For many people with limited mobility a powered scooter is a good alternative to a wheelchair.
Many people prefer a scooter to a wheel chair as they are more attractive visually, are lighter, more compact and have better maneuverability. We will look at mobility scooter features, their value as mobility aids and other information to consider when choosing a mobility scooter.
An electric mobility scooter is composed of a wheeled platform containing the drive unit and batteries, with controls and hand rests towards the front and a seat at the rear. For rugged terrains and hills a rear wheel drive unit would be preferred as they have better traction than a front wheel drive model. The platform or drive unit is usually made from steel, aluminum or fiberglass or sometimes a composite is used. There may be a cover over the drive head and dashboard instruments. When considering the scooter to purchase the size, ground clearance and turning radius should all be considered as these relate directly to the maneuverability.
Comfort and Safety
To ensure the needs of the rider are met the base unit dimensions and construction should be carefully considered. The feet must be comfortably accommodated and the controls easy to use and comfortably within reach. This is vitally important for a very tall or short riders. Many scooters have adjustable seats and arm rests and some have various base dimensions or extra footrests for longer legs or for those who wear leg braces.
Stability of the base unit on inclines and sharp turns is important. Many scooters have anti-tip mechanisms on the wheels for stability during maneuvers of these kinds so we advise you to check that the scooter your are considering has these mechanisms.
Front Wheel Drive Models
Manufactured primarily for indoor use, front-wheel drive units are less powerful than rear wheel drive models but usually smaller and more maneuverable. They are only recommended for smooth floors or pavements and may have difficulty coping with curbs. Because they are smaller than rear wheel drive units they are more easily transported and more likely to fit into a wheelchair lift.
Rear Wheel Drive Models
With more powerful motors and longer range, rear wheel scooters are much better in rougher terrain or uneven pavements. They are larger than front wheel drive models and less maneuverable. More suited to outdoor use they have higher speeds but are less easily transported and less likely to fit into wheelchair lifts.
Rear wheel drive models have an electronic braking system that is engaged when pressure is released from the controls. The brakes therefore will always be engaged when the unit is not being driven forwards or in reverse. In order to be able to move the scooter manually a brake release lever is provided. Many scooters have disc brakes in combination with, or instead of, the electronic system.
In contrast front wheel drive models do not usually have an electronic system but have a parking brake that is manually applied to the rear wheel.
The electric power system is either 12 or 24 volts supplied by one or two batteries. Rear wheel drive systems are generally 24 volts while the front wheel systems 12 volts. Add on units may be available to increase the range, but not the speed, of the scooter. The batteries are not interchangeable with auto batteries as their job is for sustained provision of power rather than a short starting burst as required by an auto battery. Their lifetime is between twelve and eighteen months and they are designed for regular charge and discharge. Batteries may be of the lead acid type or the gel cell type and are usually purchased as an extra. Battery chargers, whether integral or separate units are usually included in the purchase price. Ensure that the correct type of battery is purchased as chargers may be specific to the type of battery (lead acid or gel) although some chargers are dual purpose. Both independent and integral chargers have their advantages and disadvantages. An integral charger is convenient but if it goes wrong the whole scooter must be returned for repair. An independent charger is bulkier to move around but more easily replaced if needed.
Wheels and Tires
maneuverability of the scooter depends to a large extent on the wheel and tire size. Small tires on front-wheel drive models increase maneuverability but decrease traction so rear wheel drive scooters generally have bigger tires for better grip on uneven terrain. Pneumatic tires, foam filled tires and solid tires are available. Pneumatic tires, as on most autos, are better for comfort but need maintenance and replacing when worn. Foam filled tires cannot be deflated and are almost maintenance free. However they are less comfortable to ride and more expensive. Solid tires are only suitable for indoor use, are maintenance free but considerably less comfortable.
The seating should be considered carefully when choosing a mobility scooter. Arm and head rests may be included and seat padding will play a big factor in comfort especially when the scooter is ridden for a long time. Fabric covering is much more comfortable than vinyl but more expensive and harder to clean. Powered seats are a big help in mounting and dismounting but add to the cost. Powered seats may also allow elevation but again this feature will increase both the initial cost and the drain on the batteries. Seats that can be adjusted will be necessary if the rider is taller or shorter than average. Check to see if armrests can be flipped up for mounting.
Thumb levers are the most common types of controls but joysticks and loop handles are also used. A joystick attached to the armrest may be more suitable for someone with limited thumb mobility or strength.
Other accessories that may be important to an individuals needs include oxygen transporters, crutch holders and front or rear baskets. Horns, lights and canopies are also optional in many cases.
Matching the needs of the rider with the features offered by the manufacturer is the most important consideration. Where will the scooter be used? Is the scooter the right dimensions and can it be adjusted for the size of the rider? Will thumb levers or a joystick be more suitable? Consideration to these questions will ensure that the mobility scooter chosen is the best one for the individual rider.