The adapted driving cautionary tale

Buying a van adapted for driving from a wheelchair is a costly investment. Depending on the scope of adaptations needed, the price can even run into six-figures. This is obviously not a purchase to take lightly.

Nonetheless, it can be a critical investment for a person with a disability. An adapted vehicle can provide that person with independence most people take for granted but that is otherwise unattainable for someone with a significant mobility impairment.

Considering all this, one would hope that making the purchase would go smoothly. After all, activities of daily living are challenging enough for someone with a major disability. That person would hope that their purchase is sure to be hitch free. Unfortunately, it’s not—even in the most uneventful of purchases.

First of all, at least for the initial purchase, the driver must undergo a driving evaluation given by a team that includes an occupational therapist and a rehabilitation engineer who specialize in adapted driving before even ordering a vehicle. Secondly, funding is a challenge and most traditional lenders won’t provide a loan for an adapted vehicle because of the high cost relative to the Blue Book value. Finally, the driver must have at least two fittings before delivery just to ensure the van is configured appropriately for the individual.

After all this, my most recent purchase of an adapted van went from a major hassle to my worst nightmare. I chose the same dealer from which I had purchased my prior two adapted vans, ADS Mobility. ADS had been in business for almost thirty years and had a good reputation in the industry. In my prior two purchases, the dealer did its best to provide quality service to me and they fully rectified the one accidental incident that occurred. This last purchase was a different story altogether.

First of all, ADS delayed delivery of my van for months. The owner, Chuck Kutz, fed me excuse after excuse, blaming all the delays on his suppliers. I have since discovered that all of the excuses were lies. I now speculate that what actually happened is ADS probably misappropriated the payment I made for the vehicle and did not use it to purchase the base Honda Odyssey Northstar conversion and all of the additional adapted driving equipment I require. Instead, it was probably used for ADS’s other expenses and then Kutz probably had to wait for sales to later unfortunate customers to use their payments to acquire my van and equipment over the subsequent months.

Part of the equipment that ADS contracted to install in my van was an AEVIT L Series system. This system costs well into five-figures all by itself plus thousands of dollars more to install. When I finally received my van, it had a used EGB SS electronic gas and brake system installed instead. This is an obsolete (albeit reliable) predecessor to the AEVIT system that hasn’t been manufactured since 2001 and which the manufacturer doesn’t support anymore.

The reason why ADS mangled my transaction has now come to light. The dealership went out of business and closed up shop. No other address or phone number was given to any customers for any kind of follow-up service on undelivered purchases, which happened to be the state of mine at the time. The owner has gone into hiding and is incommunicado. Fortunately (sort of), my van was abandoned at a distant Honda dealer, so I was able to retrieve it.

The van had the temporary registration vehicles have when first delivered by dealers. I checked with the Department of Motor Vehicles to determine when they would send me my permanent plates and discovered that ADS had neither processed my registration nor paid the taxes and fees. Of course, I had already paid ADS thousands of dollars to do so. Unfortunately, ADS left it up to me to process the registration and pay the taxes and fees—yet again!

Is this tale over? I hope so but it might not be. Other people who recently bought adapted vans from ADS have actually had their vans repossessed by ADS’s supplier. It turns out ADS didn’t pay its supplier for a fleet of vans and Kutz absconded with the unfortunate buyers’ monies.

ADS Mobility was QAP Accredited by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA). This Quality Assurance Program (QAP) accredited what, in this case, turned out to be a very low quality and crooked dealership. In all fairness, the QAP is a well designed program and is a strong indicator that an accredited dealer can be relied on to deal in good faith with its customers. Nonetheless, a dealer bent on ripping off its customers can still become QAP Accredited by defrauding the NMEDA, just as it does its customers.

Buyers of adapted vehicles should not rely solely on any such indicator that their dealer will take care of them. Let this tale be a warning to act with great caution when purchasing such an expensive and critical vehicle. Before paying the dealer, try to determine what comprises the dealer’s inventory of vehicles and equipment. Try to identify your own vehicle as early as possible and verify that no suppliers have a lien on its title. And whatever you do, avoid dealing with Chuck Kutz like the plague!

Honda Odyssey van with VMI Northstar conversion
Honda Odyssey Northstar