Guide to Selecting An Electric Mobility Scooter
Is a Mobility Scooter Right for YOU?
Electric mobility scooters and power wheelchairs have a great deal in common. They both are motor operated, powered by rechargable batteries and transport disabled people at speeds of 5-10mph up to 25 miles on a single charge. However, at prices usually ranging from $500 to $2,000 electric mobility scooters often are often much less expensive than power wheelchairs, which generally range from $2,000 to $10,000. So what is the difference?
As can be seen in the photos above, electric mobility scooters are usually much longer than power wheelchairs and have the steering mechanism (tiller) and controls for braking and power in front of the driver. Power wheelchairs are much shorter with the steering and controls on the side, often built into one of the arm rests. While this difference may not seem like much, it does make a large difference in the operation and appearance:
The turning radius of a power wheelchair (usually around 20 inches) is usually much shorter than that of an electric mobility scooter (usually between 30-60 inches), making the power wheelchair much more maneuverable. This is particularly important indoors.
Transfers are more easily made in a power wheelchair, since there is nothing in front of the seat. However, many electric mobility scooters have swivel seats, which turn to the side and turn back again. Swiveling seats may make transfers easier, though perhaps not as easy as a power wheelchair.
It is more difficult to sit at a table or desk with a mobility scooter compared with a power wheelchair.
Since the driver of a mobility scooter must reach out to the tiller to drive it, a mobility scooter requires some upper body strength and balance, while a power wheelchair can be operated by someone with little or no upper body strength.
The seat of a power wheelchair is usually much more substantial and adjustable than the seat of a mobility scooter, which may offer more stability for a person with minimal upper body strength, or for whom positioning is important. Some mobility scooters may allow specialized cushioning as an option.
There are possibilities to customize power wheelchairs for individual needs. But the possibilities for customization of a mobility scooter are usually limited.
Since a mobility scooter looks less like a wheelchair and more like a small motorcycle, some may prefer it for esthetic purposes.
Who is a candidate for an electric mobility scooter? Mobility scooters are ideal for people with:
enough upper body strength to reach forward and operate the controls
little risk of pressure sores or no requirement for positioning systems,
find it difficult to walk long distances,
Candidates for mobility scooters may include: senior citizens, people with moderate arthritis or heart or lung disease, in short people who tire easily or have pain when walking, but have enough mobility to get in and out of the mobility scooter.
Who should use power wheelchairs? Power wheelchairs should be considered for people who:
have very limited or no mobility,
have minimal upper body strength or find it difficult or uncomfortable to reach forward,
require significant seating and positioning support,
In addition, if the use will mostly be indoors where furniture or other obstacles are very close together, consider a power wheelchair as it will probably be easier to maneuver in tight spaces. If the indoor area is very spacious, some mobility scooters may be considered as will be discussed below.
What kind of electric mobility scooter is right for you? To answer that, you must first determine the primary purpose of the mobility scooter. Will you be traveling with your mobility scooter, or mostly using it within a few miles of home? Is it mostly for indoor use or for outdoor use?
Travel Scooters: If you will be traveling frequently away from home, consider an electric travel mobility scooter. These usually are smaller and lighter weight so they are easier to travel with. Usually travel mobility scooters weigh under 100lbs without batteries (which can weigh around 25lbs each) but dissemble fairly easily, often without requiring tools, into 4 or 5 pieces; each piece usually weighing 30lbs or less. This makes the travel mobility scooter convenient for breaking down and stowing in cars or other small spaces. If you will be flying, your travel mobility scooters should have a battery that is accepted by airlines. Some airlines do not allow ‘wet cell batteries’, the type often found in cars, or if they are accepted, they must be disconnected and carried in a separate container. This is because wet cell batteries can leak, and if they do the corrosive liquid can destroy wiring and equipment in the airplane. Sealed dry cell or gel-cell batteries are usually accepted by most airlines, though policies may vary, and some airlines still may require the battery to be removed and carried in a separate container. If you are going to be traveling outside the USA, find out if the mobility scooter has a built in adapter to accept various types of electricity. In the USA 110 volts is standard, though in many countries 220 volts is standard. Travel mobility scooters come as 3-wheelers and 4-wheelers, the advantages of which are discussed below.
They may be less rugged with smaller wheels and simpler suspension.
The seat is usually lighter and simpler than other mobility scooters.
These factors often add up to a less comfortable ride compared to heavier mobility scooters.
Travel mobility scooters are often very compact and may not be very comfortable for a very tall or large person.
Some travel mobility scooters have very low ground clearance (1-2 inches) and can get stuck if confronted with a high obstacle such as a speed bump, curb or the lip of a driveway or ramp.
Travel mobility scooters may be underpowered and may have trouble driving on very steep inclines or grass.
Disadvantages of travel mobility scooters compared to regular mobility scooters are:
While the price and convenience make the travel mobility scooter very popular, if you would like to take your mobility scooter along when you travel with your car, but prefer to have a larger more comfortable mobility scooter, in addition to the scooter you will probably need to buy mobility scooter trailer or mobility scooter rack.
Indoor use: If the primary use is indoors, consider a 3-wheeled mobility scooter. 3-wheeled mobility scooters are more maneuverable than 4-wheeled mobility scooters, however, usually not as maneuverable as a power-wheelchair. The main issue for a 3 wheeler compared to a 4-wheeler is that of stability. 3 Wheelers can be tippy if turned too sharply or if braking suddenly on a gradient.
Outdoor use: If you will be mostly using the mobility scooter to go shopping or run errands in town, consider buying a four wheel mobility scooter. These will be more comfortable, stable and safer on roads and sidewalks. Keep in mind that if you intend to drive the mobility scooter into stores, the stores had better have large and spacious isles.
Bariatric purposes: If you are a large person, consider a heavy duty mobility scooter. These carry weights from 300 to 500 lbs depending on the model
Here are some questions to consider if you are buying a mobility scooter:
What adjustments are possible on the seat?
Does the seat swivel to the side? (Important if you have limited mobility)
If the seat does not swivel, do the arm rests rise up?
Is the tiller adjustable? (Some mobility scooters have tillers that can telescope out or move backwards and forwards so that you can adjust the height and positioning to suit your comfort. In addition, it allows the tiller to be pushed out of the way during transfer. This can also be important if you are large or the mobility scooter is small.)
What is the turning radius? (Very important for use indoors)
What is the range the mobililty scooter can go without recharging the battery? (20 miles is average)
Is the charger onboard or separate? (Onboard chargers are convenient should you run out of power away from home).
What is the ground clearance? (2 inches or less may cause problems with curbs and speed bumps)
How long is the guarantee? (a few mobility scooters have lift-time guarantees)
For travel mobililty scooters: How easy is disassembly? How heavy is the heaviest piece (can you or someone you know easily lift it if necessary). Are special tools required?
What kind of battery does it have (wet cell maybe more difficult if traveling by plane and require maintenance, gel is a bit more expensive and may not last as long)
Is the battery included in the cost of the mobility scooter or is it considered an extra?
Is a front basket included (do you want one?)
How big are the wheels? (Typically smaller mobility scooters have wheels 7inch diameter and 2 inches wide, while large mobiity scooters may have wheels 10 inch in diameter and 3 inches wide. Larger wheels give added stability, which is important if the wheelchair is going outside, but smaller wheels are more maneuverable.)
Ok, you have chosen your mobility scooter, what are some other things you should think about?
Registration / licensing
Many local authorities have no requirements to register or license mobility scooters, while others (such as in the UK) do have registration requirements. Be sure to check your local requrements.
Often there is no legal requirement for insurance for mobility scooters. However, even when there is no requirement, insurance is important and your automobile or household insurance may not cover your mobility scooter. Accidents between mobility scooters and cars and mobility scooters and pedestrians do happen. Make sure you have sufficent insurance coverage if you or another person is injured while you are on your mobility scooter.
A mobility scooter is like a mini-motorcycle and precautions are necessary particularly if you will be driving your mobility scooter outdoors. How would you dress if you were on a motorcycle? Mobility scooter drivers should wear helmets and avoid wearing shorts and t-shirts, particularly when riding outdoors. Better yet, wear elbow pads and knee pads. Avoid driving mobility scooters when drinking or when taking medications which induce drowsiness, and avoid driving at night as mobility scooters are not very visible in the dark
When driven outside mobility scooters should be equipped with:
Rear view mirrors
Horns (though many mobility scooter horns are quiet and can not be heard in noisy traffic)
Safety flag and flag holder for visibility
A mobile phone in the unlikely event that you have a breakdown.
Get more information about mobility scooters from the mobility scooter website.