Shopping for an Arthritis-Friendly Car

Are you hesitant to trade in your gas-guzzler for a fuel-efficient model because you might have to sacrifice comfort – or safety? Don’t be. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for an arthritis-friendly car.

James Riswick, automotive editor for, a popular car review site, says there are many fuel-efficient cars with arthritis-friendly features. To be considered fuel-efficient, a car must get 29.7 mpg.

Lightweight doors, a small steering wheel that’s easy to turn, push-button ignition and controls (as opposed to knobs) and a big trunk that will easily hold a scooter, are a few of the arthritis-friendly features available in recent models, says Riswick. A low chassis is also key to ease getting in and out, especially for those with arthriti

Even though federal regulations for corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) will be tightened in 2016, people still buy what they want. CAFE was designed to encourage automotive manufacturers to build and sell more fuel-efficient cars, but many manufacturers say they’d rather pay the fine for non-compliance than make cars nobody wants, according to a report by John O’Dell, editor of Regulators and many in the green community haven’t learned that autos are still a major investment made as much with emotion as with common sense, according to O’Dell.

Whether you choose a car based on emotion or logic, you’ll want the most comfort and safety features available.

Newer cars, in general, are more sophisticated and offer more adjustments to their safety devices, says Elin Schold-Davis, occupational therapist and coordinator of the Older Driver Initiative for the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) in Bethesda, Md.

Anything that can be adjusted inside the car makes driving easier for those with arthritis, says Schold-Davis. Many cars have an adjustable steering column – one you can move forward so you can get in and then move back so it’s within a comfortable reach.

Comfort is Key

Fuel-efficient cars are typically small. But Riswick says smaller size can still be comfortable and give you room to move. However, he says, “If you’re tall, you won’t get much leg room in a Toyota.”

The first rule of thumb is to be comfortable in your car. Reduced comfort can be distracting and compromise safety.

The best vehicle for you leaves you with minimal or no pain when sitting, driving, getting in and out, and doing common tasks like loading mobility devices (cane, walker, scooter, etc.) and groceries. As an aside, some of the hybrid cars have their battery packs in the trunk area, reducing the usable amount of trunk space. While shopping, take whatever you use daily, such as a cane or walker, and see how it fits into the car.

Davis recommends hiring an occupational therapist knowledgeable about arthritis and/or driving rehabilitation to help you car shop. You can find one in your area on the AOTA site, at your local hospital or from your local state occupational therapy association.

Must-Have Features

Some interior features that address common points of stress on the body include heated seats, an adjustable steering wheel, adjustable pedals, controls that can be reached effortlessly and a seat belt that’s easy to use.

• When a seat belt is within easy reach, goes on quickly and releases without difficulty, it’s more likely to be used. Seat belts should be buckled low on the hips, crossing the bony pelvic bones, and the shoulder strap should cross mid-shoulder.

• Having to twist knobs or turn a key either to get into the car or to start it can be a challenge if you have arthritis in your hands. Keyless entry and a voice-activated navigation system, which a number of cars have, easily solve both problems.

• Craning your neck to see on either side of your car or turning your head quickly can result in intense pain when you have arthritis in your neck and shoulders. Cars equipped with enhanced visibility via more or bigger mirrors or a back-up camera system and parallel parking guidance make driving much safer.

“The ability to see all around the vehicle – a clear line of sight to the rear and sides, offers the driver the greatest opportunity to prevent a crash,” says Schold-Davis.

• Heated seats feel heavenly if your arthritis is in your hips and keeps them more flexible.

• A 911 system much like OnStar notifies someone if you’re in a crash. This can be a benefit to anyone but especially to someone with mobility issues.

If your new car needs adaptive equipment, you can receive a $1,000 credit from the auto manufacturer for those additions. Just ask.

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