Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Getting the right car controls

Woman driving with custom hand controlsOnce you have worked out which controls you're going to have to adapt, you need to find the right combination of adaptations for you. These will be the easiest and most comfortable to use and allow you to drive safely. This guide gives examples of what's available to adapt each of the controls.

Don't be put off by the variety of equipment - most people will only need very simple attachments. If you need more than this, there's plenty of good advice around to help you make the right decisions.

Talk to other drivers

Talk to people you know. Otherwise, disability motoring organisations should be able to put you in touch with people who use controls similar to those you may be interested in.

Find an adaptation company

It's important to have controls fitted by a specialist. The controls need to be safe and appropriate for you and the car. Specialists are also more likely to make a neater job of it than someone who doesn't know the equipment. We list the main UK equipment suppliers, but you don't need to go to one of these. Some of them do fit equipment themselves and they all sell their equipment to adaptation companies, who may be more local to you. You'll find a complete list of adaptation companies in our Mobility address list. A specialist supplier or installer will also be able to carry out regular maintenance checks for you - adaptations are not checked as part of the MOT.

It may be worth contacting two or three adaptation companies by phone for a general discussion about what you need and what they can do. Try to get a broad idea of cost and ask about warranties and servicing. Most have brochures and websites. If you can, go and visit them.

It's probably best, and certainly easier, to get all the adaptations you need from one company. You can be reasonably confident that adaptation companies will not try to sell you any equipment that is not right for you. Nearly nine out of ten people in our survey described the adaptation company they had used as good.

If you haven't had an assessment, the adaptation company will carry out some routine tests and discuss possibilities with you. They do not make medical judgements. If they consider that a full driving assessment or medical opinion is needed, they should tell you, and advise you where to get it.

If you're able to drive, the adaptation company is likely to be able to provide, adapt or make controls for you. In the unlikely event that the equipment they suggest doesn't meet your needs, contact a Mobility Centre to see if they know of a solution that may suit you.

Try before you buy

Although it's wise to try before you buy, this can be difficult in practice - few people in our survey tried more than one control. Some Mobility Centres have test rigs that allow you to try out a range of controls. Some adaptation companies have a rig and most will have demonstration models of the main controls they supply. They may also be able to show you equipment being fitted to vehicles they are working on at the time of your visit.

Organisations of disabled motorists may be able to put you in touch with local members willing to let you try out their controls.

Don't judge by price alone. You may find that a more expensive control has features that far outweigh the difference in cost. And a better control may make it much easier for you to drive with confidence.

Try after you buy

Try out the controls before you take the car home, in case they need fine tuning. One person in our survey recommended that you try and park the car as 'that should make any problems obvious.'

If necessary, take the time to learn

A feeling of confidence and being in control may take time and practice. Don't be put off trying - most people end up driving without difficulty or anxiety. All adaptation companies will show you how the equipment they fit works.

Some companies have space off the public highway so that you can become familiar with the controls before you start driving on the roads.

Unless you're having only very minor adaptations done, try to get some practice with a driving instructor who specialises in adapted vehicles. You can find details of suitable instructors from a Mobility Centre.

Last updated: June 2012

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