move the seat forwards and backwards easily?
  • Is there enough clearance behind the seat?

If you stow your wheelchair on the front seat

  • Can you move the seat back easily?
  • Is there enough clearance between you and the steering wheel?
  • Can you reach the passenger seat belt to secure your wheelchair?

Adjusting the seat

If you're likely to make frequent adjustments, look closely at the controls. Generally, levers should be large and thick, so they're easier to grip, and shouldn't be too stiff. Round knobs should not have smooth edges, as these make them harder to turn. The larger they are, the better.

Drivers often hold on to the steering wheel to gain some leverage when pulling the seat forward. This is not possible on the passenger side, so try grasping any corresponding feature on the dashboard.

Avoid a combination of a seat that is stiff to move and a completely smooth dashboard, particularly if you are unable to brace your feet against the floor.

  • Can you reach the seat controls?
  • Can you operate them comfortably?
  • Are seat-belt anchorage points out of your way?
  • Does the seat move easily when you are sitting in it?
  • Does the backrest move easily and stop where you want it to?

The boot

Take any equipment, or anything else you usually need to carry in the car, with you so that you can try getting it into and out of the boot.

  • Does it fit in easily?
  • Is the boot the right height for you? If it's too high, you might struggle to get the equipment up to it; if it's too low, you might have to bend your back too much.
  • Is the boot sill low enough?
  • Can you close the boot afterwards?
  • Can you get the equipment out again easily?
  • Can you lift things into and out of the boot without leaning on the bumper? This can make your clothes dirty.

Special features

If you need any special features, add them to this list. Check that the car you're looking at has them, and that you know how to use them.

If you'd prefer this checklist formatted with boxes that you can tick, you can download the complete guide, Choosing a car (PDF), and print out the relevant pages. Or you can receive printed publications by post (UK only).

Last updated: June 2011


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