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Electric Wheelchairs Review
How to Choose an Electric Wheelchair
The top performers in our review are Golden Compass Sport, the Gold Award winner; Drive Medical Cirrus Plus, the Silver Award winner; and Drive Medical Titan X23, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing an electric wheelchair to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
There are many medical issues that can affect a person's mobility. Whether it's an accident, an impairment that limits your ability to walk far distances or old age that affects your joints, an electric wheelchair gives you greater independence and freedom. These sturdy devices allow you to travel long distances outdoors or easily move from one room to the next inside your home.
An electric wheelchair uses batteries to power the device’s motor. The batteries can be charged overnight or during the day to ensure you have plenty of power to travel an extensive distance. A controller, usually a joystick, is located on the product’s arm rest to help you steer and control the device. Large wheels make it possible to handle all types of terrain when you're outdoors and easily maneuver around corners when you're indoors.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
Many electric wheelchairs are designed for both outdoor and indoor use. The design of the wheelchair’s wheels can help determine if the product will be ideal in any setting you desire. For example, center-wheel wheelchairs feature a large drive wheel in the center of the wheelchair, and two caster wheels, or small wheels, are located in the front and the back of the wheelchair. The center wheel allows for a tighter turning radius, making it much easier to maneuver inside a home. This type of unit is stable and can handle all types of terrain. Most of the wheelchairs on our lineup feature center-drive wheels.
Rear-wheel wheelchairs feature a drive wheel in the back with caster wheels that are located in the front. These products are particularly ideal for outdoor use because they are more stable than other configurations and the rear wheels allow for more speed. However, because the rear wheels are located in the back, the turning radius is very large, making it hard to make tight turns.
Electric Wheelchairs vs. Power Scooters vs. Power Chairs
An electric wheelchair more closely resembles a manual wheelchair in its design. You power the device by using buttons and a joystick. Electric wheelchairs also have excessive padding on the seat, backrest and headrest to ensure comfort for full-day use. Additionally, these products have tighter turning radiuses and are fairly easy to maneuver.
Power chairs are similar to electric wheelchairs except they feature a seat that elevates or reclines to help you more easily get in and out of it. For most of these products, you navigate it using a joystick and a button. You can read our reviews on power chairs and their many functions.
The design of a power scooter, though, is much different. Usually these products feature three wheels, a swivel seat and handlebars. They also are powered by batteries, but the navigation is all done by handlebars, which means the rider must have full use of his or her upper body. These products often go a little faster than electric wheelchairs, but they do not have the capability of being folded and easily transported as electric wheelchairs. To learn more about mobility scooters, read our side-by-side comparison and our reviews.
Will Medicare Cover the Cost?
Electric wheelchairs are covered by Medicare as long as you meet certain criteria. Power-operated wheelchairs are covered under Part B coverage, which includes medical equipment and supplies. Medicare Part A coverage, however, does not cover these products.
Additionally, your healthcare provider must verify the need for an electric wheelchair or scooter and write a prescription for the chair. You have the freedom to choose the chair you desire, but it must be approved by Medicare and purchased through a Medicare supplier. You may pay 20 percent of the cost depending on several factors, including the chair you choose and its original cost. Our reviews can help you narrow down your options and determine the best electric wheelchair you are approved for.
Electric Wheelchairs: What We Evaluated, What We Found
We evaluated both indoor and outdoor motorized wheelchairs that fell within the price range of $1,500 to $3,700. Products within this range provide plenty of power to travel long distances, provide a strong battery life and come with numerous features to ensure maximum comfort.
We found that most wheelchairs in this price range are ideal for both indoor and outdoor use. They provide a tight turning radius, allowing you to easily move around tight corners and plenty of power to climb steep hills or clear curbs.
Besides the turning radius and power, there are several factors you should consider when deciding on the right electric wheelchair for your needs. Below are a few additional criteria to consider.
The battery life on a motorized wheelchair is critical. Many electric wheelchairs have enough battery power to travel up to 14 or more miles on a single charge. The best models can travel 19 to 20 miles. It is important that your wheelchair can handle long distances, especially if you plan to use it outdoors. Most of these electric wheelchairs in our lineup can be charged overnight or while you're at home and not using it.
Wheelchair design is another important consideration. First, consider your own specific needs. If you plan to use the chair for long periods of time or for most of the day, you want a product that offers plenty of seat padding. Some products also offer excessive padding on the back rest to ensure additional comfort. However, there are a handful of electric wheelchairs that do not provide a headrest, which can be a drawback.
Furthermore, electric wheelchairs can be large and bulky, some weighing more than 200 pounds. If you plan to frequently transport the chair, you want a model that can easily be transported around your home or with your vehicle. Some power-operated wheelchairs can fold in half, allowing for easy transportation, while on others may fold down to much smaller dimensions.
The joystick and controls is another design feature you want to closely examine. Depending on whether you are right or left handed, you want to ensure the joystick and button controls are installed on the correct side of the wheelchair. The best models also feature swinging joysticks so you can move the joystick out of the way when you're sitting at a table or desk.
Because wheelchairs are a substantial purchase and, for many people, the sole source of transportation, it's important to find a model that is built to last and is backed by a warranty in the event the unit is defective or if it breaks down. The best electric wheelchair models offer a lifetime warranty for the frame and a year or more protection on the joystick and electronic controls. Most wheelchair manufacturers, however, do not guarantee the tires, upholstery, armrests or handle grips, so in the event one of these items is damaged, it is up to you to repair or replace these parts.
Motorized Wheelchairs: Our Verdict and Recommendations
An electric wheelchair doesn't just offer a convenient mode of transportation, it also offers greater independence and freedom so that individuals can continue to live an active, engaging life. Our top three award winners are all ideal for both indoor and outdoor use. They also all feature long battery lives and multiple design features, such as an adjustable joystick mount and plenty of seat padding. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners each offer impressive warranties with a lifetime warranty on the frame and more than a year on their electronic components.
Another Noteworthy Choice
Another exceptional product is the KD Smart Chair. This model is the best model for transportation and storage purposes. It weighs only 50 pounds and can fold down to easily be stored and transported in a vehicle’s trunk. It is the most lightweight electric wheelchair out of all the products on our lineup.