‘Arthritis-Friendly’ Car Buying Guide

Find a vehicle offering easier, more comfortable driving
close up of hands on steering wheel

By: Frederick Frost, MD

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Two doors or four doors? Four-cylinder or eight? When shopping for a car, we’re used to answering these questions. But we may not think to ask, “Is this car ‘arthritis-friendly?’”

If you have arthritis, it’s a good idea to look for a car that takes into account the way everyday tasks can become more difficult for people who struggle with the daily pain. Driving not only causes stiffness and discomfort for people with arthritis, but it also requires dexterity to turn keys, adjust knobs and reach for seat belts.

For most people, driving gives them freedom and no one wants to admit to having trouble or pain while behind the wheel. That’s why arthritis-friendly features can really benefit patients. Interestingly, some “arthritis-friendly” features have become standard on today’s models.

These are features you should consider if you have arthritis, depending on your symptoms and where you are affected when you drive. Have you noticed more cars today come with these niceties?

  • Big mirrors for a better range of view
  • Six-way seats that can adjust for best comfort
  • Button ignition start instead of a key
  • Voice control and buttons instead of knobs
  • Seat belt extenders that make them easier to grab

Basic hand controls: oldie but goodie

One of the most overlooked options to help drivers with arthritis is basic hand controls. They can easily be installed in your car at many auto repair shops. It’s actually the same basic technology that Franklin Roosevelt used in the 1930s. Some car manufacturers will even provide a credit to pay for the installation of these controls.

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At the same time, there are other complicated and expensive systems out there that supposedly make cars easier to operate for people with disabilities like arthritis. My colleagues and I have studied these systems and found that basic hand controls are just as effective and actually have found them easier to use.

Here’s an easy way to give hand controls a try. Many car rental companies can easily install hand controls in their vehicles upon request. Rent a car, ask for these controls and give the car a spin.

Make it a true “dry run” by bringing along assistive devices such as canes or walkers to make sure you can easily load them into the car or fit them in the trunk.

Scooters may not be ideal

When it comes to assistive devices to put into the trunk, don’t believe everything you read. Many scooters are marketed to people with arthritis and other disabilities as being easy to take apart and fit in the trunk of any car.

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But in many cases, a person who is debilitated enough to require a scooter will not be able to lift even the lightest of scooters into the trunk of his or her car. So test things out for yourself.

Find your own comfort zone

I often say that recommending the right car for a person is like trying to pick out someone else’s shoes: It’s truly an individual decision. Every person with arthritis experiences his or her condition in a different way, so be thorough in your research and take plenty of test drives.

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