Medical scooters

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit

A powered mobility scooter is an alternative to the electric wheelchair.

Newer models of scooters offer greater range than their predecessors and have the ability to be used outdoors. Most mobility scooters have a range of options.

A scooter can help increase mobility for those people who need assistance occasionally, or who can use a manual chair most of the time. Motorized scooters can be less costly than a power chair. For those who have good arm strength and upper body balance, a scooter might be a good solution.

A scooter is usually three-wheeled, but four-wheeled models are also available. Scooters are popular with arthritis patients who have a problem with limited walking ability. In particular, patients with severe debilitating forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from these scooters.

Types of Mobility Scooters:

• 3 Wheeled Mobility Scooters - These types of power scooters are the most maneuverable. They are ideal for riders need to operate in tight spaces. Their narrow turning radius allow them to make turns most 4 wheeled scooters can’t.
• 4 Wheeled Mobility Scooters - Designed more for stability and less for maneuverability. Not as good for tighter spaces but good for outdoor use.
• Fold Up Mobility Scooters - Designed to help people take their scooters with them on trips.

A scooter uses a tiller rather than a joystick control. Therefore, one needs sufficient arm strength to drive one, as well as the use of the thumbs to press the controls.

Most scooters are equipped with a "captain's chair" which has vinyl or cloth-covered foam upholstery.

Compared to a power wheelchair, a scooter differs ...

• A driving arm or "tiller" - centered in front of the body steers a single, front wheel.
• Thumb levers are used to drive the scooter, usually pressing with the right thumb to go forward, the left to reverse.
• A seat mounted on a stem, capable of rotating to the sides, held in place by a lock/release mechanism.
• Rather than footrests, the scooter is designed with a base which carries the seat and batteries and supports your feet.

Scooters are usually equipped with automatic braking to prevent coasting. A knob to set the maximum speed is usually included with the controls. Scooter controls are less sophisticated than power wheelchairs.

To prevent accidental movement, most scooters are key operated. A gear release allows disengagement of the drive mechanism if the scooter needs to be pushed manually.

Since there is a steering arm in front, scooters don't work very well at tables and desks.

Scooters can be broken down to be stowed in a car trunk, making them useful for use outside the home.

As scooters have developed over the years, features have changed and options have been expanded. However, all models have a common set of components and characteristics.


The base unit is the body of the scooter.It usually consists of a steel, aluminum, or composite frame with a fiberglass or composite floor to support the feet and batteries. The floor should provide enough space to comfortably support the feet and the dimensions should permit the controls to be easily reached and manipulated.

Anti-tip wheels should be included as part of the frame to help support and stabilize the scooter.

The drive train is an integral part of the base unit. Front-wheel drive is usually found on smaller scooters designed primarily to be used indoors or outdoors on flat, paved surfaces. The motor of the front-wheel drive scooter is located over the front wheel and drives only that wheel. This means that the front wheel pulls the weight of the unit and the rider. These types of scooters have a less power and are less capable of handling outdoor terrain. Front-wheel drive models generally have smaller motors, causing them to have a shorter range and less speed and power. The scooter, though, is smaller than rear-wheel drive models and is more maneuverable, capable of fitting in tighter spaces, and are more likely to be compatible with van and bus wheelchair lifts.

Rear-wheel drive scooters are powered by motors connected to the rear axle, either via a chain, a belt, a transaxle unit. This type of unit has better traction than that provided by front-wheel drive models. The increased traction combined with the more powerful motors used on rear-wheel drive scooters results in better climbing ability. The units have a larger rider weight capacity. These scooters are less maneuverable. They may also be too large for van or bus lifts.

It is essential, when evaluating scooters, to be aware of the primary use for the vehicle.

Most rear-wheel drive scooters utilize an electronic braking system. This type of braking system works to slow and then stop the vehicle when the pressure is released on the thumb levers.

Some scooters also use disc brakes. Some scooters--usually front-wheel drive models--are not equipped with electronic brakes. In the absence of a brake system, a manual parking brake applied by lever to a rear wheel is provided.

Most scooters utilize 12- or 24-volt motors and electrical systems. Twelve-volt systems are most frequently found on front-wheel drive scooters. Rear-wheel drive systems generally require two twelve-volt batteries to power 24-volt systems.

These batteries are "deep cycle" batteries intended for wheelchairs and scooters. Deep cycle batteries are designed to provide a steady supply of power and be discharged and recharged on a regular basis. Marine and automotive batteries should never be substituted for deep cycle batteries.

Smaller wheels are generally found on front-wheel drive scooters intended for indoor use. The larger the wheels, the more stable the unit. Similarly the larger and wider the tires, the greater the unit's traction and capacity to manage such obstacles as curb cuts and uneven outdoor terrain. They, however, may make it more difficult to maneuver the scooter in tighter indoor spaces.

The most common seat found on scooters is a chair-style seat. The basic seat is molded hard plastic or fiberglass, but most manufacturers offer a padded-seat option, usually with a choice of vinyl or fabric upholstery. Vinyl upholstery is frequently less expensive, but because it isslipperier, it may not be the best choice for those whose disability makes it difficult to maintain position or balance.

More manufacturers now offer more ergonomically designed seats, lumbar supports, and separate cushions. Seats are usually post-mounted to the center or rear of the base, and most swivel up to 360 degrees. A powered seat is a common option.

Armrests are another consideration in seating.

The tiller is the control and steering mechanism for the scooter, usually containing the controls to drive the scooter forward or in reverse, as well as steering the front wheel or wheels. Most scooters offer one type of standard tiller with other controllers available as options. Thumb levers are the most common controls.

The tiller is often an upright post attached to the front wheel.

A wide range of accessories also are offered on most scooters, such as crutch and cane holders, oxygen carriers, front and rear baskets, trailers, headlights, tail lights, horns, canopies, and others.

The only maintenance required is charging the batteries daily, weekly tire pressure checks, and keeping it clean.

Handicap scooters should only be used by individuals that are able to steer the vehicle and don't have a condition that would not allow them to do so. Electric wheelchairs are able to maneuver a little better in tight spaces than a three or four wheeled power scooter.

One of the biggest groups that provides resource material on scooters is the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality in New York, formerly known as the Society for the Advancement of Travel for the Handicapped. It was founded in 1976 to address the needs of older and disabled travelers and workers in the travel industry.

The society's Web site ( lists dozens of tour books, guides, magazines, brochures, tour operators and travel agents, as well as companies which rent specially equipped vans, cars, wheelchairs and scooters.

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