Raised roof wheelchair vans, ambulettes and shuttle vans provide interior headroom that is great for staff and clients while they are inside the vehicle. Unfortunately, the additional height on the outside of the vehicle increases the risk that your van might suffer a bump to the head, as it were. As the height of the wheelchair van or shuttle increases, so does the likelihood that someone may bang it on an overhang or obstacle. If you have managed a fleet of raised roof vans for a while, you know what we are talking about!
If you are reading this article, you may even have a damaged raised roof in your parking lot that you may want some guidance on fixing or replacing.
At VCI Mobility, we repair 20-30 damaged raised roofs every year. If you are within a few hours drive of our locations, your best bet is to bring it over for us to take a look and give you a quote.
Whether your raised roof needs just a minor cosmetic repair or needs a complete replacement depends on what is damaged, and how severe that damage is. If it was a low speed glancing blow and the damage is only cosmetic, the fix is pretty simple and just about any body shop can handle it. However, if your wheelchair van took a solid hit on the roof, even if you can’t see excessive damage, you are going to want to take it to a professional for evaluation and repair.
Our greatest concern when repairing a raised roof is that a water leak goes undetected. Just as in a home, water from a leak migrates along edges and troughs and finds its way into all kinds of places. Often, a water leak — especially a small one — can go undetected for a long time. A leak allows water to initiate rust and rot that can advance quickly before it is found. The leak itself may be no more than a nail-sized hole that takes ten minutes and twenty dollars to repair. Unfortunately, as rust and rot and mildew progress, they can create damage that requires many hours and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to repair.
Over the years, we have had some water leaks that have been very difficult to find because the water was found far away from the leak. The process of tracing the water’s path underneath a wheelchair van headliner or behind the walls is difficult without tearing the whole van apart. Small cracks, pinholes, windshield seals and weather stripping are often the places where water leaks occur. What makes finding leaks especially hard is that some only allow water to come in when the wheelchair van is being driven at relatively high speeds in pouring rain.
In the case of a damaged raised roof, multiple small leaks may also occur. After you find one, thinking you have solved the problem, another drip may reveal itself.
In addition to water leaks, we are also concerned with structural damage to the raised roof and underlying support structure of your wheelchair van. Your raised roof van may have a steel support cage under the fiberglass roof and above the headliner. If your van has been hit hard enough to damage this cage, it must be repaired so that it does not cause additional problems such as doors that do not close properly or interior panels that fall off in other areas of the wheelchair van.
The headliner of a wheelchair van with a raised roof or a shuttle van is often damaged when the raised roof is damaged. A damaged headliner is usually the result of either water damage that occurs before the hole in the roof can be covered or, as a result of being torn down when someone goes it to take a look at the damage from the inside and they do not know how to disassemble the headliner without causing damage. In either case, the headliner must also be repaired or replaced.
Repair or Replace?
In 90% of the wheelchair vans and shuttles that come to us with a damaged raised roof, we are able to repair instead of replacing the entire raised roof. The main factor is; how large is the hole in the roof or how much of the original roof material is gone? At some point, repairing is no longer an option and the roof must be replaced. With a detailed set of pictures or an opportunity to inspect the vehicle, we can determine if it can be repaired very quickly.
Replacing the roof is a tedious task, as the roof must be removed and all of the adhesive material must be chiseled off and cleaned out. A roof replacement is very time consuming and can be expensive.
Hire a Professional
The process of repairing or replacing a raised roof may appear easy, and there are a lot of body shops who will tell you they can do it—-the first time. Most of the body shops we know bring this work to us rather than try to do it themselves. The main reason is that there are a lot of small tricks and techniques that people in our business have learned over time — generally the hard way — to make sure that a wheelchair van roof does not leak the first time. A general body shop may have the basic skills but not have had the opportunity to do this specialized kind of work.
At VCI Mobility we know such things as the right kind of adhesives and sealants to use. We also have an understanding of the best techniques for water testing. In addition, we know the most likely places to find a leak. In most cases, it will also be less expensive to use a professional because we have the raised roofs, sealant and trim in stock and buy in quantities large enough to get the best pricing.
Don’t take chances with the repair or replacement of your raised roof. Immediately after the accident, cover the damaged area with plastic in order to prevent water damage. Next, contact VCI Mobility and have the roof repaired properly the first time. You will help keep your costs down and ensure a long life for your wheelchair van or raised roof shuttle.