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Choosing the right mobility scooter for you

You’ve made the decision! You are finally going to buy a mobility scooter, but now what?  You type the search term “mobility scooter” into Google and you realize that finding the right scooter might not be so simple with so many options out there.  You may be asking yourself which is better, a 3-wheel scooter or a 4-wheel scooter? What should I be looking for when for I read the descriptions of these scooters? What do all the numbers mean?  We are here to answer these questions for you, and hopefully put your mind at ease to help you find the perfect scooter that’s right for you! 

The most important question to ask when considering your options is “How will I use this scooter?” 

When considering how you will use your scooter, think about the primary type of terrain you will driving on.  Will you be driving mostly outside, or will you drive inside as well? If mostly outside, will you be driving primarily on concrete surfaces (sidewalks, paved paths, edge of roadways), or on natural surfaces (dirt paths, gravel, grass or fields)? If mostly indoors, do you want a scooter that can travel around a house or are you searching for something to make shopping trips easier? Lastly, it is important to consider whether you will travel with your scooter, and if so, will you travel by car, train or plane? 

Knowing the answer to these questions will help you determine if you need something rugged, with large tires and a sizable ground clearance, or something smaller with a short turning radius, or for the ones who are always on the go, if a portable or travel scooter is the way to go. 

3 Wheels or 4 Wheels? 

Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of 3 wheels and 4 wheels first.  

In general, 3-wheel scooters have a sharper turning radius than 4-wheel scooters and therefore may be easier to navigate indoors where spaces are tighter and turning room is limited. It’s important to know that not all businesses will allow a mobility scooter into their store (some require you to leave them outside the door) so you may want to speak with store managers to know their rules ahead of time. Additionally, some scooters, regardless of their wheels will be too big to drive in your home. We will make every attempt to indicate on the product pages when we think a scooter may be too big to drive inside a home. 

Another difference between 3 and 4 wheel scooters is their stability.  Although 3 wheel scooters are very stable, they do not compare to the extra stability offered by the wider, sturdier and broader wheelbase of the 4 wheel scooters.  This may be an important consideration for riders with a bit of extra weight. Many 3 wheel scooters may compensate for this difference by adding extra stabilizing wheels under the chassis. Keep in mind however, that these extra wheels may reduce ground clearance so the trade-off between improved turning radius and stability may come at the expense of reduced ability to travel on uneven surfaces.  If you will not be taking your scooter on camping trips, hiking paths and out to the back fields, then this may not be an issue for you. 

Three wheel scooters also offer the advantage of more leg room. For riders who are taller or who may have knee discomforts, the extra leg room coupled with the cheaper price tag typically found on 3 wheel scooters (in comparison to a similar 4 wheel model), may tip the scales more favourably towards 3 wheels. Extra leg room does not necessarily equate with more foot room however. For this reason, when comparing two models side by side, note how much foot room is available to determine at what angle you expect your knees to bent at while riding the unit. 

Tire Size 

This brings us to the discussion around tire size and ground clearance. Some scooters have smaller wheels (approximately 6”) with only 2-3" of ground clearance, while others have much larger tires (14”) with 5-6" of ground clearance. If you will only be driving on paved or concrete surfaces, or very well trodden, even paths, then ground clearance (the amount of space between the ground and the bottom of the scooter) is not such an important consideration.  If you plan to drive on uneven terrains, through parks, campgrounds, trails, fields or backyards, you may want to consider a scooter with more ground clearance and larger tires. 

Another factor to consider about tire size is that larger tires are typically what are referred to as “pneumatic” or filled with air.  Pneumatic tires offer a much smoother ride than non-pneumatic, and typically offer a better grip on slick surfaces, making it less likely that you will you spin your wheels or lose traction. 

What is your body type and condition? 

Knowing your body type and condition is also important for determining the best mobility scooter for your needs.  For example, most scooters will easily carry up to 200 lbs of passenger + cargo weight, but others have limits as high as 450 lbs.  If you are over 200 lbs and/or you plan to carry cargo such as oxygen tanks, golf bags, cargo boxes, grocery bags etc., be sure to look at the weight limitations in the specifications on the product pages. 

Apart from weight limitations and leg and foot room as previously discussed, other considerations include whether the seat rotates or is height adjustable, whether the arms raise/lower, and whether the tiller (the steering column) adjusts forwards and backwards.  

When looking at the seat specifications, some seats can be adjusted up and down to satisfy people of different heights. To know what seat height suits you best, measure the distance from the floor to the bottom a chair you feel comfortable sitting on at home and determine what height you think is best for your leg length to sit comfortably on the floor flat footed.  Then look at the seat specifications on the products you are interested in to see if the seat can be adjusted to your desired height.   

A seat that rotates/swivels may also be a desirable option to allow you to step off the scooter directly on to the ground more easily, or sit sideways on your scooter when resting.  The final option to look at when considering the seat, is the size of the seat.  Often mobility scooters will allow you to choose the size of seat you want.  Again, measure the seat of your favorite household chair to get an idea of the width and depth that is best suited to your body.  This is important because if you have a seat that is too deep, it might rub behind the knees, if it’s not deep enough, you may not get proper support. If the seat is too wide, you may not have adequate stability and if it is too narrow, there be pressure on the sides of the legs. Cushioning and back support may also be important to you.  If you are on your scooter for extended periods of time, a better cushion support in the seat, padded and height adjustable arm rests, reclining back rest, and head support may be important.  However, if the scooter is used intermittently, particularly when traveling, weight considerations may be more important. 

Traveling with a Scooter 

This brings us to the topic of traveling with your scooter. Again, there are a number of options to consider when traveling. If traveling by car, then you must consider your vehicle. Some mobility scooter owners choose to drive trucks or minivans and load the scooter into the back without the need for any dismantling. This option typically requires the purchase of ramps or lifts to assist with this procedure and may require a degree of physicality by the operator to guide the scooter into the vehicle. Bear in mind the total weight of the scooter and dimensions to determine if the scooter will fit in to the vehicle to be used.  

Others purchase an attachment (ramp or lift) that allows the scooter to ride on the outside of the vehicle. This option keeps the interior of the vehicle free for other cargo, but keep in mind that there may be size limitations on the scooter that can be transported in this fashion.  Read all size specifications carefully for the ramp or lift you are considering and the scooter you are purchasing. 

The last option for traveling is choosing either a portable or folding scooter. The difference between a portable and folding scooter is that a portable scooter must be disassembled whereas a folding scooter folds into itself. The folding scooter has the advantage of compactness, often at the click of a button for those with remote FOBs (remote controls), however the portable scooter has the advantage of being much lighter in most cases as each individual piece is lighter on its own. Once disassembled the portable style scooter typically has 3 – 5 units (the battery unit, the seat, the body, sometimes the tiller etc.). They are simple to disassemble and reassemble, often by just a push of a button, and are easy to place the units into the trunk of a car or similar space. The key thing to consider when deciding between a folding or portable scooter is whether or not you will need to lift the scooter into a vehicle or trunk.  If this will be the case, you will need to look at how much the heaviest piece weighs and determine if you think you can handle this weight. 

Finally, one last thing to consider before deciding whether to purchase a portable/folding scooter or a full-size scooter is how much you think you will use the scooter, both now and in the future. Because of their need for lightweight features, the portable/travel models often come with more minimalistic features in order to reduce their weight, which could be a trade-off for some more desired features.  For example, reduced battery weights often mean a lower battery capacity, reducing the distance you can travel on a single charge, and often the speed of travel.  With lighter seats, there could be a trade-off with long-term comfort. Things like head lights and tail lights may be omitted reducing safety after dark. Suspension may be reduced, tire sizes are usually smaller, increasing road vibration. Leg and foot room may be reduced and or omitted all together (providing foot rests only). And lastly, the tillers (steering columns) may be less ergonomically friendly if adjusting is not an option. Look for these features and consider these challenges when deciding if the travel scooters are the right option for you, and of course, always consider your budget in the context of the features that are most important to you. 

Apart from the above discussion of features, you may also consider if you will be travelling via rail, cruise or air.  Most airlines, cruise lines and rail companies will allow you to travel with a scooter as long as the batteries are fully sealed. Each company will have its own rules and restrictions on the size and weight and battery type, and how long you can keep your scooter with you before boarding.  Always call your air, cruise or rail company ahead of time to notify them that you will be traveling with a mobility scooter and find out their rules and restrictions before leaving home. 

The finer details – Battery, Motor, Accessories 

By now you should have an idea of what type of mobility scooter you want to buy (portable/travel scooter vs full-size scooter, 3 wheel vs 4 wheel, seat size, weight capacity, and terrain capabilities).  The last thing to look at now are the finer details within the category of scooter you want to purchase. 

The finer details include the speed, how long it takes to charge the battery, how long the battery will last on a single charge, are there headlights and taillights for traveling after dark, is the charging port on the scooter easy to reach, is the tiller adjustable (ie., can you adjust the steering column closer to your body if you are of a smaller stature to avoid arm fatigue), is the seat adjustable to get the perfect fit, and what accessories can be added to your model.  The accessories options may be particularly important for people who walk with canes, or people who are avid golfers, people who are on oxygen, people who expect to be outdoors in the rain or snow and require canopies and weather guards, and lastly, people who require cargo carriers such as baskets or totes.  Some scooter models excel in providing a full spectrum of accessory options, while others may not be as amenable to adding accessories. 

As a general rule, when considering the battery, it is important to keep in mind that the specifications listed on the product pages for battery range (and speed for that matter) were measured when a battery was new, with a 150 lb rider, traveling on level surface at average speed. If your weight is much heavier than 150 lb, and as the battery ages, you can expect the charge to last a much shorter driving range.  Therefore, if plan to drive a known average distance per day, make sure to calculate in differences in terrain, body weight and age of battery to ensure to choose a scooter model that will meet your driving range needs well into the future.  On average, mobility scooter batteries need to be replaced about every 2 years. You will know when it’s time to replace your battery when you are consistently not getting the expected range or you are not driving as long as you used to on a single charge. 

Conclusions 

Deciding on which mobility scooter to buy is not an easy decision and we know a lot goes into that final decision.  We hope we have given you a good picture of the many questions to ask yourself when making this decision, and how to go about finding the right answers to your questions in the specifications on the product listings.  If you've checked out our Product pages and you still have questions you need answered or want to discuss your options with one of our sales experts, please do not hesitate to contact us at the toll-free phone number listed on our webpage (above and below) or through email at info@rideandgoelectrics.com. You may also find answers to your questions by going to our Frequently Asked Questions page on mobility scooters. We hope we can serve you soon!

 

*This article is for informational purposes only.  Always discuss with your physician or medical health provider any restrictions you may have that might interfere with the safe operation of a mobility scooter. 

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