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.
Best electric wheelchair
The Golden Compass Sport is built for all-around performance with a tight turning radius, fast speed, high ground clearance, excellent range and great overall comfort. All of this makes for the best performing powered wheelchairs we reviewed, but it also makes it one of the most expensive at a cost of nearly $3,400.
The maximum speed is 4.5 mph and the range is 19.5 miles. While there are powered wheelchairs with slightly faster motors and slightly longer ranges, it’s the only one we found to do both very well. By comparison, most powered wheelchairs have a max speed under 4 mph and a range less than 12 miles. In addition, the turning radius is 19.5 inches, giving it the ability to turn in much tighter areas than other wheelchairs. Most of the wheelchairs we evaluated have turning radius’ near 30 inches. It’s also capable of driving up ramps with a 6-degree incline.
The comfort features of Golden Compass Sport provides a smooth ride with a high ground clearance of 3.25 inches.. The wheels are also large enough to provide a smooth ride while managing bumps and obstacles on uneven surfaces.
The Cirrus Plus is one of the only folding powered wheelchairs we reviewed, making it ideal for easy transport in vehicles. However, it’s the combination of performance and price that makes this powered wheelchairs our pick for best value. At just $1500, it costs about half the price of most powered wheelchairs.
With a top speed of 5 mph, it’s also the fastest powered wheelchair we reviewed. The maximum range is 15 miles on a single charge, and while this is not the longest range available, it’s above average. In addition, the motor is powerful enough to ride up ramps of 6 degrees, and it has a 4-inch ground clearance. Both of these specifications are better than most powered wheelchairs.
One of the biggest downsides of the Cirrus Plus is the wide turning radius. If you’re in a tight spot, it needs at least 33 inches to make the turn. By comparison, wheelchairs like the Golden Compass Sport have a 19.5 inch turning radius, giving them far superior indoor maneuverability. But if you’re outside and you have room, the Cirrus Plus’s large wheels provide a smooth ride.
Since this powered wheelchair folds like a manual wheelchair, it lacks the same level and quality of padding as some powered wheelchairs. It has, nonetheless, a wider seat than most and good arm rests with intuitive controls.
Easiest to transport
At just 50 pounds, the KD Smart Chair is one of the lightest powered wheelchairs on the market. It’s also one of the few foldable wheelchairs we reviewed. Since it’s light and can fold into a compact design, this is your best option for easy transportation. It also features a storage tray under the seat, something most powered wheelchairs lack.
The maximum speed is 5 mph, which is fast for a powered wheelchair, and the electric motor has a range of 15 miles, which is above-average. Additionally when you combine the lightweight design with its above-average motor, it makes for a powered wheelchair capable of climbing steeper ramps and hills than other wheelchairs. This chair is rated to climb 12-degree inclines. Most powered wheelchairs can’t climb any ramps greater than 6 degrees.
This powered wheelchair has some faults worth considering, however. For starters, the turning radius is wide. It requires 31.5 inches to make turns. By comparison, wheelchairs like the Golden Compass Sport only need 19.5 inches. Secondly, it lacks a headrest or neck support, which is a critical comfort feature for many.
With a center-wheel design, the Invacare Pronto M51 has the tightest turning radius of any electric wheelchair we reviewed at just 19.5 inches. By comparison, most electric wheelchairs require at least 30 inches to make a full turn. In addition, it’s capable of climbing inclines up 9 degrees. Overall, when it comes to maneuverability, the Pronto M51 is your best option.
Of course, that maneuverability comes at a price - $3,600. This makes it one of the most expensive electric wheelchairs we reviewed. Most electric wheelchairs cost between $1,500 and $2,500.
The maximum speed is 4 mph, and the range is 12 miles on a single charge. Both are average specifications. In addition, the ground clearance is 2.6 inches, making it lower to the ground than most powered wheelchairs, which can make for a rougher ride on uneven surfaces.
At 198 pounds, the Pronto M51 is heavy. Since most of the weight is only 2.6 inches off the ground, it has a very low center of gravity, which means it’s capable of providing the agility it’s designed for without the risk of tipping over, even with people weighing as much as 300 pounds. However, this also makes it more difficult to transport than other electric wheelchairs. You’ll likely need a powered ramp or hydraulic lifting crane to transport the M51.
Using a lightweight aluminum frame and large wheels, the Heartway Escape can run for 20 miles on a single charge, making it the best option if range is your priority. With this kind of range, there is less chance of having the battery die while you’re out running errands. The range is particularly impressive considering it’s affordable $1,596 price, which is significantly lower than most powered wheelchairs.
The joystick control of the Heartway Escape makes it easy to maneuver with little motion from the hand. However, the 34-inch turning radius is not ideal for getting around in tight spots. By comparison, wheelchairs like the Golden Compass Sport only need about 19 inches of space to make turns.
Another downside is the 3.8 mph top speed. This makes it one of the slowest powered wheelchair, which is likely why it also has such an impressive range. There are plenty of electric wheelchairs capable of topping out at nearly 5.5 mph, but speed requires power, so the overall range suffers. On a positive note, however, it’s capable of climbing hills and ramps with a 10-degree incline.
The Escape comes with comfortable armrests, but very little seat padding. In addition, while it has a seat-belt and leg straps, making it a good option for quadriplegics, it doesn’t have a headrest or neck support.
Why trust us on electric wheelchairs
Top Ten Reviews has reviewed electric wheelchairs since 2013. We spent between 40 and 80 hours researching and evaluating the specifications and features people look for in electric wheelchairs. An electric wheelchair doesn't just offer a convenient mode of transportation, it also offers greater independence and freedom, which is also a priority when we review mobility products. Each of the wheelchairs we reviewed are designed for indoor and outdoor use and were chosen based on the performance specifications, comfort features and maneuverability.
How we evaluated electric wheelchairs
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 backrest 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.
Electric wheelchairs vs. power scooters vs. electric wheelchairs
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 scooters 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.
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.
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.
Related Product Reviews
- Golden Compass Sport
- Cirrus Plus HD
- Drive Medical Titan X23
- Pride Jazzy 600 ES
- KD Smart Chair
- Invacare Pronto M51
- Heartway Escape
- Pride Jazzy Elite HD
- CTM Homecare Compact Mid-Wheel
- Golden LiteRider PTC
Searching for other health care content? You may want to check out the best digital thermometers to see if you have a fever, or take a look at the best Medicare Part D plans for your health insurance needs.