VW Kombi – the road to independenceOctober 3, 2022
“I’m not a car person, I just love this car.” This is how Marinus Mans described his 2020 VW Trendline 2.0L TDI Kombi when he spoke to us about what his vehicle means to him. This Kombi re-opened the world for him after COVID-19 lockdown.
Living with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy for 25 years, a degenerative disease that results in a person slowly becoming weaker over many years, Marinus has had to learn the art of adjusting his lifestyle and continuously adapting the way that he does things as he loses strength in his muscles.
Muscular dystrophy first affects the muscles closest to the body, including shoulder and hip muscles. So, although he still has good function in his hands, his shoulders and arms are too weak to lift his hands into the positions that he wants to use them.
Another major impact is that Marinus’ diaphragm muscles are significantly weakened, which puts him in the extreme vulnerable category for contracting COVID-19. During lockdown, he was isolated for 18 months, as he could not take the risk of carers or anyone coming in and passing the virus on to him. At times during this period of isolation, he wondered if he would ever be able to escape from his townhouse and be able to get out again independently. This is what got him thinking about his vehicle and how he could get some freedom back. His vehicle was how he connected with the outside world, but he could not take the risks of having a helper lift him in and out and possibly give him COVID while doing so. Without his vehicle, he was trapped inside his house.
His goal was to get into and out of his vehicle without any human assistance and to drive it independently. At that point he contacted Etienne van Tonder from EZ Drive, and together they brainstormed solutions for how it would be possible for him to still drive. They investigated a number of vehicles and found that the VW Kombi had the space, power steering and the right structure to enable them to adapt it for Marinus’ needs.
Their first consideration was space for access into the vehicle and for moving around inside in his wheelchair. This included the internal height of the vehicle, the height of the door opening so that he could get through in his wheelchair, and the width of the door and opening of the door to enable them to fit a platform lift.
The layout that Etienne and Marinus chose was to remove the middle row of seats in the Kombi and then they fitted a platform lift on the passenger side of the vehicle so that Marinus could access through the side door, as well as removing the driver seat to enable him to sit and drive from his wheelchair.
|Marinus’ height in WC||1,27m|
|Width of WC||0.63m|
|Length of WC||1.06m|
|Sliding door height||1,27m|
|Sliding door width||1,01m|
|Internal height in middle of vehicle||1,35m|
|Internal height at driver’s seat (with lowered floor)||1.38m|
The lift that they chose was the Mariani single pillar folding platform lift. This was selected to fit the width of the door opening and because it is designed to carry the weight of the wheelchair and user. When it is stowed, it does not block the view through the side window, and it has an additional feature that allows it to swing in or out of the vehicle to allow access through this door even when the lift is closed.
Etienne was concerned that Marinus’ view would be hampered by the top of the windscreen when sitting in his wheelchair in the driver’s position, due to his extra height in the wheelchair. He therefore lowered the floor by cutting two channels into the floor to allow the wheelchair castors to sit at the same height as the rest of the floor. He also covered the step well of the driver and passenger doors to create space for the wheelchair to manoeuvre and fitted a docking station to secure the wheelchair which is essential when driving from a wheelchair.
Part of the ingenious design, Etienne included an adjustable step for when passengers need to climb into the back of the vehicle, and he designed a clever storage space inside the original footwell.
STEERING AND DRIVING CONTROLS
The second major consideration was the weight of the steering and whether Marinus would be able to turn the steering wheel. Fortunately, the power steering technology that Volkswagen uses in the Kombi made the steering light enough for Marinus to be able to turn it, although he did need additional support to optimise his limited muscle function to assist him. Without being able to use his feet on the pedals, he needs to use hand controls to drive the car. To do this he requires an automatic vehicle, and again the fact that the Kombi is available with the DSG gearbox makes this possible. But having one hand on the hand controls restricts him to turning the steering wheel with only one hand, which makes it significantly heavier and more difficult than using two hands.
An added feature that Marinus loves are the controls on the steering wheel. These allow him to answer a call while driving without taking his hand off the steering wheel, and best of all it gives him control of his music. With his long-term hobby of writing articles as a music critic, he loves his music and it has to go everywhere with him. So, the channel selection and volume control buttons are perfectly positioned for use by his functional fingers.
The position of the gearshift suits Marinus and he has no difficulty pressing the button to move it between gears. However, the park brake provided another challenge for Etienne as it was too low for Marinus to reach, and at times the button had too much resistance or him to apply, so Etienne repositioned the park brake and designed an extension which made applying the button super easy.
Two other features that Marinus finds really helpful are the tyre pressure monitor on the dashboard and the rear camera with park assist. Only once has he been warned by the tyre pressure monitor that there was a problem with the pressure and he was able to get himself to a garage quickly. The last thing that he needs as a driver with a disability, is a flat tyre on the side of the road so this is really a great safety feature.
His rear camera and park assist get used every time he goes out, as it assists him to reverse back into his garage. This is a tight squeeze and was one of his main concerns when he started planning his new car as it was significantly bigger than his previous car. However, with the technology that guides him in, this part of the drive has become a real pleasure.
The VW Kombi has a full complement of safety features which add to Marinus’ driving pleasure and his confidence behind the wheel. The hill-hold control gives a flawless pull away, even on a steep incline and the electronic stability control (ESC), anti-lock braking system (ABS), anti-slip regulation (ARS), electronic differential lock (EDL) and traction control system (TCS) all help with the ease of driving and enhance Marinus’ ability to stop the vehicle in a difficult situation.
INVESTMENT AND RELIABILITY
Marinus’ third major consideration when choosing this vehicle was the reliability of the vehicle along with the longevity and investment value. With his legal background as well as skills in the investing fields, it was for important for Marinus that his vehicle would be a long-term investment, which was another reason why they looked at the Volkswagen range. He knew that there could be considerable costs in converting the vehicle to suit his needs and therefore he needed a vehicle that could last at least 15 years or longer to help justify this cost.
For Marinus, it is impossible to put a monetary value to the independence that this vehicle has given him. It has given back his freedom and the ability to choose where he wants to go when it suits him. He is no longer locked up at home. This vehicle will carry him in comfort for many years to come along the twists and turns of this journey of his life with muscular dystrophy.