I am a disability travel blogger who takes road trips all over the country, and as such having a reliable wheelchair accessible van is essential for me. In 2019 my father and I were sold a van with a defective VMI Ricon Slide-Away lift by the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida. It has cost me thousands of dollars in repairs and I now face replacing the lift at a cost of several thousand more dollars. I’m seeking information, financial reimbursement and justice in this matter. The lift is a lemon and I want my money back! Can you help?
 
I live in Bloomington, Indiana, but often visit Florida in the winter to spend time with my father, Robert, and get away from the cold. In February 2019 my father purchased a wheelchair accessible Ram Promaster van on my behalf from The Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida. The van was lightly used (under 7000 miles) and originally it had a commercial lift in the back. However, I needed a lift on the side that preserved the door space, so the Mobility Van Store agreed to install a VMI Ricon Slide-Away wheelchair lift, serial number 523138 at no extra charge. He then sent the vehicle to my home in Indiana via a transport company.
 
Unfortunately, when the vehicle arrived, the VMI Ricon Slide-Away lift did not work. I attempted to troubleshoot with John Vath, the owner of the Mobility Van Store on the phone, and we determined it needed to be repaired. He agreed to cover the cost of the repairs. I then contacted my local VMI dealer, Superior Van and Mobility in Indianapolis, Indiana. I explained the situation and asked them to make payment arrangements with Mobility Van Store for the repairs. I made it clear that the Mobility Van Store was responsible for the repairs and I did not want the repairs to be done unless Superior had made payment arrangements with them. Later Superior Van called me back and told me they had made arrangements, so I scheduled the appointment and had the lift fixed. 
 
Superior Van stated that the wire in the lift track had become pinched and damaged, that it was a common issue and in this case was probably caused by improper installation. They also said they had run the serial number for the lift and it was recently out of warranty. This was a surprise to me; I knew the lift had been taken off another vehicle for sale, but I believed it was still under warranty as John Vath said it was almost new. I had seen the lift when it was installed in the other van, and that van was like new and in perfect condition. I later discovered the lift was manufactured in September 2013 and had actually been heavily used. Either John Vath lied and did not move that lift, or he had installed a junk lift in a new van and would have sold it to some other unsuspecting victim. 
 
A few days after the repair was completed, I got a call from John at the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida. He complained about the high cost of the repair ($845), said they should give him a better deal as a “fellow dealer” and seemed to be fishing for me to offer to pay for part of the cost. He said he had given us such a good price on the van that he wouldn’t make anything from the sale if he paid it. I said the van had arrived with a broken lift, he needed to cover the repair, I don’t control how much Superior Van charges for repairs and that he needed to take it up with them. I didn’t hear from him again.
 
I thought everything was fine, but a few weeks later Superior Van called me back to say that the Mobility Van Store was refusing to pay the repair cost. I said that both I and my personal care assistant had previously spoken to Superior Van employees and explained they needed to arrange payment with John before repairing the vehicle. I had only agreed to the repair because it was being paid for by Mobility Van Store. Superior agreed to reach out to him again. However, John continued to refuse and never paid Superior Van for the work.
 
In June 2019, the VMI Ricon Slide-Away wheelchair lift stopped working again. I took it to a different dealer, Todd’s Hydraulics in Terre Haute, Indiana for repairs. They said it needed a solenoid replaced. I ended up waiting weeks for the part to come in, and it cost over $4000 for the total work done on the lift. I was stuck at home for over a month. 
 
In January 2020, I returned to Florida to visit my father. The lift had been intermittently failing and suddenly stopped going up. I took it to a VMI dealer in Sarasota, P and A Mobility, who confirmed what we suspected, that the remote control was broken. He replaced this at a cost of $439.
 
However, less than a week later, the lift stopped sliding out fully and began to sag to one side. We returned to P and A Mobility, who said the mechanism that retracts the hydraulic tubes and electrical wires from the main tower has failed. The hydraulics are now leaking and the electrical wires could get cut by the lift deploying at any time. P and A recommended only using the lift as much as absolutely necessary to get me home to Indiana safely, requiring us to cut our Florida trip short. 
 
Defective VMI Ricon Slide-Away Wheelchair Lift from the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida.

Wires sticking out of the broken VMI Ricon Slide-Away lift.

I have now had three different mobility vehicle dealers recommend replacing the defective VMI Ricon Slide-Away lift with a completely different model from a different company that would not have these problems. I agree this is the best and really only solution, but it’s going to come at a very high cost. 
 
While seeking repairs for the lift, I have been told that the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland is under investigation for shady business practices and selling faulty equipment. However, I have not been able to get confirmation of this or find where to report my experience. If you have information, please contact me by email: karin@freewheelintravel.org.
 
I believe I should be entitled to a full refund for the cost of the defective lift as well as repairs made to the lift. I have contacted the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland again since originally posting this story, but they have made it clear they will not stand by the van they sold to us. They have also still refused to settle their $800 debt with Superior Van and Mobility in Indianapolis, which prevents me from utilizing the services of that company to replace my lift. Therefore, I must have my van transported two hours away to another state where the next closest reputable, NMEDA-certified dealer is located.
 
I believe the primary fault lies with the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida, however I also question whether VMI has made a high-quality product, as the design of this wheelchair lift seems to make it prone to breaking. I previously contacted VMI when the lift broke in June, and they refused to assist with the cost because the lift is out of warranty. Further, they have taken minimal steps to address the dishonest actions of their dealer. I believe manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure their authorized dealers are performing honest work and selling functional products. You need to do the right thing here, VMI — refund my lift and remove the Mobility Van Store from your authorized dealer program.
 
I have posted on several review sites warning other people with disabilities not to do business with the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida. You can read my Yelp, Google, and Facebook reviews as well as comment and add your own. I don’t want any other people with disabilities to go through this experience!
 

Update: November, 2020

In March 2020, I had to replace the defective VMI Ricon Slide-Away lift entirely, at a cost of $10,000. I now have a Braun Millennium lift. It is a much better product, but blocks the entire door, which creates a major inconvenience as my van does not have a left side sliding door.
 
In early February of 2020, I spoke to the chief marketing officer of VMI through Facebook Messenger. He contacted the Mobility Van Store of Lakeland, Florida regarding the situation. He then told me that the Mobility Van Store would be contacting Superior Van and Mobility to pay for the $845 repair.

I heard nothing more about it until November 2020, when I received a bill from Superior Van. Apparently the Mobility Van Store did not pay them, despite telling VMI they had done so, but I was never informed by anybody. So once again, I am having to deal with this situation.

At this point, my family and I are out more than $15,000 because of the Mobility Van Store and the defective VMI lift. I don’t have any more money to pay anyone, and I’m not going to pay for a repair on a lift that arrived at my home broken. I was told the repair would be paid for by the Mobility Van Store, and I would not have had it done if I had any idea Superior Van would try to bill me for it. It’s not my fault that the Mobility Van Store reneged on their agreement with Superior Van. However, I am continuing to work with Superior Van and VMI to get the Mobility Van Store to fulfill their responsibility and pay for the repair.

Due to the pandemic, I have not been able to pursue further action regarding the Mobility Van Store. I have so much on my plate right now. Although all of my personal care assistants are being reasonably cautious, each of them has had to miss work on multiple occasions because of potentially being exposed to COVID. I’m sometimes going without enough care and living in a constant state of uncertainty. Dealing with a shady company on top of that has just been too much. However, since Superior Van sent me a bill, I’m forced to go back into dealing with this situation again. I just want the Mobility Van Store to fulfill their responsibility by 1) paying Superior Van, and 2) refunding me for the defective lift they sold me.

Can you help?

If you have information on further actions I can take, or can provide assistance with getting justice in this matter, please contact me at karin@freewheelintravel.org. Thank you.
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Karin

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