Cars without transmission humps?
September 10, 2011 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: he needs a new (or new used) car, but there are complications.....

Asking for a friend: he's currently driving a high-milage 14-year-old Chevy; it still runs, mostly, but he knows he needs to replace it, the sooner the better. The big problem is that he drives using his left leg, because his right knee does not bend at all --- so he lays his right leg over to the right of the car (sort of into the right passenger's footwell). This means he needs a car without a transmission hump between the front seats: he cannot drive a car with a transmission hump, because then he can't move his right leg over and out of the way. So his preferences & requirements:

1. No transmission hump between the front seats --- this is absolutely non-negotiable!
2. He'd prefer something either new or at least no more than 3-4 years old.
3. He prefers sedans, even better 4-door sedans; but will happily consider other vehicles, as long as they're relatively low to the ground --- that bad leg of his precludes climbing into something high.

He's not too concerned about cost (within reason: no Rolls Royces!), import or export, etc.; he just needs to find a vehicle he can drive.
We're in Alexandria, Va., if it matters. Thanks in advance!

PS --- he's in his fifties, otherwise pretty healthy, and there's no way to fix for his right knee (it's a bone problem that dates from his childhood) short of a total leg amputation: so no, he can't swap over to driving 'normal', sorry.
posted by easily confused to Shopping (17 answers total)
I don't know cars too much, but it would seem to me that he'd need a rear-wheel drive car with its engine in the rear, no?
posted by DandyRandy at 11:46 AM on September 10, 2011

Many luxury sedans will fit these needs.. You want to look for 'front bench seats' or cars that 'seat 6'.

This MSN article has a decent list of them (from the 2007 model year). I'm pretty sure new town cars still have the front bench seats, as does the impala lt.
posted by zug at 11:56 AM on September 10, 2011

Or any front-wheel drive car with the engine in front ;)

But many cars go for the whole "cockpit' driving experience, and wrap-around consoles, so it's more about the styling of the car than the actual transmission implementation.
posted by jpeacock at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2011

You're right, jpeacock, it's not just the transmission: those cockpit-styled cars are even worse for him! For all intents & purposes, he really doesn't HAVE a useable right knee, so he wouldn't even be able to sit in the driver's seat of car like that, let alone drive it.
posted by easily confused at 12:14 PM on September 10, 2011

Is he opposed to (or able) driving a truck? It would be much easier to find a truck or Jeep that can be driven in that manner. Out in the boonies (where I grew up), the mail carriers all drove trucks or Jeeps (no USPS vehicles went out in the country). They drove in exactly the manner you're describing as to be able to reach out the passenger window to stuff mailboxes.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 12:47 PM on September 10, 2011

The problem with most trucks is the height off the ground: he can't climb up into them.
posted by easily confused at 12:57 PM on September 10, 2011

Minivans (at least some) and Honda CRVs (and maybe Elements) have dash-mounted shifters and nothing (or a removable console or something) between the seats without being too high off the ground.
posted by ghharr at 1:02 PM on September 10, 2011

Seconding the Honda recommendation. For several years now Honda has done a center console design in several models that doesn't extend to the floor. The CRV, Element and Ridgeline all have this feature. I would go sit in some and see if he can get in and out ok. They are kinda trucks but are much lower to the ground than actual trucks. They are all fairly cheap to run and maintain but they all command a premium on the used car market, so buying new is not a bad deal for a lot of these cars. I think this is the last year of Element production but the rest are all readily available new and used. It is a shame about the element also because they have a lot of really useful features so that would be my first recommendation, and the older CRVs (first gen (97 to 01 model years) have a really flat floor throughout the cabin and a pretty nifty picnic table in the back(really). Good luck.
posted by bartonlong at 2:00 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The column mounted shifter and no center console or stack appears to have gone away on anything new. Even the Chevy Tahoe/Suburbans now only ship with a console and console/center-stack mounted shifter.

Perhaps he should consider a custom built vehicle such as a pickup that has been lowered or otherwise outfitted to accommodate his particular situation. There are businesses who put all modern drivetrains, suspensions, electrical and braking into either brand-new bodies that are identical to old ones or carefully modernized original chassis. The really high-performance vehicles modernized like this are often called "pro touring" or "PT" cars and are, pretty much, the equal of a new car but with a heck of a lot more character and usually a lot greater performance, too.

A Pro Touring pickup such as this beauty might be something to think about. Since it's custom made, it wouldn't have to be all 600hp with 1+G skidpad performance but it could be just exactly what he wants and needs. And, of course, it can be a sedan or coupe, too.

Or something like a 2004 Impala or 2009 or earlier Buick LaCrosse or Lucerne with the bench seat option (they stopped making them for 2010).
posted by bz at 2:09 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your friend should consult with a business that adapts vehicles for the handicapped. A high-quality set of hand controls, which would allow your friend to control brake and throttle with one hand while steering (using a spinner knob) with the other, can be had for $1200 installed. If the shop has been in business for a while, they will have experience adapting vehicles to all sorts of challenged drivers, and may have other ideas besides the hand controls.
posted by jon1270 at 5:03 PM on September 10, 2011

BTW, many (probably most) manufacturers will pitch in about $1000 towards the cost of adapting a new car for a handicapped driver.
posted by jon1270 at 5:06 PM on September 10, 2011

Has he considered importing a car designed in the UK, with the driver's side on the right? It seems like it might be easier to get his leg out of the way without some of the transmission hump issues?
posted by FritoKAL at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wonderful 2008 Honda CRV seems to fit all the criteria. It is a bit higher off the ground than my husband's Accord (which would not work at all), but I think it is easier to get into and out of.
posted by LyndsayMW at 7:39 PM on September 10, 2011

how tall is your friend? I've think the right height car would make a big difference. Might have him test a Honda Odyssey, because the table between the front seats can be folded down, giving room for a straight right leg to go into the passenger side. Also, no hump.
posted by at at 8:53 PM on September 10, 2011

Has he already tried a left foot accelerator? My grandfather had a similar situation (amputatee, right prosthetic leg not responsive enough), and he had one of these - it could be removed as well, so that one of us could drive.
posted by clerestory at 10:51 PM on September 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

So it sounds like a Buick Lucerne (2009 or earlier), maybe the Buick Impala, the Honda CRV or Honda Element would be most likely to work --- isn't the Ridgeline kinda high off the ground? (It's not that driving from a higher vehicle that would be a problem: it's the physical climb up into one thats tough with that bum knee: imagine trying to get in with your leg in a permanent cast, where your hip and ankle bends, but nothing inbetween.) Anybody know of particular minivans to add to the list?

If nothing else can be found, he could go the custom-built route, but he'd rather not, and I'm not really sure why. Ah well, I'll save this data for him just in case.

@FritoKAL: importing a right-hand drive from the UK was my own first suggestion! :)
posted by easily confused at 6:50 AM on September 11, 2011

Oh, and @at: he's about 5' 9", and I'll add the Odyssey to the 'maybe' list!
posted by easily confused at 6:52 AM on September 11, 2011

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