This edition of the Reader Mailbag is focused on the installation of adaptive hand controls in rental cars for disabled drivers.

Every so often, I’ll dip into the mailbag to answer questions about accessible travel from readers just like you. If you have a question you’d like answered, send an e-mail to mailbag@wheelchairtravel.org.

The following was submitted by Kaisa. She wrote:

I use a manual chair and often need to rent a car. I can transfer to a car and drive with hand controls. Hertz/Dollar usually puts hand controls on Nissan Altimas. The new 2020 Altimas have airbags installed under the dash thus making it impossible to install hand controls.

Which rental cars can accommodate hand controls?

Knee-height airbags under the dashboard are being installed in an increasing number of new vehicles, making it unsafe to install hand controls without disengaging those airbags — which car rental companies refuse to do. So, what car models can wheelchair users needing hand controls actually rent? I reached out to the three largest car rental companies in the United States to find out.

Avis and Budget

I contacted the Avis Budget Group’s media relations team, but did not receive a response.

Enterprise, Alamo and National

I reached out to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car group and was provided with the following statement:

Adaptive driving devices are available – at no charge to the customer – at all of Enterprise Holdings’ rental locations throughout the U.S. and Canada across all three brands: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental. Because of the broad base of customers we serve, we partner with industry-leading makers of a wide range of mobility devices to offer universal solutions that meet the needs of the vast majority of our customers with disabilities. Such devices include hand controls, left foot accelerators, spinner knobs and pedal extenders. Because of the fluid nature of our fleet of more than 300 makes and models, and the proliferation of knee bolster airbags across many newer vehicles, we established a team at our National Reservation line to handle these requests and help each customer find the vehicle that fits their needs.

While Enterprise does have a wide-ranging fleet, I was disappointed that they were unwilling to provide a complete list of vehicles that support hand controls. To contact the Enterprise reservations team and inquire about adaptive hand controls or other accessibility features, dial +1 (855) 266-9289.

Hertz and Dollar Rent A Car

The Hertz Media Relations team took the time to do some research and came back to me with a list of the following vehicle makes, models and model years in their fleet that support adaptive hand controls.

This means that, as of now, only three sedans in the Hertz fleet are capable of supporting hand controls: the Kia Forte, Kia Rio and Nissan Altima. The Kia Soul, while not a sedan, is low enough to the ground to accommodate most wheelchair users.

Final Thoughts

Only one of the three largest car rental companies provided the information that I requested. The lack of clarity, and the fact that this information is so difficult to come by, is one of the reasons why disabled travelers like Kaisa experience difficulty in getting the products and services they need.

As car manufacturers continue to install knee bolster airbags in new vehicles, disabled drivers will face limited choice in car rental fleets. It is my belief that, in the coming years, government regulators will need to take a closer look at the accessibility of the car rental industry. Please keep me informed of your own experiences renting cars with hand controls, and leave a comment below about your most recent experience – good or bad.

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