mobility scooter buyers guide

How To Choose a Mobility Scooter [Complete Guide]

Choosing a mobility scooter is an important decision that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. In fact, it could be one of the most important choices you make as you age and work to maintain your physical independence.


Contrary to what you might believe, mobility devices are not just for the feeble or people with serious disabilities. Anyone who struggles to get around on their own could benefit from a mobility aid; whether you need help getting around your home every day or simply need an aid to for long distances and outdoor activities.


The right kind of mobility device can help you improve your health, expand your abilities, and overcome your physical limitations. However, the wrong type of device could cause unnecessary hassle and hinder your daily activities.


That's why we created this guide to help you find the right mobility scooter to fit your physical and personal needs. In the following sections, you'll find all kinds of helpful information to help you compare mobility devices and narrow down your options.


This guide will walk you through all the important mobility scooter features and explain the many benefits they have to offer. That way, you can identify your preferences, consider your unique needs, and better prioritize the scooter characteristics that matter most to you.


A reliable mobility device can transform your world, widen your opportunities, and improve your ability to live a fulfilling life. It can allow you to do things that were once impossible and turn difficult everyday tasks into simple, manageable ones.


When you purchase a mobility device, you are making a major investment in your future and your overall quality of life, and we know how important this decision is. Our goal is to help you fully understand your mobility scooter options and find a device that allows you to live as fully and independently as possible.

 

Power Wheelchair vs. Mobility Scooter: Which One is Right for Me?

 

 

 

When looking at powered mobility devices, you'll notice that there are two main types: power wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Both of these devices can be helpful tools for people with limited mobility, but your physical needs and personal preferences will determine which one works best for you.


Here is a quick side-by-side comparison of some of the major characteristics of power wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

 

Power Wheelchair Mobility Scooter
Indoor/Outdoor Use Indoors only Indoors and outdoors
Steering Method Joystick (or custom steering device) Handlebars (tiller)
Seating Options Standard, modular, or custom Standard or Modular
Number of Wheels 4 3 or 4
Portability Heavy and not easily portable Lightweight and portable
Is it Covered by Insurance? Yes, if deemed medically necessary Sometimes, if deemed medically necessary and if you will use your scooter primarily for daily activities around the home



What Makes Power Wheelchairs and Mobility Scooters Unique


The most obvious difference between power wheelchairs and mobility scooters is their ability to handle outdoor terrain. While most mobility scooters are designed for riding outdoors, power wheelchairs are primarily indoor devices.


Power wheelchairs also tend to be more medically-oriented devices with the look and feel of a medical aid. Mobility scooters, on the other hand, are more sleek, streamlined mobility devices that look more like recreational vehicles than medical aids.


Power wheelchairs often include a variety of features meant to accommodate people with various medical conditions and serious physical disabilities. These features include customizable steering controls, extra back support, and advanced controls for adjusting and reclining the seat.


Mobility scooters usually have manually-adjustable features and their seats require the rider to be able to sit up on their own. Mobility scooters are also generally much lighter than power wheelchairs, making them easy to transport and store.


In general, mobility scooters tend to be simpler devices without the advanced accessibility features that power wheelchairs have. They also tend to have a more open design with plenty of space on the sides of the seat.


This makes it much easier to get in and out of a mobility scooter, making it a great choice for anyone who might struggle to move from their bed or chair to their mobility device. Mobility scooters are also a great choice for anyone who enjoys outdoor activities or wants the ability to drive their mobility device straight from their home to their destination.


For a quick reference, here is a summary of some of the major pros and cons of both mobility scooters and power wheelchairs.

 

 Mobility Scooter Pros Power Wheelchair Pros
  • Work for both indoor and outdoor use
  • Can ride on rough or uneven terrain
  • Open, spacious design
  • Adjustable seats with plenty of room for transferring in and out of the seat with ease
  • Sleek design that doesn't look or feel like a wheelchair or medical aid
  • Come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different needs and spaces
  • Provide extra support for people who have trouble sitting up on their own
  • Advanced features for people with specific  disabilities
  • Expanded customization options to offer more accessibility for people with physical limitations which prevent them from operating standard controls (e.g. head switches for steering)
  • Usually covered by insurance if deemed medically necessary
Mobility Scooter Cons Power Wheelchair Cons
  • Limited customization options for specific physical disabilities
  • Might not be covered by insurance
  • Might not be suitable if you struggle to sit up on your own for extended periods of time
  • Primarily meant for indoor use
  • Can only ride on flat, even surfaces outdoors
  • Looks and feels more like a medical aid

 


Understanding Mobility Scooter Design

 


In order to fully understand your options, you need to know some basic mobility scooter terminology. Here's a quick overview of their main parts and functions so you can better evaluate the features and benefits of different scooters.


The Anatomy of a Mobility Scooter


The Base (Chassis)

 


The base, or chassis, is the bottom part of your mobility scooter. This where the wheels, motor, seat, and steering handle are attached.


The scooter's base contains all the electrical components that make up the “meat” of the device, including the battery, motor, and steering mechanisms. The chassis is also where you place your feet while riding your scooter.


Mobility scooters generally have plenty of foot and leg room as well as an open, spacious feel. This gives you the flexibility to position yourself in a variety of ways without feeling cramped or confined.


The Seat

 


All scooters come with a sturdy, cushioned chair to sit in while you ride. It is made up of three main parts: the bottom seat cushion, the arm rests, and the backrest.


Mobility scooter seats are generally very comfortable with plenty of padding for your back, legs, and buttocks. Some even have high-backed chairs to offer more shoulder, neck, and back support.


Most mobility scooter seats can be adjusted to sit higher or lower on the device as needed. To make it easier to get in and out, most chairs also swivel and have adjustable armrests you can raise up to move out of your way.


The Steering Mechanism

 


This is the tool you use to operate your scooter and steer it around as you ride. The standard steering mechanism is a set of straight handlebars with acceleration and reverse controls positioned underneath.


You use the handlebars to turn your scooter left and right while using your thumb or another finger to control your acceleration. The handles are attached to a straight stem or column with a flexible pivot at the bottom that allows you to adjust its angle as you steer.


There are a few different types of mobility scooter handlebars that each provide a different steering experience. Certain handles may be easier to use if you suffer from arthritis, coordination trouble, or muscle weakness in your hands.


The Battery

 


All mobility scooters have a rechargeable battery which supplies power to the device. How long the wheelchair will last on a single charge depends on this battery's capacity.


All scooter batteries can be charged by plugging the the scooter in to a standard power outlet. All scooter batteries are safe, reliable, and FAA approved for traveling with on a plane.


Main Types (or Grades) of Mobility Scooters

Scooter Grade Travel Scooter Mid-Sized Scooter Full-Size Scooter/All-Terrain Scooter Recreational Scooter
Riding Surface Smooth Indoor Surfaces Smooth Indoor and Outdoor Surfaces Uneven surfaces (including slopes up to 12 degrees) Uneven surfaces and even rougher terrain
Speed  Up to 5 mph Up to 8 mph Up to 9.3 mph Up to 15 mph
Battery Range ~15 miles on a full charge ~20 miles on a full charge ~30 miles on a full charge ~38 miles on a full charge
Storage Can fold up or disassemble May be able to disassemble May be able to disassemble May be able to disassemble
Seat Width

17-18 inches

Up to 20 inches Up to 20 inches Varies
Weight Capacity Up to 350 pounds Up to 400 pounds Up to 500 pounds Up to 500 pounds
Ground Clearance 1.38 - 3.75 inches 2 - 4.5 inches 2.5 - 7 inches 3.5 - 7 inches
Other Features Comfortable for riders below average height (5' 10" or shorter) Equipped with a high-quality suspension system for smoother riding over bumps Equipped with a superior suspension system for smoother riding on uneven terrain Ability to handle even rougher terrain than a full-sized or all-terrain scooter

 


How to Choose the Right Mobility Scooter


Choosing the right mobility device is a personal process that depends heavily on your individual needs. It's important to consider your preferences, your physical abilities, and all available mobility scooter features in order to find one that matches your lifestyle and needs.


What Are Your Personal Priorities and Preferences?

 


With all of the different mobility options available, it's important to consider what kinds of features and capabilities are most important to you. You should also think about your overall mobility goals, including where, when, and how often you'll need to use your mobility device.


For example, do you need a mobility aid to travel long distances, or are you looking for something to use mainly at home or work? Are you looking for something lightweight and portable, or are you looking for a more heavy-duty mobility device?


These are some basic questions you should ask yourself to help you determine what kind of mobility scooter is right for you. The features that matter most are the ones that you need to use, and evaluating your options accordingly will ensure you don't end up with a device that is too much or too little for your needs.


Considerations for Outdoor Use:

  • Seat comfort
  • Battery life
  • Ground clearance
  • Maximum incline
  • Storage capability
  • Stability on uneven terrain
  • Number and type of wheels


Considerations for Use in Your Home:

  • Scooter size and width
  • Number of wheels and turning radius
  • Ground clearance (for carpet and door thresholds)
  • Charging options


Considerations for Travel and Transportation:

  • Size and weight
  • Ease of storage and disassembly
  • Battery life
  • Backup/extended battery options
  • Ability to transport via car


Considerations for Physical Needs:

  • Adjustable seating controls
  • Cushioning and back support
  • Seat position and height
  • Steering controls
  • Charging port location


Important Features to Consider in a Mobility Scooter


Three or Four Wheels?


One of the first things you'll need to decide when looking for a new mobility scooter is whether you want a 3-wheeled or 4-wheeled variety. Both have their own unique advantages, benefits, and drawbacks to consider.


Which one is best for you depends primarily on where you plan to use your scooter. In general, 3-wheeled scooters are easier to handle indoors, while 4-wheeled scooters are better for outdoor and off-road use.


3-Wheel Scooters

 


What makes 3-wheeled scooters unique is their compact design and agile movement. The two wheels in the back provide stability while the single front wheel makes it generally easier to turn and maneuver.


This makes 3-wheeled scooters ideal for riding in your home and other indoor areas. They can handle tight turns and small spaces much better than their 4-wheeled counterparts thanks to their narrow front end and tight turning radius.


However, this three-wheel design also makes the scooter less stable on uneven ground. This, combined with the fact that their wheels tend to be smaller, makes them less suited for riding outdoors.


3-wheeled scooters come in both compact and full sizes to meet a variety of different needs. While compact scooters are lighter and easier to transport, you might find a full-sized scooter more comfortable for its sturdier and more spacious design.


4-Wheel Scooters

 


The main advantage of using a 4-wheeled scooter is extra stability and a wider range of riding capabilities. Most 4-wheeled scooters can comfortably handle uneven terrain, making them the perfect choice for outdoor and off-road use.


Because they are stabilized by 4 wheels instead of 3, 4-wheeled scooters are easier to balance and less likely to teeter or tip. They also tend to have larger wheels, better suspension, and a higher ground clearance, allowing them to handle bigger bumps and curbs.


While this makes them more sturdy and durable, the bulky front wheels also make them more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. 4-wheeled scooters have a much wider turning radius than 3-wheeled scooters and generally take up more space.


4-wheeled scooters come in a variety of different sizes that offer different levels of agility, brawn, and transportability. Many of the smaller varieties, are compact and agile enough to use comfortably in your home.


Unlike 3-wheeled scooters, 4-wheeled scooters can have either front or rear wheel drive. Scooters with front-wheel drive—generally the larger, outdoor types—are able to carry more weight, handle steeper hills, and drive better on uneven ground.


Battery Life & Durability

 


Every mobility scooter comes with a rechargeable battery, but they vary in size, power, and type. These features are important for two main reasons: they determine how long you can ride your scooter in-between charges and how long your battery will last before you need to replace it.


Fortunately, all scooters have a battery range rating which simply tells you how far your scooter can go on a single charge. Most scooters are rated to go anywhere from 10-35 miles and need about 8-14 hours to recharge.


However, the battery range depends on the terrain and how much weight the scooter has to carry. If you load your scooter up with heavy items, weigh more than 200 pounds, or travel on uneven ground, the battery is likely to run out of power more quickly.


Most scooter batteries last anywhere from 1-2 years before needing to be replaced. However, this depends on how often you use your scooter and how well you take care of the battery during that time.


There are two main types of mobility scooter batteries: sealed lead acid batteries and lithium ion batteries. Both types of batteries are approved by the FAA so you can bring your scooter with you if you travel by plane.


Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) Battery

 


This type of battery is common in a variety of transportation devices, including motorcycles, ATVs, and, of course, mobility scooters. These batteries tend to be less pricey than lithium-ion batteries, but they also require a bit more maintenance.


SLA batteries are great if you intend to use and recharge your scooter often, but they tend to lose power on their own when you're not using them. Because of this, SLA batteries won't stay fully charged if you wait too long in-between uses.


If you don't charge your scooter at least once every month, it can even cause permanent damage to the battery. However, you can keep SLA batteries healthy simply by using and charging your scooter often.


Overall, SLA batteries are durable, reliable, and very safe to use. Scooters with SLA batteries are a great, affordable choice, especially if you plan to ride your scooter every day.


Lithium-Ion Battery


The main advantages of lithium-ion batteries are that they are light, compact, and reliable. They are common in a variety of electronic and transportation devices, including electric bikes, electric motorcycles, and consumer electronic devices.


Unlike SLA batteries, lithium-ion batteries hold their charge when they're not being used. That means you don't have to worry about the battery draining on its own in-between charges.


This makes lithium-ion batteries perfect for scooter users who don't plan to use their scooter every day. However, they also tend to be more expensive and they are more prone to sustaining damage if you don't use the exact charger that came with the battery.


While lithium-ion batteries are FAA approved, they are not allowed in checked luggage. That means you will need to place the battery in your carry-on bag when traveling with your scooter by plane.


Seat & Handlebar Positioning

 


Seat and handlebar position is an important feature to consider, both for riding comfort and in-seat maneuverability. Most importantly, you should make sure that you can easily move yourself in and out of your scooter's seat.


Seat height and shape is important in this regard, as is the height and angle of the steering handles. Luckily, many scooters have built-in controls for adjusting the seat and steering column.


Some seats and handlebars are more adjustable than others, and different scooters come with different kinds of adjustment controls. Most scooters have manual adjustments, but some have automatic controls for easier and more dynamic positioning.


Both give you the ability to adjust the handlebars and seat so you can sit and steer more comfortably. What works best for you depends on your unique needs and features, including your height, proportions, muscle strength, and physical limitations.


Your scooter's seat should allow you to maintain a healthy posture and sit naturally without feeling cramped. A comfortable, supportive seat also reduces your risk for muscle fatigue, joint soreness, and reduces the amount of bending, twisting, and straining you have to do.


Steering Handle (Tiller) Style

 


The shape of the steering handle, or tiller, can have a significant affect on how easy it is to turn and handle your scooter. That's why they come in several different designs to suit people with varying needs and physical strength.


Scooter tillers also vary in width, handle shape, and the amount of padding on the handles. These features may be particularly important if you suffer from arthritis, muscle weakness, or limited dexterity in your hands, arms, or shoulders.


There are three broad types of mobility scooter steering handles, including standard handles, delta tiller handles, and Sportster handlebars. With a wide variety of handle designs within these general types, you are bound to find a style that feels natural to grasp and comfortable to control.


Standard Handle


Standard steering handles are made up of two straight handle bars. There are two levers for controlling acceleration located just underneath the handles that you can operate with your thumbs.


This is the most basic type of handle and it works great for most riders. However, this style may be more difficult to control if you have limited arm or grip strength.


Delta Tiller Handle


A delta tiller handle, also known as a wrap-around handle, has a larger handlebar that is roughly circular or rectangular in shape. This shape allows you to grasp the handle in a variety of different places, making it easier to turn and control.


This style of handlebar is easier to reach, grip, and maneuver than a standard handle design, making it a great option for people with limited muscle strength or coordination. You can also grasp and steer a delta tiller with just one hand, making it more versatile than standard steering handles.


Sportster Handlebar


This is a special type of handlebar that is named for its sporty appearance. Sportster handlebars are designed for looks more than function and generally are more difficult to use.


Controlling a Sportster handlebar takes more strength and coordination than the standard or delta tiller handles. However, if you don't have any steering limitations, this type of handle can give your scooter a sleek and stylish look.


Cushioning and Back Support

 


When using your scooter, it's very important to have a comfortable seat that doesn't strain your back or put too much pressure on your skin. That's why all mobility scooters have cushioned seats and backrests to support your neck, shoulders, and and spine.


Most standard scooter seats provide enough support to keep you comfortable on short excursions. However, you may want a chair with extra neck and back support if you plan to use your scooter for longer periods of time.


In that case, you might want to consider getting a seat with a taller backrest or extra cushioning for lumbar support. This can help you maintain better posture and reduce muscle strain when sitting in your scooter for an extended time.


There are also several types of scooter seat cushions made with various filling materials. You can get air-filled cushions, foam-filled cushions, and even cushions filled with a soft liquid gel.


The fabric material on the outside of the seat may also affect how comfortable your mobility scooter feels. Most standard vinyl linings are pleasant to the touch, but you can also find seats made from leather or other fabrics if you prefer something different.


Wheels & Suspension System

 


Most mobility scooters are tough enough to handle flat outdoor surfaces and certain types of uneven terrain. Their wheels are strong, dependable, and resistant to punctures and damage.


However, you may want to pay special attention to your wheels and suspension if you plan to use your scooter off road. Smaller scooters tend to have smaller wheels that are not very stable on rough surfaces, while larger scooters tend to have larger, tougher wheels.


Larger wheels have more tread and surface area to give you extra traction on all types of terrain. Many larger scooters also have more sophisticated suspension systems which reduce the impact of jarring dips and bumps to give you a smoother ride.


Stability


Different mobility scooters have varying levels of stability depending on their intended use. However, stability often comes at the cost of compactness and maneuverability.


4-wheeled scooters, for instance, are wider and harder to turn than 2-wheeled scooter varieties. On the other hand, the wide base and extra wheel makes 4-wheelers much sturdier and stabler to ride.


If you plan to take your mobility scooter off road, you're better off using a 4-wheeled scooter that won't tip or get stuck on uneven terrain. However, a 3-wheeled scooter is plenty sturdy enough to ride on flat indoor and outdoor surfaces.


Turning Radius

 


While most mobility scooters are built to be indoor-use friendly, they vary in bulkiness and how tightly they can take turns. You can evaluate whether a scooter is right for your space by looking at it's minimum turning radius, which is also known as the turning space, turning area, turning circle, or maneuvering space.


Your mobility scooter's turning radius tells you how much space you need in order to maneuver your scooter around bends and turns. This is a very important factor to consider, especially if you intend to use your scooter indoors.


Turning radius is usually expressed in inches, and the number tells you the minimum amount of space your scooter needs to make a 180-degree turn. A related measure is your scooter's turning path, which you can calculate by multiplying the turning radius by two.


The turning path tells you how much space you need to make a full, uninterrupted turn (e.g. a turn around a corner) in a certain direction. For example, a scooter with a turning radius of 30 inches has a turning path of 60 inches.


Too wide a turning radius can make it difficult or impossible to maneuver around tight corners, narrow doorways, and halls. That's why it's essential to make sure you can effectively maneuver your scooter anywhere you need to ride it regularly, such as your workplace or home.


The best way to do this is to go through the building and measure the path you will need to take through the smallest doorways, tightest corners, and narrowest indoor spaces. Pay special attention to areas like bathrooms and closets that tend to be more cramped.


You will know that your scooter can maneuver through a space if the paths you measure are at least slightly wider than your scooter's minimum turning path. In general, smaller scooters and 3-wheeled scooters have the tightest turning radius and the smallest turning path.


Ground Clearance

 


Ground clearance refers to how much space there is between the ground and the bottom of your scooter. This depends on how high the scooter's base sits up on the wheels and can vary significantly between scooter types (larger 4-wheeled scooters tend to have higher ground clearance).


Your scooter's ground clearance determines how well your scooter can drive over obstacles like curbs, door thresholds, bumps, dips, and rocks. It also affects how well your scooter can drive through raised features like snow and tall grass.


In general, any ground feature or obstacle that is taller than your scooter's ground clearance will be impassible or cause your scooter to drag. For example, a tall curb or speed bump could cause your scooter to get stuck if it's ground clearance is shorter than the bump.


It's important to make sure you scooter has a high enough ground clearance to make it over any obstacles you expect to encounter on a regular basis. If you plan to take your scooter off-road or on uneven terrain, you will need a scooter with a higher ground clearance than if you only use your scooter indoors.


Incline

 


Mobility scooters have a maximum incline limit that tells you how steep an angle it can climb. This is an important feature to consider if you need to traverse large hills or steep accessibility ramps.


This might be the case if you live in a hilly area or take your scooter on rough off-road terrain. Most mobility scooters have a maximum incline between 6 and 12 degrees.


Charging Port

 


Where the charging port is located on your scooter can make a big difference if you have limited mobility. If you struggle to stand, twist, or bend over, certain charging port locations might be difficult for you to reach.


The charging port tends to be in one of three locations: on the back of the scooter, on the battery pack, and on the tiller near the handle. Generally, a charging port located on the tiller is the easiest to reach.


Since you have to charge your scooter often, it's important to make sure you won't have to strain yourself every time. Unless you know you will have someone to assist you, the charging port should be in a place you can reach easily on your own.


Portability & Disassembly


If you plan to travel with your scooter or transport it in your car, then you need a mobility scooter with the appropriate portability features. Unless you have a ramp or chair lift to get your scooter in your car, you will need a scooter that's light enough to lift and store in a compact space.


Luckily, many scooters are designed to be disassembled or collapsed for easy storage. This lets you bring your scooter along when you travel via private vehicle or other forms of transportation.


These features can also be useful for storing your scooter in-between uses, especially if you don't use your scooter every day. Most scooters that collapse or can be disassembled will easily fit in a closet or a trunk-sized storage space.


Scooters that can be disassembled generally break down into about five smaller parts. This makes each part easier to lift and allows you to store all the pieces in a much more compact state.


Depending on your physical abilities and the assistance you will have, disassembling and reassembling a scooter can be a difficult task. If you won't always have someone to help you, it's important to make sure that you feel comfortable lifting each disassembled piece on your own.


Collapsible scooters, on the other hand, usually fold and unfold by themselves with the press of a button, eliminating the hassle of re-assembly and making them much simpler to store. Many are even portable in their collapsed state, allowing you to roll the scooter like a suitcase when you need to wheel it from place to place.


Medical Considerations


Many people have special mobility needs that make certain features in a mobility devices more or less important. Depending on your abilities and medical conditions, there might be specific characteristics or modifications that you need your scooter to have.


That's why it's a good idea to talk to your doctor when you begin looking for a new mobility scooter. That way, he can help you identify which features you need and which characteristics might be most important for you.


For example, you might have physical limitations that require a scooter with particular seat tilting or adjustment controls. That way, you can position the seat in a way that allows you to get in and out on your own or do other tasks with more ease.


You and your doctor know your unique medical needs best and what characteristics are must-haves in your mobility scooter. Make sure you keep these needs in mind and while shopping for your new mobility device.


Let Us Help You Find the Perfect Mobility Device


Choosing a mobility scooter is a tough decision that can have a major effect on your everyday life. The right scooter can mean the difference between a life spent struggling with your physical limitations and a life that's more active, independent and free.


Now that you have all the basic information you need, we'd like to do everything we can to help you find the perfect mobility device. We can help you compare different products, prices, and features to help you find a product that fits your and physical and lifestyle needs.


We also realize that purchasing a new mobility scooter is a major investment, especially for those who are on a fixed income. That's why we do our best to offer the lowest possible prices as well as low-interest financing options.


If you would like more information or need help finding the right product, don't hesitate to contact our friendly staff. We will help you however we can and do our best to help you find a scooter that's both affordable and well-suited for you.

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Comments

Tom - January 11, 2019

Wow!!! This is a FANTASTIC guide. Thank you, SpryLyfe!

Thomas - January 11, 2019

Thank you so much, SpryLyfe! I love my new scooter and this guide helped a LOT!

mae - January 11, 2019

need to see the cost of 4 wheel and 3

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