It is true that both an electric wheelchair and mobility scooter share the same basic function – that is, to transport people with varying levels of reduced mobility from one place to another – yet they also bring with them notable differences…differences that may not be immediately recognizable on the surface. Being that both these products are very popular amongst the physically impaired and senior citizen sets, it’s important to understand the differences between them should someone in the family be in need of such a device.
To start with, mobility scooters seem to be the preference amongst those who experience age-related pain from bone issues or other health complications, but who nevertheless still boast fine motor skills and the use of both hands. Electric wheelchairs, conversely, are typically chosen by patients who can’t be on their feet for long periods of time, who have almost no mobility in the body due to paralysis or who experience reduced mobility in the neck, arms or upper torso.
Essentially a “power chair,” an electric wheelchair is powered by batteries and an electric motor, all of which have been designed for nonstop use. They offer support for the patient’s back and sides for added comfort, and with hand controls on the armrests, the wheelchair can be controlled without having to extend the arms or lean too far forward. This enables a stable position for those individuals who have limited mobility of the arms or upper body.
Made for those who are not completely immobile, a mobility scooter allows for easy mounting by lifting up the armrests in order to easily slide in and out. Powered by batteries and controlled by switches attached to handlebars – or sometimes a finger lever/twist grip throttle – these scooters’ bases are constructed in a much sturdier fashion, rendering them more solid and dependable.
Understanding Some Pros and Cons
Positives about mobility scooters include:
• Available in different shapes and sizes
• Able to tackle different terrains
• Some are more easily transportable
• Able to achieve faster speeds
Negatives about mobility scooters include:
• Can be more expensive
• Can be more cumbersome to transport
• Typically more bulky
• Offer a bigger turning radius
Positives about electric wheelchairs include:
• Transportable in a car trunk
• Tighter turning radius
• Good stability
• More options and adjustable dimensions
Negatives about electric wheelchairs include:
• Can be heavier than a mobility scooter
• Doesn’t go as fast
• Joystick takes longer to master
• Requires more maintenance
Major Similarities and Differences Between a Power Chair and Mobility Scooter
I. The Foldability Factor
Some power chairs can be folded, and of the foldable types there are those that fold into one piece and others that can be taken apart into few lightweight pieces (for easier transportation). Though they are foldable, there aren’t many on the market that can handle the weight of an extremely large user; they are made of material that is not as durable or heavy-duty in characteristic. The fact of the matter is, the type of electric wheelchair that can handle more weight tends to weigh a lot more itself, making it difficult to lift into a vehicle. Foldable wheelchairs boast a great turning radius, some even under 30-inches, with specific models going as far down as 24-inches, making them extremely maneuverable around corners or in tight spaces.
Foldable mobility scooters are available as models that can be disassembled into pieces without the use of any tools, as well as those that can be folded into one piece. A great thing about the latter is that they only take a few seconds to fold, with many of them being TSA-approved for airline travel (and, what’s more, there’s no fee to take them with you on an airplane). They range in weight from about 34 to 60 pounds, with the heavier examples being slightly more durable with a stronger motor. Some models boast remote fobs that enable them to be folded and unfolded at the push of a button – after unfolding them, they can be wheeled behind the user like any other piece of luggage.
II. The Battery
If regular travel is always on the itinerary – especially by air – it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter: the type of battery the device runs on must be taken into consideration. Especially questionable are lithium batteries, and to make matters worse, they may not even be approved by the airlines if they exceed the 300AH mark; so long as they are sealed, all other battery types are approved. Most power chairs typically come with power cells that are rechargeable, with both lithium and 12-volt batteries weighing between seven and nine pounds.
The batteries bundled with either a mobility scooter or wheelchair can go quite a ways before they need to be recharged. Typically, a wheelchair’s mileage clocks in as low as eight miles and as much as 18 miles on a single charge, while full-size scooters offer a battery life that can go much longer (as much as 40 miles on a single charge). When riding an electric wheelchair uphill, the battery life, as expected, will be depleted at a much higher rate, especially if the incline is higher than 12-degrees. Indeed, exceeding that tilt will drain the battery or ruin it.
Weight also plays a significant role in how long a battery will hold; as such, we recommend staying at least 30 pounds beneath maximum weight capacity. Also keep in mind that charging these devices requires a connection to an outlet for about eight to 14 hours.
III. Weight Capacity
Being that we just touched on weight, let’s take a moment to discuss that factor. Different power wheelchairs can support different weights depending on which model we’re talking about; the folding type of wheelchair boasts a lower-than-average weight capacity due to the lightweight material framework it’s composed of, while the bariatric power chairs are more heavy-duty in stature and can support anything from 400 to 700 pounds in weight (they are equipped with solid or flat-free tires for this very reason).
On the flip side of that coin, mobility scooters – especially the bariatric and full-size variants – bring with them a higher weight capacity. Because they are considered heavy-duty, they offer some of the highest weight capacity for mobile scooters, in excess of 600 pounds.
Some other factors to take into consideration when comparing these products include:
• Indoor/outdoor capacities
To get a feel for what’s out there in this market, have a look at our 1800Wheelchair.com selection.