Problem Solvers

Auto Access: Pulling into the Fast Lane

What should providers currently offering basic auto access services consider before serving up more complex solutions?

Auto access products represent an attractive retail sales avenue in terms of their high-value revenue standpoint. Moreover, auto access offers providers opportunities to break into the business by offeringmore easier-to-install items, such as vehicle platform lifts and ramps.

But what happens when a provider has found a good niche providing some of these “easier” solutions, and wants to go the next level? Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of middle ground between entry-level and expert offeringswhen it comes to auto access.

“There are dealers that are at a lower threshold of installation and they do simple mechanical hand controls or scooter lifts,” says Dave Hubbard, executive director of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA). “When you start putting in more elaborate equipment … there’s noprecise path.”

Moving up to the next step in auto access represents a considerable challenge considering that auto access can involve a major cost overhead. Installing more complex auto access systems means stocking higher-end solutions; investing in special tools; owning a special workspace; purchasing additional equipment; and fostering a deep level of product, automotive and mechanicalexpertise across the business.

Let’s take a look at some of the key things that providers angling to “supe up” their auto access businesses should consider:

Training and Expertise

The very first thing that providers need to look at, according to Hubbard, is planning out what exactly they want to do. For example, there is a big jump to go from selling mechanical hand controls to electronic hand controls andmany manufacturers require that providers go through their training program.

“Plot it out. Go to the various manufacturers and get the training,” he explains. “There are a lot of guys out there, we run into it all the time, who know their wayaround electronics very well and then they don’t pass our simple electrical test.

“Or because you’re a mechanic you think you know how to install a lift-andswivel seat into a vehicle—a seat that swivels out, lowers down, allows the person to get in it and then lifts them back up—but there’s a lot to be consideredwhen you look at the electrical splicing that needs to be done,” he adds.

Airbags are another item that can require additional training and expertise.

“The training that needs to take place with respect to the airbags—are you affecting any airbags with the equipment that you’re putting into the vehicle?” Hubbard explains. “This is particularly true in high-tech driving systems, anda lot of these systems need to be trained.”

The Right Equipment

A provider needs to have both the physical structure and the right tools to dothe work. To that point,

“If you’re going to expand into selling lift-and-swivel chairs and electronic hand controls, you’re going to need to look at having a well-equipped shop,” Hubbard recommends. “If you’re working with people with disabilities in wheelchairs you need a facility to do the work in that is protected from theelements and that people in wheelchairs can move around in.”

Also, NMEDA asks all of its members to have ADA-compliant facilities.

“That means that they have bathrooms for people in wheelchairs, their door openings are wide enough (and) there’s a big enough facility or workspace sothat a person can go around the vehicle safely in a wheelchair,” says Hubbard.

Getting Certified

NMEDA’s Quality Assurance Program is nationally recognized accreditationdesigned to give providers a systematic, documented approach to quality.

“It doesn’t have to be in-depth and it’s not hard to get involved with, but it adoes have a little bit more expense involved in it,” says Hubbard.

Dealers are required to follow guidelines written in accordance with motor vehicle safety standards, a professionally managed dynamic and static testing program and proven quality control practices that advocate the highest level ofperformance and safety.

Some of the requirements to become certified include a proper facility; an entrance and vehicle egress that are covered and out of the elements; the right tools, such as a torque wrench that is calibrated to the manufacturer’s specifications and at least $2 million liability insurance.

The Right Insurance

With auto access, the more technical a provider gets, the more elaborate the equipment becomes, which means there is an increased opportunity for mishap. NMEDA recommends that providers have at least $2 million inliability insurance.

“The more elaborate the equipment is, the greater the disability,” says Hubbard. “So a person learning to drive with a no-resistant driving control, which amounts to about a toggle switch, could put people in danger if it’s nothandled properly. So they have to consider all these things.”

Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialists

Hubbard also recommends getting to know a Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist. A specialist will evaluate vision, perception, functional ability, reaction time and behind-the-wheel ability to determine an individual’s safe driving potential. Also, the specialist can potentially help eliminate liability for a dealer,since it is that person who has outlined what should be installed in the vehicle.

“These are people who evaluate the needs of people in wheelchairs or people with disabilities or prosthetics and determine what it is they need to drive andwill write a prescription,” Hubbard says.

Customization is Standard

Creating a unique accessible automotive solution for each and every individual can be one of the big challenges in navigating auto access. That’s why trainingand understanding of the market of people with disabilities is essential.

For starters, providers need to be aware of the various auto options available to individuals, such as buying a new vehicle with customized adaptive equipment, buying a used vehicle that can be customized, or having equipmentadded to an existing car or van.

“Every person with a disability is different. Almost every time a solution comes up, it’s a custom solution in some way, shape or form,” Hubbard says.“Doing cookie cutter stuff across the board doesn’t work.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Cindy Horbrook is the associate editor for HME Business, Mobility Management, and Respiratory & Sleep Management magazines.

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