Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Controls to consider when choosing a car

What to look for

For a more detailed guide to primary car controls, and the full range of adaptations that are available, see our full guide: Car controls.
  • Automatic transmission, power steering and brakes all save effort and are less tiring. If the brakes or steering are too heavy, an adaptation company may be able to lighten them. Unfortunately, this is impossible on an increasing number of new cars - if possible, you should check this before buying a new car.
  • A comfortable driving position, with all the controls in easy reach.

Features found on some cars

Push-button starter

  • Some cars have push-button ignition, to make starting easier. A few cars combine push-button ignition with a smart card that automatically unlocks the doors and allows the car to start.
  • Most new cars have variable power steering, which gives you more control at slower speeds, such as when you're parking.
  • If you prefer to drive a manual, many models have clutchless gear sticks - you just push the stick to change up and down, and the clutch engages automatically. Some cars don't have a conventional gear stick - you push a button on the steering wheel to change gear. The clutch is automatic.
  • Cruise control, available on more and more cars these days, can be set to keep the car at a constant speed and means you can rest your right foot. Also look out for variable cruise control, which keeps a set distance between you and the vehicle in front.
  • Garages and adaptation companies can fit cruise control to most cars, starting from £500.
  • Many cars have adjustable steering wheels. Some adjust backwards and forwards ('reach'), as well as up and down ('rake'). They give you a greater chance of finding a comfortable driving position.
  • A few cars have electronic push-button or foot-pedal operated parking brakes. This can make starting and stopping easier.
  • The range of automatic controls available, and the range of cars that have them, is growing. Look for rain-sensitive wipers, headlights that come on when it gets dark, and headlights that stay on for a while after you get out.
  • Many cars come with electric windows, at least in the front, and some with electric door/wing mirrors.

Adaptations that may help

Elap Duck clutch
Gear-stick-mounted clutch
  • If you prefer manual gears, or if you want to keep an old manual car that you like, you can fit a clutch that is operated by a button on the gear stick (from around £2,000).
  • In an automatic, you can fit a device to make the release mechanism on the gear selector easier to use (£70-£150).
  • The steering wheel can get in the way of your knees when you get in and out. You can replace it with one that flips up out of the way or with a smaller wheel that can be removed while you get in. Smaller wheels need more strength to turn, however.
  • Mechanical attachments can be fitted to make the handbrake easier to pull on (from £70). Handbrakes can be replaced with an electronic push-button system (from £700).
  • If the ignition is hard to reach, you can have it moved, or fit a push-button ignition (around £300-£400).
  • You can have manual windows converted to electric ones for around £300 per window.
  • Extensions can be fitted to indicator stalks, so you can work the indicators from the other side of the steering wheel. This is a simple and comparatively cheap solution - from £75.

Last updated: June 2011


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