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A wheelchair carrier is a device that can be attached to a vehicle so that a wheelchair can be carried on top of, or behind, it. These allow people to transport a wheelchair when there is not enough room in the vehicle or in the trunk to easily take one along. Carriers allow users to avoid the expense of a large wheelchair van without giving up the convenience of taking their chair where they need to go. There are three basic varieties of carriers: car roof top, bumper-mounted, and hitch-mounted.
Car roof top wheelchair carriers are designed for folding, manual wheelchairs. These usually mount on top of the car, in place of a luggage rack. They are also enclosed to protect the chair from rain and other weather, and are flat to be aerodynamic. Since it is powered by the car's electrical system, this automated model can usually lift the wheelchair within one to two minutes. Some are completely automatic, while some less expensive models require someone to help guide the chair manually, as it lifts.
A wheelchair carrier that mounts on the back of a vehicle can be a small rack to hold a folding wheelchair, or a large platform for electric wheelchairs and power chairs. The least expensive option for someone who wants to transport a folding manual wheelchair is to buy a small, bumper-mounted rack designed for the folded chair. These usually hold the chair flat against the back of the vehicle. Any wheelchair parts and accessories — like a canopy, special attachments for oxygen tanks, or other additions — may need to be removed and put inside the vehicle.
Electric and power chairs need to be transported in a hitch-mounted wheelchair carrier. These usually hook onto the trailer hitch of the vehicle and come in both manual and automatic models. A manual carrier will have at least one side that folds down to form a ramp, so that the chair can easily be maneuvered onto the platform. An automated wheelchair carrier has a lift mechanism that lowers the carrier to the ground, to make loading the chair easier. The carrier then raises up and locks into place behind the vehicle.
There are also pull-behind models for electric power chairs, which look like small trailers that have their own wheels. These hook to the trailer hitch in a similar way as a platform carrier. Wheelchair accessories, like small tarps and covers, can be used to protect the chair from dirt, rain, or snow when using any type of back platform or pull-behind carrier. A pull-behind trailer-style wheelchair carrier that is enclosed will typically cost more than other models. Enclosed carriers keep the chair better protected against both weather and theft when the vehicle is parked.