How to Choose a Mobility Scooter
A powered mobility scooter can be a great solution for those with ambulation problems who want to regain independence outside the home. However, a power scooter is an investment most likely paid for with private funds as Medicare, Medicaid and other medical insurances do not usually fund these purchases unless you can prove it is also necessary to move about in your home. Before choosing a mobility scooter there are several items to consider to help narrow down your choices to the right decision.
Types of Mobility Scooters
Consumer Affairs (1) classifies mobility scooters into seven categories:
- Travel Scooters – made for portability; can easily be disassembled; usually fits riders 275-300 pounds
- Mid-Size Scooters – slightly heavier and more stable than compact scooters; fits riders 300-350 pounds
- Full-Size Scooters – more stability and less portability; fits riders 350-500 pounds
- Heavy-Duty Scooters – designed for the bariatric market; extra comfort and wider seats; fits riders 450-500 pounds
- All-Terrain Scooters – larger wheels; higher frame; designed for rugged terrains; fits riders 300-450 pounds
- Luxury Scooters – feature-rich, deluxe design for comfort and power; can be heavy duty or all-terrain in style; fits riders 300-500 pounds
Things to Consider Before Purchasing
A mobility scooter can be a great solution over a wheelchair for its maneuverability, attractiveness, compactness and easier to manage frame. With the amount of mobility scooters on the market there is probably one or more that could meet your needs. However before committing to a purchase there are several important items to consider when you evaluate a scooter’s suitability for your needs.
- Physically ability to use the scooter
- Weight limit of the scooter
- Where do you plan to use the scooter
- Transportation and storage of the scooter
- Construction of the scooter
- Safety features
- Wheels and tires
Let’s look at each of the items below.
Physical Ability to Use the Scooter
Not everyone is suited to safely and properly use a mobility scooter. If you have dexterity problems with your hands, such as with severe arthritis, and cannot steer a scooter with two hands you may want to see if a loop (delta) tiller or a joystick on the armrest might be available to you. Otherwise, you may be better served with a power wheelchair that only requires one hand navigation with a joystick operation.
If you need special seating needs, need to keep your legs elevated or cannot sit upright for any length of time then a mobility scooter is not the safest option for mobility. A powered wheelchair may be a better consideration for you in this situation.
People suffering from forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s or other debilitating mental impairments should not consider using a mobility scooter. A caregiver should escort them in a manual wheelchair where the caregiver can exercise and control the required mobility needs.
Weight Limit of the Scooter
It is important to adhere to the weight limit established by the manufacturer in order to maintain your warranty. Try not to match the same weight as specified as the limit by the manufacturer. You will need to add in the weight of items you plan to carry or tow, such as bags, groceries, oxygen tanks, crutches or other items that need to be added to your weight for the total weight to be carried by the scooter.
You need to take into consideration the length of your legs and comfort space needed to sit for periods of time. Also consider your height and if the scooter seems to big or small for your body frame. You want to be comfortable when using the scooter for extended periods of time.
Where Do You Plan to Use the Scooter
Most scooters are designed to use outdoors or in commercial buildings, such as malls, shops, public event centers, hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc. Some are small enough to use in the home, but most people would prefer to use canes or a walker when navigating around the home. If you do need to use a scooter in the home you should consider a smaller three-wheel model that has a small turn radius to get around those corners and tight spaces in your home. You could also consider a power wheelchair to get around in your home too.
Mobility scooters can be a great solution to run errands or just get outside your home. One of the nice features of the smaller scooters is they can be broken down and relatively easily placed in your car or van to take it where you need to use it. If many of the places you need to use the scooter has tight aisles or hallways you may want to consider a three-wheel scooter that has a tighter turn radius to negotiate those sharp or square turns.
However, if plan to use your scooter for more outdoor activities, such as walking with family members or the dog or perhaps even attend outdoor events with your kids or grandchildren then you might want to consider a more rugged and stable scooter. These scooters are usually four-wheel solutions that are heavier and more stable when traversing over gravel, grass and uneven payment types where greater traction is required. They usually have one or two large batteries, which gives it the weightier solution, and a more rugged frame to give you more speed and distance for those longer outings.
Another consideration on which type of scooter to choose may be where your home is located. If you are located on a steep hill or incline and need to use the scooter from your front door to your car or navigate the streets you will need to have a scooter with enough power to climb the hill. You will need to calculate your driveway or walkway incline in percentage or degrees and make sure the model you are considering can climb your incline. (Tip: here is a calculator to help convert a slope into degrees.)
You will need to evaluate how you intend to use your new scooter, possibly trading size and comfort for portability and turning radius. Consider your needs carefully before choosing a new mobility scooter!
Transportation and Storage of the Scooter
If you choose a smaller “travel” scooter that can be easily disassembled or folded, do you have adequate room in your car, van or truck to securely transport the scooter back and forth to your destination(s). If you have a larger model scooter that is heavier and cannot be disassembled, do you have a lift attached to your car, van or truck to safely transport the scooter. In some situations parts of the scooter can be removed, such as the handlebar or seat backs, where the main scooter can be driven up into the back of a van or truck.
If you do not plan to keep your new scooter in your vehicle you will need to have a place to store it in your house, on your porch, in your garage or in a shed to keep it out of the elements. You will also need a place to plug it in to charge the batteries on a regular frequency.
Construction of the Scooter
Seating varies from scooter to scooter. Seat sizes vary in size from 18″ to 26″ in width with some double-wide seats available on a few scooters. Most seats are vinyl but can be ordered with fabric at an additional cost. Some seats come with headrests and armrests, which may or may not lift up making it easier to get in and out of the scooter. You may also find some models that offer a height adjustable seat so you can adjust it to your comfort level. Seats may also swivel making it easier to get in and out of the scooter.
Some scooters have an anti-tipping mechanism to help steady the scooter when making sharper turns. This is definitely a safety feature worth investigating. You may want to also consider items like a flag, headlights and horns for added visibility.
Batteries come in 12 or 24 volt sizes and may be sold individually or in a pack. Rear wheel drive systems are typically 24 volts while front wheel drive systems are 12 volts. (2) Some scooters may allow you to add on additional batteries to get more distance or range, but not more speed, of the scooter. Scooter batteries are NOT interchangeable with auto batteries! Batteries can last 12-24 months if properly maintained. (You can get more information from the vendor on how to optimize your batteries.)
Batteries should be charged on a regular basis even you if don’t use the scooter that frequently. This will ensure the battery charge doesn’t drop too low. Don’t just plug the battery/batteries in to the outlet and forget about them. When the battery/batteries reach a full charge they will shut off the charge and the battery/batteries will start to drain. If the charge gets too low they may not charge back up and may end up needing to be replaced.
Batteries come in two types: Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) and Gel batteries. SLA batteries are popular because they are less expensive and generally meet the needs of the typical scooter user’s daily needs. The downside is their life cycle is not as long as a gel battery. Gel batteries have gel for their battery fluid thus making them less dangerous in the event of a battery crack and leak. Since gel batteries do not discharge at the same rate as SLA batteries you can go further and longer on a single charge. However, gel batteries can be damaged by overcharging so be sure to monitor your monitor during charging. (3)
Wheels and Tires
Wheels and tire size have a significant impact on the maneuverability of your scooter. Small tires on a front-wheel drive scooter will increase your maneuverability but decrease your traction. People will generally opt for larger tires for traction on uneven terrains. Again, what tire size you need will largely depend where you intend to use the scooter.
Tires come in three types: pneumatic, foam filled and solid. Pneumatic tires, similar to what is used on automobiles and bicycles, provide more shock absorption and are ideal for all terrain travel. You will need to service them when they start to lose air and replace the inner tube when they go flat. They are usually the tire of choice for most scooter users.
Another option is foam filled tires. They are a good solution if you don’t want to worry about checking your tires regularly, but they do not provide a smooth ride like the pneumatic tires. Most travel size scooters come with a solid tire, which never goes flat, but is not the most comfortable ride.
Rear wheel scooters use an electronic or electromechanical dynamic, regenerative braking system meaning the braking system is engaged when pressure is released from the controls. The brakes will automatically be engaged when the scooter is not being driven forward or backwards. A brake lever is provided in order to move the scooter manually in the event the batteries fail. There are scooters that have disc brakes or both types as part of the overall braking system. Yet front wheel drive scooters will have a parking brake that is manually applied to the rear wheels to halt the scooter.
Thumb controls are the most popular means of operating the “T” style tiller using two hands to operate and steer the scooter. There are some scooters that have a loop or delta tiller where riders can rest their wrists while steering the scooter. Some scooters have a “Sportster” style handlebar tiller, much like a motorcycle style, for a different style look. For others they may be an option for a joystick operation on the armrest for those who cannot navigate with one of the other style tillers.
There are many accessories available for the scooter. Some are not available for all makes and models. If you need a certain accessory it may sway your decision on which make and model to choose for your scooter. You may also want to check other markets for vendors who can supply the accessory if the vendor cannot provide them directly.
Accessories may include oxygen holders, crutches, walker or cane holders, front or rear baskets, visibility flags, canopies, horns, headlights or attached carts for hauling items.
Here is a video showing a quick overview of the topics discussed in this article:
Conclusion – How to Choose a Mobility Scooter
As you can see there is no “one size fits all” solution and there are many factors to consider in choosing the right mobility scooter for you. How and where do you plan to use the scooter? Do you live on a hill or need to tackle steeper inclines? How large are you and what do you plan to carry with you for sizing purposes? What kind of storage options do you have for transporting and charging the scooter? Do you need a special tiller or control style? Once you can answer these questions you will be able to narrow down and choose the mobility scooter that is right for you!
Personal note: we are looking at a mobility scooter for my wife so we are doing our due diligence in research. Writing this article has been very helpful in identifying makes and models that will work for her needs!
To your improved health…
- (1) Consumer Affairs – Compare Mobility Scooters
- (2) Disabled World – How to Choose a Scooter
- (3) SpinLife – Scooter Battery Basics