Getting started with Mobility Scooters


Who could benefit from a mobility scooter?

Drive Medical Regatta mobility scooterAnyone who struggles to walk or gets tired after walking a short distance could benefit from using a mobility scooter. Using an electric scooter is not an admission of defeat and can make a great deal of difference to your quality of life, and can even provide a new lease of life and a new found independence. If you are thinking about getting a mobility scooter, it is probably past time to do it. However, the sooner you start using an electric scooter, the longer you might retain the ability to walk.

A disabled scooter can give you more energy because you won't be using all your energy in trying to walk, or push a traditional wheelchair. Using an electric scooter will help to relieve the strain on shoulder muscles and wrist and elbow joints that are used when pushing yourself in a self propelled wheelchair or someone else in a traditional transit wheelchair. An electric scooter can help to provide you with the freedom to go where ever you want, whenever you want. Some models are capable of travelling up to 35 miles between charges, so the distance you can cover is much greater than in a traditional wheelchair.

A large number of supermarkets and DIY stores as well as other shops offer customers the use of a mobility scooter whilst shopping. If you are not sure if you would benefit from one, why not try one and see if it makes shopping any easier. Some places such as large shopping centres or town centres offer Shopmobility, which is a scheme that lends or hires mobility equipment based on the user's requirements, and then provides brief training on using the equipment. If you go on holiday why not arrange to hire a mobility scooter instead of taking your wheelchair, and see if it makes a difference.

By getting an electric scooter, you can open many doors that have been previously closed, perhaps because of a disability or illness - such as going shopping, going out for the day, going for a "walk" with the children or grandchildren. You can go up and down steep hills in comfort and without fear of rolling down the hill, and without being worn out for days afterwards. You can visit friends and relatives at your convenience, without needing to rely on public transport. Most mobility scooters have a key to start them, and so if the key is removed the scooter cannot be driven. This means that the scooter can be left outside a shop, for example, and it can be "locked" like a car.

If you think that you, a friend or relative could benefit from a mobility scooter or a powerchair, why not try some and find one that you like. If you know somebody with a mobility scooter, ask them about it, and what improvements it has brought them. Mobility scooters can mean the difference between managing to live at home independently, and having to rely on others.

What sort of mobility scooter is best for me?

Mobility scooter imageThe nature of the disability will go some way into determining what sort of mobility scooter will be the right one. If the disabled scooter is to completely replace a car, then a small boot scooter is unlikely to fit the bill. By the same token, if you require an electric scooter that dismantles to fit into the car boot then a large road legal electric scooter will not be suitable.

Medium sized mobility scooters are much more substantial than small / boot mobility scooters. Medium sized mobility scooters often offer more car-like features such as a padded, height and reach adjustable seat, lights and indicators, and a longer range between charges. They tend to have bigger wheels and can have a maximum speed of up to 6mph. These scooters can sometimes be dismantled to fit in a car, but this process is usually more complicated than with a small / boot scooter. The components are likely to be heavier, and so can be more difficult to put into a car boot.

Large sized mobility scooters are much more substantial, and often twice the size of a boot scooter. These disabled scooters have a top speed of up to 8mph, and depending on the model range of up to 35 miles and are legal to be used on the road or off-road. As they are road legal, they have a full lighting kit and indicators. They offer large wheels, pneumatic tyres and often have suspension to provide a comfortable ride. For a lot of people, these large mobility scooters will replace their car and will be their main method of transport. As a result of this, the larger electric scooters will be more substantial and rugged than a small / boot scooter.

How often you use the electric scooter, where you go on it, where it will be stored, how it needs to be charged (whether the battery pack can be charged separately from the electric scooter or not) will help to determine what sort of mobility scooter will be right for you. If your scooter is to replace your car and will be used everyday, you will need a different type of scooter to someone who uses their scooter on days out and leaves it in the car or the house the rest of the time.

Once you have decided what sort of mobility scooter you need why not try some models and see which one is the most suitable for you.

How to choose a mobility scooter

After you have decided what type of mobility scooter is suitable for your needs, the next thing to do is to try some. You will probably need to try several scooters to find one that feels comfortable and meets all your requirements. If a scooter doesn't feel right immediately, ask the sales person to adjust the seat or the tiller, and see if that helps. If that doesn't help, then that probably isn't the scooter for you.

You may be tempted by the cheapest disability scooter on sale, especially if you have a budget, but remember that you wouldn't buy the cheapest car in the showroom if it didn't fit your needs just because it was the cheapest! Whilst trying different scooters make sure you can drive them around the showroom, or even outside, to see what they are like over bumps, and whether they feel comfortable and stable. Legroom is another important consideration, especially for the taller person. As a rule of thumb, three wheel scooters provide more legroom than four wheel scooters; however, four wheel scooters tend to be more stable.

Remember to ask the sales person any questions that you want answering. It sounds obvious, but people can be intimidated when faced with something that they know nothing about. Common topics of questions include the scooters speed; range; whether it dismantles for transportation; the weight of the components once the scooter is dismantled; the actual dimensions of the scooter if space is tight; whether the tiller can be changed for a different one, or if the forward/reverse controls can be changed from right hand to left hand.

Drive Medical Prism mobility scootersIf your scooter is to replace your car, you will need to ensure that the scooter has the comforts and features that you need. An 8mph model may be just what you need, and will allow you to ride on the road with a range of up to 35 miles. The road legal models have a full lighting kit and indicators and often have suspension and pneumatic tyres to offer a more comfortable ride over the long distances these scooters can cover.

If your scooter is for occasional use and not going to be your main method of transport, then a small/boot scooter might be most appropriate. Again, make sure that there is enough legroom, and that it is comfortable. Try it out and ensure that you can easily dismantle the scooter and that the individual components are not too heavy to lift into the car. They tend to be ideal for days out and short trips to the shops and rather than long journeys.

Pavement scooters are a good compromise between small land large scooters. They offer the size, comfort and some of the features of the larger scooters, but some of them can still disassemble to fit in a car boot. They tend to be heavier and more bulky, and harder to disassemble than the dedicated boot scooters. It is worthwhile dissembling the scooter to see how easy it is and to make sure you can put it in the car.

Some models are available with different seats, or different batteries. If you've found the ideal scooter, but there's something that doesn't quite meet your requirements, there may be a solution. Remember to ask the sales person.

Once you have purchased your mobility scooter you can then begin to regain your independence.

What is the difference between a mobility scooter and a powerchair?

Mobility scooter and powerchairMobility scooters and powerchairs are often grouped together to differentiate them from traditional self-propelled, or pushed manual wheelchairs. There are however some fundamental differences between a mobility scooter and a powerchair.

Mobility scooters have three or four wheels and are steered using a bicycle style handlebar (or tiller) which requires two hands, and are designed to travel up to 35 miles. They are often used by people with limited mobility, or those who tire easily when walking. Depending on the model and type of mobility scooter, the scooter may disassemble into easy to manage components so that it can be easily transported in a car, or stored at home.

Powerchairs usually look more like traditional wheelchairs, and some models even look just like a traditional wheelchair with batteries and a motor attached to each wheel. The powerchair is driven using one hand by a joystick controller on the arm of the powerchair. Powerchair users tend to spend more time in their chairs than scooter users spend on their scooters. Because of this, powerchairs are usually more adaptable than disabled scooters and some models can have specialist seats and controllers fitted to suit the individual requirements of the user. For example, the powerchair can be controlled by hand, by a chin controller, or even using a sip and puff pipe operated with the mouth. The footrests can be specific to the user's needs and can include swing away or articulating footrests. Powerchairs are also more likely to be used inside although some powerchairs are equally capable indoors and outdoors. Mobility scooters are more likely to be used outdoors, although some of the smaller ones can be used indoors.

Electric scooters usually have one motor to drive the rear wheels whilst powerchairs have two motors to individually drive the rear wheels. This gives the powerchair a smaller turning circle which is ideal for indoor use, and provides a lot of traction and control. Some powerchairs even have the option of an electrically operated hydraulic seat so that the user can reach traditionally unreachable places like cupboards and shelves. Disabled scooters tend to be less configurable than powerchairs, and have fewer optional extras.

Disability scooters tend to be less expensive than powerchairs. Powerchairs have two motors, and better, more supportive seating as users often spend a lot of time in the powerchair. Powerchair users may not be able to support themselves, or be able to walk at all, and so their requirements are different from mobility scooter users.

Traditionally, powerchairs were not as easy to dismantle as mobility scooters, but this is changing and most of the powerchair manufacturers offer powerchairs that will fit into a car boot. Designs are constantly changing and improving, and powerchairs are becoming as easy to dismantle and as rugged as mobility scooters. Some powerchairs have six wheels for added stability, and some are front wheel drive for added indoor manoeuvrability.

Now that you have found out more about the differences between mobility scooters and powerchairs, you can decide which will best suit your needs.

What do mobility scooters consist of?

Elite traveller mobility scooter partsMobility Scooters usually consist of a base unit, the drive chain, the seat, and tiller, as well as the batteries and wheels. The base unit is the chassis that the other components are attached to. This chassis provides the area where the feet go in between the tiller and the batteries or drive chain. The drive chain is the part that powers the scooter. The tiller is the handlebar that steers the mobility scooter.

Front wheel drive mobility scooters have the drive train just over the front wheel. These sorts of scooter have a smaller weight capacity and are much more suited to indoor use than outdoor use compared to a rear wheel driver mobility scooter. They directly drive the front wheel, and so are not as good up hills as rear wheel drive scooters. Front wheel drive scooters also tend to be small/boot scooters rather than larger pavement or road legal scooters. Rear wheel drive mobility scooters use a chain, belt or transaxle mechanism to drive the rear wheels. Rear wheel drive scooters "push" the rider whereas front wheel drive scooters "pull" the rider. This offers more power and efficiency and so provides a better ride, and allows the scooter to go up steeper hills.

Mobility scooters use electro magnetic regenerative brakes which work by slowing and then stopping the scooter as soon as the user releases the controls. When the brakes are applied, the batteries are recharged by the excess power from the motor. This type of brake means that a separate hand brake is not necessary, and that the scooter can be left on a slope without fear of it rolling away. Most mobility scooters have a freewheel mode so that the scooter can be moved with out it being switched on, perhaps for storage, or in case of an emergency.

The batteries on a mobility scooter are not the same as car or motorcycle batteries, and should not be substituted. Car and motorcycle batteries are starter batteries, designed to provide short bursts of power. The batteries should be charged and looked after as per the mobility scooter manual.

The number of wheels and size and type of tyre affect the stability and ride quality of the mobility scooter. Smaller scooters tend to have small solid tyres, which don't offer the same ride quality as bigger scooters with larger pneumatic tyres. Three wheel scooters offer more legroom and a smaller turning circle compared to a four wheel scooter, but the stability can be compromised.

Mobility scooter seats often have folding armrests, and swivel to aid getting on and off the scooter. The seat is often padded to provide more comfort. Some models have a larger Captain or Admiral seat, which is more like a car seat, and may offer more adjustment than a standard seat. The larger, more comfortable seats are normally found on the larger scooters as the scooter has a larger range, so the distance travelled could be almost double that of a small scooter. Almost all seats are adjustable for height, some adjust for reach, and some even recline like a car seat.

The tiller controls the direction, and speed of the mobility scooter, and is like a bicycle handle bar. The scooter moves by either pulling or pushing the lever on the tiller (called a wigwag). Some models of scooter have a Delta tiller meaning that the user can either pull with the fingers (like a bicycle brake) to make the scooter move, or push with the thumb. This tiller is ideal for people with limited hand mobility or who have one hand much better than the other. This means they can use the same hand for both moving forward and reversing. The control panel on the tiller includes the battery gauge, the speed control, and the horn and light controls, where fitted.

The scooters speed is usually controlled by a rotary control, which ranges from low speed to high speed. On some 6 and 8mph mobility scooters there is a switch that lowers the top speed from 6/8 mph to 4mph to make it pavement legal.

Mobility Scooters are designed to be simple to understand and operate, and so shouldn't be intimidating.

Mobility scooter accessories

Mobility scooter batteriesMobility Scooters can be customised to fit the user's exact needs. Depending on the model of scooter and the user's requirements, additional products can help you get even more out of your mobility scooter. The range of mobility scooter accessories includes various products ranging from bigger batteries, to mobility canopies to walking stick holders.

Bigger batteries can be expensive, depending on the model of scooter, and the size of battery. However, if you regularly covering large distances, or feel restricted as you can't travel as far as you wish, then a battery upgrade will be cost effective. If you regularly dismantle your scooter to go in the car, it is worthwhile remembering that bigger batteries will be heavier.

If you regularly travel off road, or on long journeys, different tyres may be available for your mobility scooter. Pneumatic tyres provide a comfortable ride and are usually fitted to the larger scooters as standard. It is possible to puncture-proof tyres so that you can enjoy benefits of pneumatic tyres and won't suffer from a puncture.

Some disabled scooters have the option of a different sort of tiller to control your scooter. A Delta tiller allows the same hand to control both forward and reverse, and works by the hand either pulling or pushing the lever to control the scooter. This can be beneficial if one hand tires easily, or if one hand is stronger than the other.

A crutch or walking stick holder will mean that you can take your crutches or walking stick with you wherever you go. An oxygen cylinder holder might also be available for your scooter. Rear view mirrors are available, and can make reversing into a garage or shed even easier, especially if you struggle to turn your head. These mirrors are also found on the road legal scooters, so that users can see the traffic behind them.

Mobility scooter bagA mobility scooter bag or pouch can make carrying your shopping or other items easier. This can range from a small pouch that will fit on the scooters armrest which is ideal for carrying car keys and a mobile phone, to a large bag that will fit on the back of seat and will hold a lot of shopping, or all the necessary items for a day out.

Mobility canopies and capes are available to protect you and your scooter in adverse weather conditions. These range from a cape that covers the user and the scooter to a canopy that completely encloses the user and scooter from the elements. Mobility canopies are mainly designed for the larger pavement and road-legal scooters whilst capes will fit most scooters and users.

Mobility ramps are available so that you can get your mobility scooter into a car, up outdoor steps, or over up a step in the home. These are available in aluminium and fibreglass and some mobility ramps even fold so that they can be kept in the car. Other mobility ramps are available for permanent outdoor use to aid getting in and out of buildings for example. These models often have handrails, and are lightweight.

Mobility ramps are available so that you can get your mobility scooter into a car, up outdoor steps, or over up a step in the home. These are available in aluminium and fibreglass and some mobility ramps even fold so that they can be kept in the car. Other mobility ramps are available for permanent outdoor use to aid getting in and out of buildings for example. These models often have handrails, and are lightweight.

If you want to get more out of your mobility scooter, why not see if there's an accessory to suit you and your mobility scooter.

How to charge and maintain your mobility scooter

Mobility scooter chargerFirst of all, it is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations in the manual that came with the mobility scooter as each scooter will have different instructions. Depending on the instructions, you may need to recharge your scooter after each time you use it. Or, you may only need to recharge it when it when the battery gauge tells you that battery charge is low.

If you have a small / boot electric scooter you may be able to take the battery pack off the scooter and charge the batteries independently of the scooter. This means that you can leave the scooter in the car, and charge the batteries indoors, such as at home, in a hotel room or caravan. Other mobility scooters need to have the batteries left on them to charge them. The charging point is on the scooter itself, rather than the battery pack. This means that the disabled scooter battery has to be charged near a mains outlet, and so the mobility scooter is likely to be kept in a garage or shed if it's too large to be kept inside the house. As a rough guide, depending on use, terrain, and user weight, the batteries can last 1-2 years. Obviously if the mobility scooter is used for a travelling a few miles a week on flat terrain, the batteries will last longer than if the scooter is used for travelling 20 miles a day up and down hills and off road.

The mobility scooter manual may say that bigger batteries can be fitted to your disability scooter. This will provide you with a greater range, meaning that you can go further before needing to charge your batteries. The batteries are available from mobility dealers and the price will depend on the battery capacity. The batteries are often the heaviest item on a mobility scooter. Bigger batteries will mean heavier batteries, which is one thing to consider if you often dismantle the scooter to transport it in the car.

Like a car, your mobility scooter will need a service from time to time. The mobility scooter manual will advise you how often your scooter needs servicing. As a rough guide it will need servicing every 12 months or so, depending on use. An authorised mobility dealer will be able to carry out the scooter service, and ensure that the scooter is functioning to its full capability. Depending on the dealer, and the model and age of the scooter, the scooter service may take two hours. The service may also include a test ride by the mechanic to fully check the mobility scooter and make sure that it is running smoothly and as it should do. The mobility scooter may need to be taken to a mobility dealer to be serviced, or the dealer may carry out the service in the user's home. This means that the user won't be without their scooter, and can ask the mechanic any questions regarding their scooter. The manual will also describe and weekly or monthly maintenance checks that are required. This can include pumping up the tyres, lubricating the brake, checking the seat mechanism and so on.

The mobility scooter bodywork is usually made out of plastic, and so may be subjected to some wear and tear during the life of the scooter. Replacement shrouds (bodywork) for the front and rear might be available depending on the model of scooter. These are usually easy to fit, and can be fitted by the user or a mobility dealer.

Mobility scooters are designed to be easy to use and maintain, and can provide years of freedom and independence as well as great value for money if looked after properly.

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