Sunday, April 26, 2009

Caregiver Aids #4: Honda Element XWav (Parts 3 and 4)

Part 3 - Living with the XWav

We concluded the purchase of the X-Wav shortly after Memorial Day and it arrived at our home on the back of a flatbed truck in August. I didn't have too do much with it except register it and attach the Q-straints (tie downs) to the anchors in the floor. First time in, we adjusted the tie downs to the right lengths for Skip's chair. And we were in business!

Since Skip doesn't drive and wouldn't need to ever raise or lower the ramp on her own, we ordered the half cut (lowered floor) on the passenger side with a manual ramp. This resulted in the modifications costing $17,000 rather than $23,000. (Trust me, those are not typos.) In other words, it meant the mods cost less than the base car rather than more!

Both her manual and power wheelchairs are rear-wheel drive models. She backs up the ramp to enter the X-Wav and pulls forward to exit. The ramp angle is not terribly steep so the forward exit isn't a problem. For front wheel or center drive wheelchairs, I assume entrances and exists would be the opposite - pull in and back off. When parking in the city, the ground clearance is sufficient to park on the street and lower the ramp onto the curb. The ground clearance is much better than in the modified van we used in New Mexico. I'd rate it comparable to a passenger car.

Three and a half years after buying it, I still get a rush when we park at a handicapped space and I walk around to the passenger side, open the door and lower the ramp. I mean, how cool is it to have this hidden ramp that just pops down for wheelchair access?

We did have some issues with the X-Wav that resulted in it going back to Battle Creek for remediation. There was insufficient protection to the body where it was cut to put in the ramp, resulting in spray from the front tire wearing away the paint and causing body rust the first winter we owned it. And, the ramp was not staying extended its entire length when lowered but only to the point of the hinge, allowing the trim under the ramp to get damaged. Finally, the paint on the lowered floor that is below the body trim was peeling off. This all occurred within 6 months of purchase and caused great consternation for me. I had purchased a vehicle I anticipated would give us 10+ years of service and it was showing significant problems with the modification in 1/20th of that time.

I had spoken with someone at Freedom Motors a number of times about the issues as they started to emerge. Their response was that the modification was still under warranty so I should take it to a local body shop and have it repaired and they'd reimburse me for the work. I didn't view this as just a garden variety body shop repair, such as a fender bender, so I wanted some guidance as to a body shop I could work with where they'd understand the special requirements of a handicapped vehicle. They could not suggest any vendor nor provide guidance as to the best way to pick one.

I figured why not go to a local Honda dealer with a body shop and have them do the work? Once they saw the modification, they refused to quote on the work. I wrestled with this problem a bit longer and finally, in frustration, called Freedom Motors and asked to speak to the president (it's a small company). I was connected to the head of sales. I described my problems. He heard me out. I sent photos of the problems. He got back to me with a great offer: they'd pay to have the XWav shipped back, make the corrections and then ship it back to me. This exceeded my expectations!

This was back in the early days of the X-Wav and I suspect they'd discovered some issues with the original design that didn't come to light until folks like us were using it day to day. I have to believe it was far preferable for them to bring it back in the shop and retrofit our Element with the corrections they'd made to the exterior paint, body protections and ramp strength. Fortunately for us, we have some dear and generous friends with an extra car that they loaned us while the X-Wav was out for repairs. It was back to the old style of transfers for Skip for a few months, but well worth it while the problems were being addressed.

I do see some rust around the ramp hinge and some other spots in the modifcation that have emerged since the Freedom Motors retrofit. I know we'll have to have this corrected. I took it to a local Maaco for a quote and had a strong negative reaction to the guy who gave me the quote. I have a body shop recommendation from a friend and will eventually have them give me an estimate for the work.

Part 4 - Pros and Cons

Pros

  1. Overwhelmingly, the mobility the X-Wav affords Skip is the biggest upside of all. This outweighs just about any con I can list
  2. The safety of transfers in and out of the vehicle
  3. The cost savings over a brand-new modified mini-van
  4. The expected reliability of a Honda
  5. The interior space of the Element - it's a huge box inside, so can carry a lot of stuff in addition to us
  6. Front-wheel drive
  7. It has XM Radio and the car stereo can play music from your iPod

Cons

  1. The unexpected cost of maintaining the modification, such as having the new rust corrected
  2. The cost of replacing the customized exhaust system, which was needed recently when I trashed it after running over a very large piece of ice on the road (I didn't see it until I was upon it as I was in traffic.)
  3. Inconvenience of the modification with non-handicapped passengers. Not a big issue for us, but if you wanted to use the X-Wav regularly with more than one able-bodied passenger, you'd find the design a pain. The original equipment passenger seat can be placed into the modification space, taking about 5 minutes to do so. The passenger cannot open or close the passenger door though, as the ramp is in the way. To exit or enter, sufficient space to lower the ramp is required. In 3-1/2 years of use, I have only inserted the passenger seat once, so this isn't an issue for us, but might be for someone else. I don't believe this would exist as an issue in a modified minivan.
  4. The way the Element is tossed about in the wind on the highway, since it's a big box
  5. Lack of a center console. Presumably, this had to be removed to provide adequate space for the modification. If you look at the 4th photo below, there's an off-white blob below the driver's seat. This is a trash bag that is hanging from the gear shift. And, no console means no cup holders or additional storage room.

Pro or Con - depending upon your perspective

  1. 4-cylinder engine. To me, this is a plus because it gives better gas mileage than a 6-cylinder. I find the acceleration fine but Skip's aide, MW, who drives a big, 8-cylinder behemoth, finds it pokey.
  2. The Element comes in 4WD but the X-Wav modification is only available in the 2WD version. Not an issue for me. I don't drive much in snow and the little I do is okay with just the front wheel drive. Those in warmer climes probably wouldn't need it at all.

Summary

Our little Element ("The Toaster") is not perfect. But, I love it and would recommend you look into it as an option if you're thinking about a modified vehicle. It's been almost 4 years since we purchased ours and, based on what I saw with our issues, I suspect Freedom Motors has made ongoing improvements as they've learned from experience. I'd hate to think how much more housebound Skip would be if we still employed the problematic transfer board solution. The X-Wav gives us a safe solution in a car that, to me, has a high "cool" factor.


If you've made it this far, thanks for reading!

8 comments:

Andy said...

That's wild it rusted that quickly. I like it because it doesn't scream handicapped vehicle like some of the vans do. It also sounds like the company that did the modifications has been a good group to deal with. A lot of useful info, thanks Cranky,

Andy

Cranky said...

Andy - you're welcome. The rust is a bummer; I am hopeful it can be corrected with relative ease.

Herrad said...

Hi Cranky,

Please take a look at Spike and Marleen's blog
http://spikeandmarleen.blogspot.com/
for your A Hoy Award.
Love,
Herrad

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for writing this. My husband has Parkinson's and I have been through much the same process as you have in trying to find the right solution. It shouldn't be this hard to find the options! Anyway, I finally made the same discovery and live within a reasonable driving distance of Battle Creek. Your blog is affirming that this is at least worth a look. Thanks again.

fyntail said...

hey thanks for sharing your experience. I am currently looking at the element - want to get out of the van but have come across Bureau of Rehab services won't pay for the conversion- did you or anyone else run into and how did you get around it?

Ms.Salli :) said...

I was hoping to see your pictures...I don't see them. Help? :)

Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for the review! I have often considered trading for an Element but was discouraged because there is not a dealer in town.

We have a VMI converted Honda Odyssey and are okay with it.. took a few mods to get everything working okay - now all we have is an annoying squeak that is caused by the automatic ramp.

I so agree with you about these types of vehicles. Don't know what we would do without ours.

Hope your week is a great one.

Cranky said...

Bob - thanks for your note. I like the Odyssey and am glad its working for you.

To others who posted here over the months - sorry I never saw these comments. I set up comment moderation for posts that are over a week old a few months back so now I see these comments on older posts.