VW Passat – the first weeks

So, I am once again on the roads, albeit in a safer way as I’m back on four wheels. On top of those wheels is sat a grey VW Passat Estate, which just so happens to be the topic of choice today!

Starting right at the beginning, it’s a 1.6 Diesel with 120bhp, meaning it’s fast enough and plenty of grunt to get moving, but by no means will I be racing it. Much. The car choice stemmed from lack of choice really; I obviously wanted the ford focus estate which ended up being a no go due to production and availability issues, which was disappointing but hey ho. Having looked around, there were only a few options that met my needs: family size, estate style, and under 25 friendly on the motability scheme (basically low insurance group and 120bhp). When we looked there were very few cars that met this criteria other than the ford, and so we had a look at them all. Unfortunately they all came with a caveat; too small, plug in hybrid, really awkward transferring in and out of… when Sarah suggested looking at the VW, I was skeptical but clinging to hope. Unbelievably it was perfect. I didn’t even try getting into it, as when I rolled up it just felt right. The model we were looking at was the top spec, however the sales rep went through everything that was different, and it made no difference. That was the car for us!

Obviously I drive a little differently now, by which I mean I use hand controls. The car itself is otherwise unchanged, meaning anyone can drive it that is named on the insurance. I’m going to explain more about the car and my controls, but first I’d like to explain how it’s possible for me to access it. The Motability scheme is something akin to a hire agreement, whereby people who meet the criteria can exchange their money for a car. The money itself comes from a type of benefit known as PIP, or personal independence payment, which in turn has two elements there is the daily living element and the mobility element. You can be given a higher or lower award for each, and only if you have the higher element of mobility can you access the Motability scheme. This may sound exclusive, but it’s designed that those who really need it most can exchange some or all of their award money and have a suitable vehicle for their needs. By some or all, I mean that some cars only cost some of the award money, whereas bigger and better costs more. The thing is, the scheme includes everything but fuel. Insurance, tax where applicable, servicing, breakdown assistance; it’s all included, and makes having a vehicle that’s suitable a realistic prospect. Woohoo!

So, more about my actual car. Obviously my legs don’t work, and so a manual is out of the question. That just leaves the problem of making it go and making it stop; easy! I have a mechanical arm linked to the brake pedal, and so when I push it down, the car slows and stops. Behind this arm is a trigger, which is my accelerator, and the car takes care of the gears. Sorted. I even have a few added extras, just to make my life easier. On a control unit attached to the brake arm I have buttons for indicators, headlights, main beams, and the horn. A steering ball and a plate to stop my feet accidentally touching the pedals top it all off. The car itself is absolutely lovely, lots of mod cons and a ‘business class’ feel. Full leather seats which are bucketed help me get a really secure seating position, whilst 360 degree sensors ensure I keep well clear of any accidental meetings of metal and wall. Auto hold has quickly become a firm favourite with me; no more applying the handbrake at lights or on hills, the car does it all! The boot can only be described as cavernous, and there is plenty of room both in the front and back for passengers and ‘stuff’.

My view of the cockpit. Steering ball on the left, hand controls on the right. I can control cruise control and assistant systems from the wheel which really helps.
A better look at the actual hand control unit. The leather on the end of the arm is where I hold, and push towards the dash to brake. The small pole behind is the trigger accelerator.
The blanking plate is fixed in place by wing nuts, and stops my feet touching the pedals and activating or blocking them. It’s easily removed for Sarah to use the pedals as normal.

I have to say I’m loving driving again; it’s pure freedom. Being able to drive is much more than a right of passage at 17, it’s an enjoyable pastime that has so many practical applications. Thankfully, with the right adaptations, even people in my position can make use of our four wheeled friends!

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