If the time has come to invest in a mobility aid to help you with daily living, you will most certainly have come across the terms ‘mobility scooter’ and ‘electric wheelchair’ on your online shopping travels. Whilst both can offer you greater freedom and independence, it can be difficult to decide which investment is best for your individual needs, particularly if you are new to the world of mobility products.
The great news is that we’ve done the hard work for you by putting together a comparative guide on mobility scooters versus electric wheelchairs to help you better make an informed decision on which to purchase.
First of all, what’s the main difference between the two?
Electric power wheelchairs – also known as electric wheelchairs or power chairs – usually have four or six wheels and compromise of a battery-powered drive system along with a seating system and controller. They may be rear, mid or front wheel drive depending on the specific model. Many people who have become used to using a manual wheelchair may find themselves naturally progressing to an electric wheelchair when they can no longer self propel due to fatigue or dexterity issues.
Mobility scooters are also battery powered and can be likened to an intermediary between a wheelchair and a motor scooter due to their seating system, flat foot well, and tiller – often with delta style handlebars – as well as either three or four wheels. Models of mobility scooters fall into one of three distinct categories: compact, pavement, and road scooter. For more information on the different types of mobility scooters available and more in-depth detail about how they work, head on over to our ‘Which Mobility Scooter to Buy’ blog post.
Illnesses and Medical Conditions
Understanding the needs of your body is an absolute priority when it comes to picking your mobility aid. Mobility scooters are a more realistic option if you are able-bodied enough to not have to rely on a wheelchair but still need that extra support for your mobility. Users living with conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis may find that they benefit from the ample space offered by mobility scooters as they can stretch out their legs and keep their body as relaxed as possible.
If you live with a medical condition which severely inhibits your physical capabilities, you may find that a mobility scooter simply doesn’t offer enough support to your body. Although mobility scooters have certain adjustable features, they don’t quite match up to the customisation opportunities offered by an electric wheelchair when it comes to fine-tuning the set up to your body. The most important thing is to not strain or over exert yourself when using your mobility aid as this puts you and others around you at risk.
Comfort, Support, and Adjustability
As we mentioned above, having the right support and comfort from your mobility scooter or electric wheelchair will ensure that you aren’t putting yourself at risk and can get the most out of your travel companion.
Mobility scooters can offer several adaptable features such as:
- Angle adjustable tiller
- Height, depth, and recline adjustable seat
- Width, angle, and depth adjustable armrests
- Rotating seat
Electric wheelchairs also offer adaptable set ups but sometimes on a more customisable level, such as:
- Angle and height adjustable footrest
- Adjustable, swing away armrests
- Recline, tilt, and stand seat functions
- Swiveling, height adjustable seat
- Length adjustable controller mount
There are models of both mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs which come with padded ‘captain’ style seats which have a higher back for comfort. Power chairs can also offer the option of supportive headrests – such as the Freerider Cambridge Power Chair – to assist with posture and to help those who struggle with maintaining an upright position.
Controls and Handling
Mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs both utilise very different control systems to each other; as a result, the best option for your needs will ultimately come down to your physical capabilities and what is most comfortable for your body.
Mobility scooters are operated via a tiller and handlebar system which can difficult to use if you have limited strength and dexterity. Tiller controls are, therefore, better suited to those who have greater upper body mobility and enough strength to comfortably use their arms throughout the day. Always try and choose a scooter with ergonomic handlebars and whose controls are light, responsive, and within easy reach, especially if you have a condition such as arthritis where gripping can be painful.
Power chairs, on the other hand, use a joystick for directional control, though this can also be substituted for options such as chin levers and a sip-and-puff control (a tube or straw which sends signals to a device via inhaling and exhaling motions). One of the major advantages of the joystick over the tiller is that it can be controlled with the tip of the fingers. As a result, electric wheelchairs require minimal arm movement to operate, which is ideal if you have limited to no use of your arms.
Certain pavement scooters – and all road scooters – come with full lighting systems and horns, allowing you to alert surrounding pedestrians of your presence, ideal if you struggle to communicate due to limited speech capabilities. It’s also important to have features such as mirrors, lights, and indicators for safety when shopping at night or during shorter days.
It’s vital that you have good vision and hearing, especially if you are choosing a class 3 scooter which can be driven on the roads. Although there are no official legal requirements, government guidelines recommend that you should be able to see a car registration plate from 12.3m (40ft) away. Having poor eyesight and using a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair can be dangerous to you, road users, and other pedestrians, particularly as some models can reach speeds of up to 8mph.
Indoor and Outdoor Manoeuvrability
How a mobility aid handles its environment can be beneficial or restrictive, depending on where you plan on using the aid.
Power chairs have tight turning circles and so are designed to navigate tight spaces such as hallways and bathrooms with ease, which is why they are a popular choice for use in the home. Electric wheelchairs can be used on even ground with few problems but can struggle on uneven ground due to their low ground clearance – front wheel drive options cope better in this instance. It’s common for power chairs to come equipped with kerb climbers to make getting up and down kerbs much more easily.
Mobility scooters are intended for both indoor and outdoor use, however, they do not cope as effectively as power chairs when in more confined spaces. It’s worth noting that compact mobility scooters – such as the Drive Medical Scout – have a much tighter turning circle than larger pavement and road scooters. If you want a tighter turning radius and are happy to compromise a little on stability, you can opt for a three wheel mobility scooter instead of a four wheel version.
Look out for anti-tip wheels and anti-roll back systems on both wheelchairs and scooters as these will help to keep you safe and balanced on hills and inclines.
Public and Personal Transportation
Sometimes using a car or public transport is unavoidable and so you need the reassurance that you won’t be left stranded or struggling because of your mobility aid.
Electric wheelchairs are heavy – which is great for stability – but this heaviness does mean that they require a lift or a ramp to get onto transport. What’s more, you’ll need to invest in a wheelchair accessible vehicle or ensure that the transportation you are taking has been designed to accommodate your power chair. Special docking systems are used to secure down the power chair and allow the user to remain seated in the chair throughout the journey.
The benefit of smaller, more compact mobility scooters is that they can often be folded down or disassembled to easily fit in the boot of your car (which is also convenient when it comes to storage). Unlike electric wheelchairs, however, mobility scooters cannot be anchored down properly on other transport and so are not safe to use as a seat on buses, trains, etc.
Always check with your local bus or train company for details about power chair and mobility scooter accessibility on their services. Many bus companies will allow mobility scooters as long as they are class 2 models and adhere to specific size regulations.
Day to Day Use
For the most part, how do you plan on using your mobility aid? Will you be:
Spending long periods of time sat down – electric wheelchairs offer more adaptable seating positions and movements to ensure that you are comfortable during extended periods of use
Shopping – mobility scooters come with storage options such as boxes and baskets, making it easy to transport your shopping and personal belongings without holding them
Getting around the house – electric wheelchairs are more compact and have tighter turning circles for getting around tight spaces such as hallways
Going on some day trips – smaller, class 2 mobility scooters are not as heavy as class 3 scooters or electric wheelchairs and some models can be folded down or dismantled, making them more practical for taking in cars and on public transport
Driving on roads – electric wheelchairs are not road legal, therefore, if part of your outdoor journey involves the use of roads, you’ll need to invest in a class 3 road mobility scooter
Travelling across uneven ground – mobility scooters are better able to cope with more challenging terrains such as bumpy roads, country paths, and even a bit of off-roading
Initial and Long Term Costs
As a general rule, electric wheelchairs tend to start at a higher price tag than mobility scooters – especially if they are enhanced – though how much you pay will ultimately depend on which model you choose. Models with basic features are at the more economical end of the spectrum with the cost increasing as you move towards more sophisticated and premium options. Don’t forget to factor in costs such as servicing and repairs; regular servicing is not only important for keeping your mobility aid in top working condition, it’s also essential for your safety and the safety of those around you.
Style and the ‘Psychological Impact’
A bit of an unusual category, we know, but many people find using a wheelchair – whether electric or manual – to be confining and so have negative psychological associations with wheelchair use. Mobility scooters are often considered to be more fun and exciting due to their variety in colour and design which help to inject a sense of thrill into the riding experience. A great example of this variety this is the TGA Supersport which takes inspiration from motorcycle design to create a cool and edgy scooter.
Always remember that looks are by no means everything and they shouldn’t be the only reason that you sway towards one option over the other.
Time to throw you a little curveball…
If you’re not quite ready to transition to an electric wheelchair but either you or the person who cares for you is struggling to push you around in your manual wheelchair, why not consider a power pack? These motorised units connect up to the underside of your wheelchair and give a much needed helping hand when getting around. The TGA wheelchair power pack is a great example of the convenience and effectiveness of power pack technology. Quick to install, easy to use, and perfect for taking away strain and exertion – especially on inclines and uneven ground – the TGA power pack reduces the risk of injury and makes travelling in a wheelchair much easier for both user and carer.
Don’t Settle – Test Drive Your Options
Perhaps the most important thing to take away is that there is no generic answer to which option is better – it all depends on you and your individual needs. With more advanced models of both mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs arriving every year on the market, there’s no doubt that you should visit your local mobility provider and test out as many options as possible.
Pro Rider Mobility is proud to be the provider of choice for thousands of people across the UK and beyond. Our prices are so competitive and affordable that you may even have enough available in your budget to purchase one of each! Simply visit the Pro Rider Mobility website to browse all of our superb mobility scooter and electric wheelchair options, including models from trusted brand names such as TGA, Freerider, Kymco, and Drive Medical. You can also contact our knowledgeable and friendly team for best price or if you have any questions or queries.
Added bonus! We also offer a ‘try before you buy’ service which includes a no obligation home visit and up to £50 cash back if you do decide to purchase the scooter or wheelchair.