There are a number of cool gadgets and accessories for senior drivers out on the market, but we wanted to narrow them down and tell you which ones are the best.
In our opinion, here are the 5 best car aids for the elderly – plus an extra one that’s pretty nifty, too:
- Car cane standing aids
- Seat belt buckle holders
- Leg lift straps
- Easy seat belt unbucklers
- Gas cap remover tools
- Seat belt buckle guards
1. Car Cane Standing Aids
I love the Stander HandyBar Car Cane Plus so much that I just gave this one to a senior friend who recently had a knee replacement (that’s her in the video below).The HandyBar Car Cane Plus works in most cars. The big thing to know with a car “cane” is that it has to be inserted into/removed from the door frame every time the senior uses it.
To use the device, insert it into the door latch of the car (this latch is also known as the striker latch). Next, turn the handle out so it faces away from the car. Note: some people find it works better for their needs if it is turned sideways across the threshold of the door.
When the person gets into or out of the car, they grasp the handle, then use it for leverage to pull themselves up or they lean on it for stability as they sit down. For added safety, the Car Cane comes with a non-slip grip handle so the person’s hand won’t slide off it while they are moving.
The Stander HandyBar Car Cane can support up to 300 pounds in body weight but it only weighs 10 ounces. This makes it portable if the user can’t store it in the car, or is using it in someone else’s car, or is taking it along while ridesharing.
Additionally, the car cane has a seat belt cutter in the handle, plus the tip (the part that goes into the door latch) can be used to break a window in the case of an accident. This model also has a small flashlight in the handle.
The biggest drawback to the HandyBar Car Cane is that the person has to remember to take it out of the latch before they shut the door. We could see this being a problem if they get distracted while gathering up coats, purses, etc, from the car.
TIP: car canes like this will not work in a car door that latches with a bolt. You must have a latch that attaches to the door frame with two bolts or screws. Be sure to check the door latch before you purchase one of these!
2. Seat Belt Buckle Holders
When I used to drive my elderly parents around, it made me nuts to have to buckle and unbuckle their seat belts. I also felt bad that I had to do it because I know they sort of felt like toddlers who couldn’t do things for themselves. But, the truth is, they really couldn’t do it on their own.
To begin with, both my parents usually had a hard time finding the seat belt fastener in the first place. Then, even if they had the buckle in hand, they often couldn’t turn sideways enough to see it, which meant they kept trying to latch the belt by feel. This just resulted in frustration and pinched fingers.
If you or a senior loved one has this problem, get a seat belt buckle holder. The buckle holder keeps seat belt latch upright and easily accessible so no one has to fish around for the buckle.
A drawback is that some buckle holders are made of hard plastic, which can damage cloth upholstery. For this reason, I like the silicone types made by Wididi Buckle Up. They are soft and have rounded corners, plus they are flexible and won’t harm the car’s fabric.
The Wididi Buckle Up is easy to install. Just slip the holder over the seat belt latch – that’s it. I’ll grant that it’s a tight fit, but the silicone does have a little “give” so they will work with most seat belts.
TIP: seat belt buckle holders are meant for floppy seat belt latches (the kind that has a strap with a buckle). They won’t work on the short buckles in some cars and SUVs. In the case of the Wididi Buckle Up, the dimensions of the opening are 1.85 inches x 1.02 inch. Check to be sure they fit before you order them for a vehicle.
3. Leg Lifter Straps
Leg lifter straps are awesome car aids for seniors. They are especially helpful for people who are recovering from an injury or surgery or for someone with weak leg muscles. I remember a friend of my parent’s who couldn’t lift either leg high enough to get in the car – even if she used her hands. Travel would have been much easier for her if she’d had one of these.
Leg lifter straps have a loop for your foot at one end of the strap and another loop at the other end that you hold in your hand. These straps are most stable if they have a semi-rigid aluminum rod enclosed within the strap (between the loops). The rod makes it easy for the person to position the bottom loop over their foot without having to bend over.
The straps come in various lengths, ranging from about 32 inches long for shorter people and up to 40 inches long for taller adults. Be sure to check the size you need before ordering one.
TIP: not only are leg lifter straps helpful for car travel, they are also great for people who have trouble lifting their legs when they get into bed or off the couch.
4. Easy Seatbelt Unbuckler
Okay, so we’ve established that my parents had an awful time with seat belts. Once they reached a destination, they also had trouble unbuckling the things. This was partly due to reduced strength in their fingers. Mom’s fingers were painful and gnarled from arthritis which made it even worse for her.
Seat belt unbucklers to the rescue! The UnBuckleMe is actually marketed as an easy release tool for unlatching the buckles on children’s car seats, but they are also awesome for seniors with weak or arthritic fingers.
Did you know that it takes about 9 pounds of pressure to unbuckle a seat belt? Me either, but it’s no wonder many elderly people have a hard time with them. Using the UnBuckleMe reduces the needed pressure by roughly 50 percent. Genius!
To use the UnBuckleMe:
- Slide it around the seat belt buckle latch
- Put the peg over the button of the latch
- Squeeze the button to open the buckle
TIP: a nice advantage is that the UnBuckleMe is about the size of your palm so it’s easy to slip into a pocket or purse for use in any car.
5. Gas Cap Remover Tool
Some gas cap remover tools are flat and fit easily in the pocket of the car door. The image to the right shows a flat one. You can also store this type in the glove box or in a seat-back pocket.
They’re pretty easy to use:
- Pop open the car’s gas tank cover
- Fit the tool over the cap
- Pull up to loosen
- After filling the tank, replace the gas cap over the tank’s opening, fit the tool over the cap again, then push down.
The Freedom Gas Cap Wrench is bigger, so it has to be stored on the floor behind the driver’s seat or in the car trunk. However, I have an acquaintance who keeps hers in the cup holder of the car’s console – a handy alternative!
To use the wrench-type of opener:
- Open the car’s gas tank cover
- Fit the tool over the gas cap
- Twist to open
- Reverse the process to tighten the cap after filling the tank.
TIP: because people have different strength levels or deficits in their hands, wrists, or fingers, check to see which type of gas cap remover will work best for their needs before you order one. Some people may have trouble with the wrench-type of opener because the handle is short and doesn’t give them enough leverage to open the gas cap.
6. Buckle Guards
Buckle guards are usually marketed for parents and kids, but they work well for seniors, too. A buckle guard fits over the seat belt latch and prevents someone from unfastening their seat belt while you are driving. They are particularly helpful for caregivers of a senior (or other loved one) who has dementia, Alzheimer’s or cognitive challenges.
It’s so easy to use, you don’t even have to install it. Simply place the guard on top of the seat belt’s buckle receptacle (again, it’s kind of like putting a cap over it). Then, fasten the seat belt through the wide slot just like you always do.
To open the seat belt, just push a regular car key through the small opening in the guard, press the latch button on the seat belt, and it will unlock.
While I think the concept is great, there are a few drawbacks you should be aware of:
- It only works with an actual key, but not with the key fobs that come with newer cars. You can work around this by putting an old metal key in the console of the car (or somewhere else that’s handy).
- It could be difficult to get someone unbuckled if there is an accident. The Buckleroo does come with a small, breakaway safety “key” to use in emergencies, though.
- Buckle guards aren’t attached to anything so they could get lost.