My comfortable car

In early 2002, I (Jon Miles) was getting about 80% less pain than I did before my operation to remove my coccyx, two and a half years before. But driving was still one of the most difficult things for me. If I drove for more than about half an hour at a time, it caused a flare-up in my pain. I was getting impatient. I wanted to be able to drive anywhere. I decided to start looking for a car that is more comfortable for me to drive, or, if necessary, to modify a car to make it comfortable.

Normal car seats make me lean back, with my legs stretched out. This puts pressure on my lower back, which causes pain.

The photo shows me sitting in my previous car, a Volkswagen Golf. The driving position forced me to lean back with my legs stretched out, pulling my back into a slump. Cushions against my upper back and under my thighs helped, but not enough.

So I wanted a car that allows me to sit completely upright, with my legs pulled back, like sitting on a dining chair. That means a car with a LOT of headroom. Your requirements may be different, of course.

If I was to sit with my legs pulled back, I would need to use hand controls, as on a car for someone who is disabled. The new car would therefore have to have an automatic transmission.

VW Golf

sitting in VW Golf

I started looking for cars with a lot of headroom, with automatic gears. I didn't really want a large car, as my children are grown up and have left home. And I didn't really want a four-wheel-drive car because they cost more and pollute more. The minis and the small 'people movers' seemed like the best bet for me. But I found that all cars and vans are intended to be driven with your legs stretched out, and none had enough headroom for a 'dining chair' position. It seemed that if I wanted that position, I would need to have the floor of the car lowered in front of the driving seat.

So I started contacting firms which do conversions for disabled people. I found one firm, Jubilee Automotive Group, which does conversions to lower floors in a small city car, the Suzuki Wagon R+, which I had already identified as one of the cars with the most headroom. Jubilee make conversions of the Wagon+ so frequently that they have created a new model, the Suzuki Life. This version of the car has a lowered floor and a large door which opens at the back, so that wheelchair users can go up a ramp into the driving position, press a button to close the back door, and drive away, still in the wheelchair. Jubilee told me that they could do a lesser conversion for me.

By the way, apparently the Suzuki Wagon has been the biggest selling mini car in Japan for the last 5 years, and in 2001 was the biggest selling car of any type.

Suzuki Wagon R+

Suzuki Wagon

I visited Jubilee Automotive Group and discussed my requirements with them. They said they could

  • start with a new Suzuki Wagon R+ automatic
  • lower the floor under the driver's seat by 140 mm (5.5 inches), as they do in their 'Suzuki Life' model, but over a smaller area
  • fit a Mercedes seat which adjusts up and down, and can tilt forwards or backwards
  • cover the Mercedes seat in the cloth from the Suzuki seat
  • fit hand controls to the car so that I can tuck my feet under the seat

I placed an order. I picked the car up on 2002 February 01. A friend drove me to collect it, and I drove the Suzuki home, about a 2 hour drive.

I didn't seem to have any extra pain from driving the car back home. I then started driving in to work every day in it - previously I had been cycling in to work cross country, which I enjoy in the summer, but which is not much fun when it's dark and muddy.

The picture shows me sitting in the car - note my thighs slope forwards, very different from the position in the VW Golf. In the picture above, you can see the area where the floor is lowered underneath the driver's feet.

Me sitting in the modified Suzuki Wagon

sitting in Suzuki Wagon

This shows the hand controls - a knob on the steering wheel, and a lever to the right of the steering wheel controls the accelerator and brake.

The car can still be driven using the normal pedals, and the knob on the steering wheel can be quickly removed.

Hand controls on modified Suzuki

hand controls in Suzuki Wagon

So, does it do what I want? Yes!

The car -

Me -

If you want to find firms which can modify cars, you can use a search engine to search on "wheelchair driver", but you will probably have to hunt among a lot of irrelevant web sites before you find what you want.

Note that modifying a car like this could be unsafe unless done by experts. In the UK, you have to get a special safety certificate after the modification has been completed. Jubilee arranged this for me.

Updated 2003-09-28

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