IT CAN BE AWKWARD moving around in a vehicle home. It can be almost impossible if you have mobility limitations to begin with. Even simple things like reaching for our shoes can make us wish we still lived in a building. Or at least in a large RV. If you’re not as flexible as an octopus, I might have the perfect solution.

When it’s good to be grabby

Adding handles around my van has been one of my best ideas ever. I attached the first one to the tradesman’s cabinet that came with the van. It helps me maneuver around, from scooching along the bed, to lying down, rolling over, and sitting up. On occasion it has helped me off the floor where I had been getting something out from under the bed.

I added another handle to a brace that anchors the aforementioned cabinet. (Then I got in a creative mood and wrapped it with faux leather strips.) It aids in moving around the “living room/kitchen/bathroom/entry hall.”  Using the bucket is so much easier. And safer.

Finally (for now) I mounted a handle to the insulated box that houses my refrigerator. It’s right by the door so it steadies me while entering and exiting the van. Because graceless dismounts can be embarrassing. And painful.

Okay, but how do you attach them?

Handles like these need to be able to bear your weight, so they need to be securely mounted to the strongest surfaces. Those places are easy to find in a bare cargo van or utility trailer. Lots of exposed metal — or wood you already attached to metal. 

But if your vehicle has plastic and fabric covering the metal, you’ll need to do some detective work. That will probably require some car trim removal tools to pry off the panels, or to at least peek behind them. In a pinch, you can use a screwdriver, putty knife or table knife, maybe a spoon or fork. Be careful prying the panels so you don’t snap off the clips. If you do, replacements clips might be available at auto parts stores (because a lot of people do break the clips). And be aware of any wiring or hoses back there.

Nuts and bolts will hold better in sheet metal than sheet metal screws will. If you can’t get to the back side of the surface you want to mount to, you can use rivet nuts (a.k.a. rivnuts or nutserts). Rivet nuts are like rivets (hence the name) except they’re threaded in the center. When they’re compressed, the sides bulge out and squeeze tightly against the sheet metal creating what the fabrication folks call a “captive nut.”

The rivet nuts themselves are cheap, but the installation tools are not. However, those tools aren’t really necessary. There are YouTube videos showing alternative installation methods using just bolts, nuts, washers, and a wrench.

Screws are good for mounting handles in wood. Just use the fattest ones that will fit through the handle holes. That will provide more gripping area than thin screws. And, of course, make sure they’re not so long that they poke out the other side of the wood and into something critical, like an exterior wall or roof, or a bundle of wires. The best place to get the right screws is a hardware store that has a big aisle of all sizes and types of fasteners. That’s probably also the best place to buy handles.

If you’ve never used wood screws before, there are lots of online tutorials covering everything from types of screws, how to choose the right kind, and how to drill pilot holes. (Don’t know what a pilot hole is? Then definitely check out the tutorials.)

No dainty handles

Again, we’re dealing with your body weight here, and relentless gravity, so you want big and beefy handles — or even grab rails. Get them large enough to fit all your fingers around them. And they should be comfortable to grab and pull.

Oh no, holes!

Yes, attaching handles to your vehicle means making holes. It might even mean cutting away part of a plastic panel in order to mount to something solid. Well here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of making permanent modifications to our rolling homes. Which is more important? Living comfortably and happily in a functional space, or pleasing a possible future owner? Think about that when you’re on the floor and can’t get up.