If you are thinking of buying a mobility scooter, you will want to know what to look for and how to make sure you get the right model for you. There is a bewildering range out there with different features, advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a handy and easy to follow guide to some of the most important points to consider, to make sure you choose a suitable mobility scooter. This includes a brief look at different types of batteries, travelling by car, rail and air with mobility scooters and a look at the pros and cons of buying second-hand.
What type of mobility scooter do you need?
You may already know that powered mobility scooters fall into two legal categories; class 2 for use on pavements and class 3 which can also go on roads. In addition, there is a range of types for different applications, with the lines between types occasionally blurred by hybrid models.
Choosing a suitable mobility scooter type will depend partly on your disability, but also on your specific travel needs. For those whose disability includes restrictions to arm and upper body movements, severe difficulty walking any distance, or problems staying upright when seated, a powered wheelchair may be preferable. These can be either lightweight and foldable, to allow for use with a car, or heavier and very comfortable, ideal if the user will spend most of their time in the seat.
Mobility scooters can give a huge boost for those who may be independent but for whatever reason can only walk short distances. In many cases, you may still need to use a car to get to work, or to travel longer distances, such as to visit relatives or for going on holiday, including travelling by plane. In which case, you may want to choose a foldable mobility scooter. These lightweight models are designed to fold away easily, often automatically. They can be pulled along on their wheels, like a suitcase, or lifted into the boot of a car. There are several factors to consider before choosing this type. Firstly, these vehicles are lighter and offer correspondingly less power and comfort than heavier models. The maximum user weight, which is quoted in the specifications, may also need to be considered. It is also important to ensure that you, or someone who will be with you, can lift the scooter into the car (they weigh about the same as a regular holiday suitcase).
For users who do not need to make regular long-distance journeys by car or plane, a heavier Class 2 scooter might be more suitable mobility scooter. Ideal for local shopping, visiting friends and relatives in the same town and getting to local social groups. These types of scooters usually offer a more comfortable ride, so for those with back problems or who need to spend longer in the seat, they are generally preferable. Being heavier and with a more powerful battery, they are also more suitable for the heavier user, and for those who live in very hilly areas. Factors to take into consideration include whether the wheels have solid or pneumatic tyres and if there is suspension. These factors will affect comfort and the ability to negotiate kerbs and other obstacles. Depending on your specific mobility needs, you may find a swivelling seat suitable. This can make getting onto and off the vehicle easier. You may need to choose one with an adjustable steering column which can be adjusted to suit your reach and moved out of the way when getting on and off the seat. Only by testing out different models can you be sure of choosing a suitable model for your needs.
As previously mentioned class 3 mobility scooters are intended for routine road use and can be driven at 8mph (4mph on pavements). For those who don’t usually use a car, but who do need to cover greater distances, these heavier and faster mobility scooters are ideal. Bear in mind, being larger, they are less likely to be able to access smaller shops and other indoor areas, so it is more likely the user will need a reasonable level of mobility for those occasions. They also benefit from more power and range, and the highest maximum user weights. Take note of the range and think about how far you are likely to travel in a day.
Users with dementia may need to consider carefully if a mobility scooter is a right choice. It comes down to your personal circumstances, with several factors to consider, such as the degree of memory loss, and the likely places you will use the scooter. It is as well to have a discussion with a family member and your GP. There are no specific eyesight requirements either, but it would be as well to ensure you can judge distances adequately. A test ride would be a good way to check this.
Travelling with a mobility scooter
Folding scooters are the obvious choice for holidays. They are designed to fold down quickly and easily and can then be pulled along like a wheeled suitcase. All modern mobility scooters can be taken on an aeroplane, and there should be no problem taking them on trains, and most other public transport, as well as in the boot of a car. If you can’t use a folding scooter, for reasons of weight or range, then there are some larger scooters, even up to class 3 which can be dismantled, although the process is rather more complex, and they then come in four or five parts, weighing up to 15kg each. If you don’t have a folding or dismantlable scooter, it may still be possible to use on some forms of public transport, however, you may find it easier to hire something suitable at your destination.
Buying a second-hand mobility scooter
Buying second-hand comes with the same risks and advantages as buying any other second-hand vehicle. When purchasing from an individual your rights, in the event of any problems, are minimal. You should check for obvious signs of heavy use, worn seats for example, and be aware that batteries can only be recharged a certain number of times before needing to be replaced. Buying from a shop or dealer gives you more peace of mind since you have much more legal protection. You will usually have a choice between a range of vehicles which have been thoroughly tested, safety checked, and reconditioned, making it easier to be sure of buying something ideally suited for your requirements.
Types of mobility scooter batteries
When choosing a suitable mobility scooter, the type of battery will be a significant factor. Most scooters use a ‘sealed lead acid’ battery, of which there are two types, ‘Absorbed Glass Mat’ (AGM) and ‘Gel Cell’. Of these, the AGM is particularly good at holding a charge for a long time without being used, and so is better for occasional use. They also perform better in very cold conditions. Gel Cell types are more expensive, but because they can be recharged about twice as many times as AGM, they tend to work out better value, especially if your scooter will be used heavily and frequently.
An increasing range of scooters, particularly lightweight folding ones, now come with lithium-ion batteries, like those used in mobile phones and laptops. These are usually lighter weight while still offering good power output and recharging cycles, these are most often used for folding scooters.
All these types of battery can be taken on aeroplanes although some regulations need to be adhered to (consult your airline for details).