Harmar Mobility Hub

Guide to Understanding Types of Wheelchair Vehicle Lifts

May 6, 2021 | Children of Aging Parents, Independent Living, Special Needs Parenting

It’s important to do research before buying a wheelchair vehicle lift. Keep reading to learn about the different types of wheelchair vehicle lifts.

Roughly 3 million people in the US are in wheelchairs full time, but why do we see such a small percentage out and about?

Most places do not have easy wheelchair access, including their vehicle. A wheelchair vehicle lift is essential `to offering a better quality of life for wheelchairs full time.

Unfortunately, most small towns do not offer taxis or rideshares with wheelchair capabilities, so it narrows down your independence. Major subway systems have stairs, and the elevators are more than not shut down. It is a challenge to travel anywhere, and it is exhausting trying to find places that accommodate wheelchairs.

A wheelchair vehicle lift aids mobility and provides the freedom to get from one place to another when needed.

Since there are many different types and options of lifts, let’s go over them so you can pick the one that fits your specific needs.

What Is a Wheelchair Vehicle Lift?

Wheelchair vehicle lifts provide a means of safe transport for you and your wheelchair or scooter. They are either on the interior or exterior of the vehicle and provides the ability to lift you while sitting in your wheelchair or lift and safely store your mobility device.

If you or your family member is in a wheelchair full time, vehicle lifts are essential to providing a safe and easy way to travel in a vehicle. They not only aid mobility, but they offer the independence to go where you wish.

While it may seem overwhelming or confusing to choose between vehicle lifts, this guide will help explain the differences between the types.

Hoists and Inside Lifts

A hoist mechanism installs inside of the car, and there is a long arm that swings outside of the vehicle. The extended arm mechanism can lift your wheelchair or scooter and place it in the back of your car. A massive advantage to the interior lifts is that your wheelchair is safe from any bad weather, so you won’t be subject to only traveling in good weather.

Depending on the hoist style, they can fit in vans, SUVs, and trucks. Some types are even able to work on cars.

What we love about the hoists and inside lifts:

  • The hoist eliminates the need to lift the wheelchair into a higher or lower vehicle.
  • A wheelchair or scooter is safe from the weather.
  • Some inside lifts allow you to remain seated in the wheelchair the whole time.


  • They take up vehicle space or trunk space.
  • Sometimes they require modifications to vehicles.

Ease of Operation: Moderate

Outside Lifts

Outside lifts are platforms that are attached to the hitch of the vehicle. The exterior lifts can raise and lower and holds the mobility device while the car is traveling. It can also offer the independence you need in loading and unloading the mobility device.

It is essential to know that you or a caregiver must stand for two to three minutes while the lift is moving. However, you or your caregiver can quickly transfer the exterior vehicle lifts from one vehicle to another. Also, since the mobility device is outside the car, you will still have space inside for storage and seating.

Most of the outside lifts can fit on all types of vehicles.

What we love about the outside lifts:

  • The interior space of the vehicle is unaffected.
  • Easy to install and operate.
  • Only require a minimal amount of vehicle modifications, if any.


  • A wheelchair or scooter is subject to the weather.
  • The exterior vehicle lifts change the length of the vehicle, making it slightly longer.

Ease of operation: Easiest

Hybrid Inside/Outside Lifts

Hybrid wheelchair vehicle lifts are platforms that fit into the cargo area of the vehicle. They automatically lift outside the car and down to the ground. You or your loved one will then be able to remain in your wheelchair, and the platform will then raise you up and into the vehicle.

This type of lift provides for quick load and unload.

These lifts require a large cargo area, so most vans and SUVs will be sufficient.

What we love about the hybrid inside/outside lifts:

  • They are perfect if the weather is a huge factor in your area.
  • They provide quick drive-on and drive-off capabilities.
  • You or your loved one can stay seated in the wheelchair the entire time.


  • They require vehicle modifications that may be costly.
  • They take up the vehicle’s interior space.

Ease of operation: Moderate

Safety Features to Look For in Wheelchair Lifts

You should be aware of some safety features when looking for the perfect wheelchair vehicle lift. These safety features include:

  • Obstacle detection is helpful if you are lowering a platform lift down and cannot tell if there is something underneath.
  • Safety straps
  • Pressure buttons to ensure the platform does not move on its own but instead moves when you are holding down the button.
  • Emergency stop buttons
  • Backup battery systems
  • Controls that are weather-safe are critical in lifts that are on the outside of the vehicle.

Choosing the Right Wheelchair Vehicle Lift for Your Needs

Choosing the right wheelchair vehicle lift to fit your specific needs can be overwhelming, but hopefully, this guide has made your decision-making process more manageable.

We have a guide on how to selecting a vehicle lift if you would like to learn more about the specific capabilities needed to operate each type of lift. Although if you still have any questions about the different styles, please contact a professional Harmar Dealer to find the right vehicle lift to accommodate your needs.

You are one step closer to gaining the independence and support you want to create a better quality of life.

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