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Manual to Auto gearbox modification

Stewart Hendry

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On behalf of a friend I'm looking into whether its possible to have a Fiat based Burstner Elegance manual gear change vehicle converted to steering wheel hand controls that will eliminate the need to use the legs during driving. Tony has had two knee replacements and been unable to drive for months. He has looked at changing the van to an automatic but the cost will be huge. We both live in the Greater Manchester area.


Looking forward to some helpful comments. many thanks

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Try a search for vehicle hand controls or similar, or try the motability website. Hand adaptations are available for brake, accellerator, and clutch. Whether these can be adapted for a given motorhome base chassis I do not know, but I'm sure the manufacturers will advise. I assume this is for the relatively short term, until the prosthetic joints are fully operational, when your friend will presumably revert to normal driving. If not, changing his van for one with an automatic transmission would surely be a cheaper option than trying to graft an auto box into a van with manual transmission, assuming it could be done at all. It seems to be either that, or to persist with the hand controls for the foreseeable future.
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This website may be useful




as it provides ‘Motability’ prices for the various hand control options. (Besides the automatic-clutch approach, a simpler right-hand clutch-lever modification might be a possibility.)


I’ve known people driving confidently only 4 weeks after a knee-joint replacement operation and, when my left knee-joint was replaced 2 years ago, I was driving manual-gearchange vehicles after 6 weeks.


The shape of the recovery-curve after knee-joint surgery can vary dramatically from person to person. Some people will have a slow (perhaps painful) initial recovery phase followed by rapid improvement: others may recover quickly to begin with and then improvement may ‘stall’ for a while. It’s important that people follow the medical advice given them regarding exercise and the surgeon who carried out the operation should be able to tell them when they are likely to be in a position to drive ‘normally’.


You say that your friend Tony has been unable to drive for months. Having both knee-joints replaced is bound to complicate a return to driving (manual-gearchange vehicle or otherwise) and it should perhaps be expected that the post-operation interval will be longer than, say, in my case when just pushing the clutch-pedal was involved.


Insurance providers will need to be certain that, after an operation that will reduce a driver’s effectiveness, the person insured has been given the official OK to get back behind the wheel. When (6 weeks after my knee operation) I asked the surgeon if he was happy that I began driving again, he told me that, as far as he was concerned, the operation had been a complete success and, if I believed I could drive safely, there were no medical reasons why not.


If Tony has been given a prognosis that suggests he won’t be capable of operating a vehicle’s clutch-pedal for a long time, then adapting his motorhome may make sense. If he has been told that he should be able to operate a clutch in the reasonably-near future I’d advise patience.

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