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If you’re travelling by car with an elderly relative, there are a number of different things to consider to make the journey as pleasant as possible for your loved one.

In this article, we cover a number of subjects around travelling by car:

1. Getting in and out of the car
2. Loading wheelchairs into a car
3. While on the road
4. Choosing and adapting a car

Getting in and out of the car

There are products you can buy that can help if your relative is finding it difficult to get in and out of a car because of physical problems:

  • Car caddies are adjustable straps that attach to the car door and can be held to make it easier to stand up from the car seat. You can also get straps that fit around headrests and work in a similar way.
  • Handybars fit into the locking mechanism of the car door and provide a grip handle to push down on.
  • Swivel seats and leg lifters help turn the body in the car seat, so your relative can sit down or get up more easily if he or she has problems rotating in the car.
  • Transfer boards are positioned between the car seat and a wheelchair. They are another option if your relative isn’t able to lift themselves out of the car.

If you’re not sure what products are best for your loved one, a physiotherapist or occupational therapist can help you work out the best solutions. 

Loading wheelchairs into a car

Families often get a wheelchair so that their relative can join in with outings and continue to leave the home for shopping trips and social activities without having to  walk long distances. If you're thinking of getting a wheelchair for this purpose, the following check list  may  help to ensure that the chair is transportable:

  • Buy a lightweight chair that can be easily lifted into the boot of the car. Removing the foot plates and any other accessories will also reduce the lifting weight. Lift from your knees and not your back to avoid back injuries.
  • Check the frame of the chair will fit into the boot of the car. On most chairs the back can be folded and the wheelchair footplates can be removed to make it more compact.
  • Having a car with a high sill to the boot will mean that the chair has to be lifted up and over it, so if you decide to replace the car at some stage, consider a vehicle with a low sill or no sill.
  • If there is no sill, heavier chairs and small scooters can be manoeuvred up on a car  ramp, although this requires more effort and takes extra time
  • Finally, for heavy chairs, a wheelchair ‘boot lift’ will enable the chair to be placed in the back of the car without the need for heavy lifting.

While on the road

It’s important to make sure your relative is comfortable while travelling. Think about placing support cushions on the seats or attaching comfort straps to the seat belt. If your relative has a back condition, there are a number of supports that can make sure they are able to sit as comfortably as possible.

Work out the route in advance to make sure there are stops to take regular toilet breaks, if necessary. If your loved one needs to urinate frequently, portable urinals can be useful for long journeys and are available for both men and women. Disposable urine bags are another option; they convert the waste into a gel and can then be sealed and disposed of in a bin.

Choosing and adapting a car

If your relative will be travelling regularly with you, it may be worth adapting your vehicle or even replacing your existing car with one that is more suitable.

If your car isn’t suitable for your relative’s needs and you’re thinking of getting a new one, it may be worth looking for vehicles with good accessibility features, including low door sills and wider doors.

Additionally, if you’re looking to adapt your car to suit your loved one, there are a number of driving mobility centres around the country that can provide personalised advice on accessibility.

More information

Page last reviewed: November 2016
Next review due: January 2019