The many types of battery-powered vehicles currently available for the disability market are divided into three main categories: powered wheelchairs, scooters, and buggies. This Information Sheet covers scooters and buggies only. For information on powered wheelchairs, see the Assist Ireland Information Sheet 'Choosing a Powered Wheelchair'.
For up-to-date information on specific products and suppliers in Ireland, visit the ‘Products and Suppliers’ section of the Assist Ireland online database (www.assistireland.ie). The information in this resource can also be accessed using the telephone support service on 0761 079 200 during office hours.
The information contained in this document is strictly for information purposes only. There are hazards with all equipment and the suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance before you consider buying any type of equipment mentioned in this Information Sheet.
PROVISION OF EQUIPMENT
Medical Card Holders
Equipment for people with disabilities, sometimes referred to as aids and appliances, is usually supplied free of charge to medical card holders. The card holder must first be assessed by a suitably qualified therapist who can recommend and prescribe the most appropriate equipment.
Long Term Illness Card Holders
People who have one of the conditions listed as qualifying under the Department of Health’s Long Term Illness Scheme may be eligible to receive items of equipment, essential for the primary condition, free of charge. Assessment by the relevant professional is required.
People in hospital may have aids and appliances provided free of charge when they are prescribed as part of in-hospital treatment in a public hospital.
Health Insurance Schemes
There are three main companies offering private health insurance in Ireland. These are:
- Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI)
- Laya Healthcare (formerly Quinn Healthcare)
All three companies provide members with cover for a limited number of aids and appliances under their outpatient schemes. A list of approved appliances is available on request. A claim for the reimbursement (part or full) will be subject to a member’s outpatient excess. Medical certification is usually necessary. Contact your health insurance company’s Customer Services to check if a particular appliance is covered by your policy.
Some employers have their own special health insurance schemes that provide cover for their employees. The employee’s family is also often covered. Check with the employer to see what, if any, equipment is covered under the scheme.
Depending on the type of equipment required, a qualified therapist will assess the individual and make a recommendation to the body responsible for the provision of the equipment or to the person or agency who has requested the assessment. Generally the following applies, but the assessment process and provision may vary in different parts of the country.
- Occupational therapists will assess for aids to daily living – these include wheelchairs, mobility aids, specialised chairs, bath, shower and toilet aids, stairlifts, hoists etc
- Physiotherapists will assess for movement, strength and balance training equipment, walking aids and exercise devices
- Speech and language therapists will assess for communication, speech therapy, and training aids
- Other relevant therapists and specialists may also be involved in carrying out assessments, depending on the equipment or appliance required.
All the different therapists described above are based in hospitals, community care areas, and with various voluntary agencies. For more information, contact the Community Care section of your Health Services Executive area or the relevant hospital department as appropriate.
PURCHASE OF EQUIPMENT
Private Purchase of Equipment
Private purchase may be necessary if the user is not eligible to obtain the necessary equipment from the local area health services. Some people may also choose to buy privately because they want the wider choice of equipment available on the private market.
The purchaser has the option of:
- personally funding the cost of the equipment,
- applying to charities/benevolent funds etc for funding,
- buying second-hand,
- checking with your health insurance company, if a member, to see if, or what, reimbursement is available.
Private Purchase – Applying for a VAT Refund
VAT paid on certain equipment which is privately purchased for use by a person with a disability can be reclaimed from Revenue. The relief applies to VAT on the purchase of goods which are aids and appliances designed to assist a disabled person to overcome a disability in the performance of their daily functions. Most aids to daily living and communication aids are included. Goods designed for leisure purposes are not. An invoice clearly stating the VAT content of the total amount paid must be included with the application. Form VAT 61a is available from Revenue or can be downloaded from their website (see Useful Addresses).
Private Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists in private practice can carry out assessments in the home or workplace, and if home modifications are being considered, provide a report detailing the recommendations. It is important to ensure the therapist is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Make sure to discuss fees before engaging anyone’s services, and also check what the assessment fee includes (or does not include). The profession’s representative body, the Association of Occupational Therapists in Ireland (AOTI), keeps a list of contact details of member occupational therapists working in private practice in Ireland. This list is available from the AOTI (see Useful Addresses).
Physiotherapists can assess for movement, strength and balance training equipment, walking aids and exercise devices and recommend accordingly. If you wish to consult a physiotherapist you can go directly to your local chartered physiotherapist or ask your GP to refer you. It is important to ensure the therapist you consult is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Chartered physiotherapists work in hospitals and in the community where treatment is covered under the public health service. They also work in private practice and can be contacted through the profession’s representative body, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (see Useful Addresses), or through the Golden Pages.
Buying second-hand can be a cheaper way of finding a solution to your mobility difficulties but, since choice is more limited, you must make sure that you do not compromise on your essential requirements. Also check that what you are buying is in good working order. You do have certain consumer rights when buying second-hand; for example, the seller must accurately describe the product he/she is selling; and you should be made fully aware of any faults that need attention. If possible, obtain a written description of the product from the seller before you buy so that, should you find any faults, you can get your money back more easily.
There are basically two sources of second-hand equipment: equipment retailers and private individuals.
Buying from a mobility equipment retailer
Some commercial suppliers of scooters and buggies also buy unwanted vehicles, recondition them, and then offer them for sale with a short guarantee of, for example, three months. Buying second-hand from a retailer is generally more expensive than buying from a private individual, but the vehicle is likely to have been serviced and should be in reasonable working order.
Buying from a private individual
Some mainstream magazines and several disability organisations publish journals that contain advertisements for second-hand equipment. If you are buying second-hand from a private individual, you must make sure that the powered wheelchair has been regularly maintained, that you also receive accompanying literature, for example a care manual; and that you receive instructions on how to control and steer the vehicle. You will also need to find the local company able to service your vehicle and carry out future repairs.
SELECTING THE APPROPRIATE EQUIPMENT
Before buying, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of an occupational therapist on the suitability of the scooter or buggy to your needs. It is recommended you try out and compare a range of vehicles from different suppliers if possible.
If the scooter or buggy is being provided by the health services, the occupational therapist and wheelchair service provider will be able to assist you in selecting the most suitable vehicle for you.
You can arrange to visit a supplier’s showroom (if they have one). Contact details of suppliers can be found under ‘Disabled Persons Products & Services’ in the Golden Pages and some may have a website with details of their products and services which you can view online. Another source of information on suppliers of assistive technology, aids and appliances is the Access Directory. This directory is produced commercially each year and copies are widely available (see Useful Publications).
Sometimes suppliers organise exhibitions of different types of equipment in various locations around the country allowing people to see and try equipment. These exhibitions are often advertised in the local paper or on local radio. You can also request to be put on a supplier’s mailing list so you will be notified if there is an event being held in your area.
Some companies will give equipment for a try-out period before purchase. Enquiries should also be made about maintenance (if it will be required), maintenance contracts (if relevant) and whether a user manual is provided with the equipment (essential).
When purchasing from any supplier, it is important to remember that it is their business to sell. There may be several suppliers of that particular piece of equipment or different manufacturers of the same type of equipment, so always shop around.
Before purchase, the following should be checked:
- What is the delivery time?
- Will the scooter arrive ready assembled?
- What guarantee is available?
- What after-care service is offered?
- How much is the call out charge?
- Will spare parts be brought to the home?
- If the scooter has to be taken away for repairs will a 'loan scooter' be offered?
- Does the manufacturer offer insurance schemes?
SHORT TERM LOAN/HIRE OF EQUIPMENT
Quite a variety of equipment, including wheelchairs, hospital beds, hoists and a variety of walking aids, can be hired for daily, weekly or monthly periods. A number of companies and voluntary organisations provide this service and many can be found in the Golden Pages under ‘Disabled Persons Products & Services’, or your local public health nurse or community occupational therapist.
Before you choose to hire, consider the following:
- Does the company provide a delivery and collection service. Is there extra cost involved for this?
- Does the company ask for a deposit and is it refundable?
- If hiring long-term, does the company provide a regular service agreement?
- If hiring for holiday use, are you permitted to take the equipment overseas?
- Are you obliged to take out insurance? Is this included in the price and what does the insurance cover?
- Will you be fully instructed in the use of this equipment?
- What is the expected delivery time?
- In the event of the equipment breaking down, will the equipment be repaired? Will a replacement be provided while repairs are taking place? How soon will the replacement be provided?
Important: Equipment should not be hired without consulting a relevant professional regarding the suitability of the equipment to your particular condition or needs.
A Shopmobility scheme operates in Liffey Valley Shopping Centre in Clondalkin, Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork, Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin and Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare. This scheme enables anyone to get the loan of a manual wheelchair, a powered wheelchair or a powered scooter while shopping. This is a free service and helpful for anyone who finds shopping a tiring experience. To avail of this service, you must have two pieces of identification with you including photo ID. It is advisable to ring beforehand, particularly coming up to a holiday period or a bank holiday weekend (see Useful Addresses).
Some other shopping centres also have manual wheelchairs that they loan out to customers. Contact Customer Services of the shopping centre to check on the availability of this service.
A scooter or buggy may be chosen in preference to a wheelchair if the user:
- is to use it for covering the distance to and from a certain place, rather than needing to use it all the time ie to go to the shops but leave it outside while actually doing the shopping,
- is able to transfer easily on and off the seat,
- has strong upper body muscles,
- does not have painful shoulder joints or weak arms,
- does not need a specialised seat unit or pressure care cushion.
If a powered wheelchair, scooter or buggy is being chosen to partially or completely replace a standard, manual wheelchair, it may be worth considering the advantages that an active user wheelchair can offer.
Active user wheelchairs are manual wheelchairs that are lightweight and have large rear wheels that can be positioned slightly further forward than those on a standard manual wheelchair. The resulting redistribution of weight lessens the effort needed to propel or push this type of chair. The reduced weight is also an advantage if the chair has to be lifted and transported, particularly if an essential requirement is that the vehicle should by easy to transfer in and out of a car boot. For more information on active user wheelchairs, see the Assist Ireland Information Sheet ‘Choosing an Active User Wheelchair’.
WHAT DOES THE USER NEED?
A STABLE SEATING BASE
Everyone should have a seat, backrest and foot support that combine to provide a comfortable, stable seating base. This enables users to expend their energy on essential activities, such as driving the vehicle and accomplishing tasks from within the vehicle, rather than wasting effort trying to maintain a comfortable, upright position. The seat unit should have an anatomically contoured seat base and backrest and be wide enough to accommodate outdoor clothing if necessary. However, it should not be so wide that the user is forced to sit asymmetrically to feel properly supported.
If the seat is too narrow, it will become uncomfortable and increase the risk of pressure sores.
Try to choose a powered vehicle that has a seat/backrest unit that can be adjusted to meet individual requirements. Scooter and buggy seat units often do not provide any special support - some models do not even have armrests and therefore users require good upper body control. Users with poor upper body control, or those who need a good deal of arm support, should consider a powered wheelchair that may meet their needs better.
A stable seating posture is essential in order to manage the vehicle's controls. This is especially important for users of scooters and buggies that have tiller steering. The seat unit should be moved to a position that the user finds most comfortable and which gives them the best access to the steering controls.
A VEHICLE THAT IS EASY TO STEER
'Tiller' steering is a feature of scooters and buggies. Two hands are usually needed to work the controls and move the 'handlebars' for steering. Some models eg those that have one lever for acceleration and switches for forward/reverse mode, could be controlled by only one hand although turning the vehicle away from the good side might require the driver to lean forwards and could prove tiring. Operating the ancilliary controls at the same time as steering can also be difficult, even with two handed control, tiller steering for long periods can put strain on the arms and shoulders. Adaptations for controls on scooters are fairly limited compared to the options available with powered wheelchairs.
A VEHICLE THAT MAKES TRANSFERRING EASY
Some people may find it more difficult to transfer into a scooter or buggy than into a wheelchair, particularly if it has a fixed seat. Users need some standing and walking ability to get to and from the scooter and on and off the seat.
The following features may help:
- A seat that swivels through at least 180° so that it can face outwards for easier transfers. However, ensure that the user can swivel the seat back into the 'driving' position independently.
- An angle-adjustable tiller, a feature more common on buggies, that can be pushed forward whilst transferring onto the seat.
- An adjustable height seat so that the most convenient height can be selected.
- Armrests that can be grasped to push up from or lower down to the seat.
- Fold-up armrests that can be flipped out of the way for sideways transfers.
A VEHICLE THAT IS EASY TO MANOEUVRE
Although 'indoor' versions of both scooters and powered wheelchairs are available, indoor scooters tend to be the larger of the two and are therefore not as easy to manoeuvre in most domestic settings. If you do decide to buy an indoor scooter make sure that the chosen scooter will go through doorways, make tight turns from hallways, and go down shop aisles etc. Those vehicles that can move around easily indoors tend not to as good over distances, on steep slopes or uneven ground. Your powered vehicle may not meet all your mobility needs and it may still be necessary to have the use of a manual wheelchair.
Buggies are designed purely for outdoor use and can reach a maximum speed of 8mph usually have very wide turning circles. However, they also tend to have wide/deep tread tyres that allow them to be manoeuvred easily over rough or soft ground. These vehicles usually have a built-in suspension.
A STABLE VEHICLE
Over flat, even ground all scooters and buggies should be stable. Four wheels are generally more stable than three. Particular care should be taken when turning corners which should be taken gently and at a reduced speed.
Kerb climbing should be avoided if at all possible, as it requires skill and courage. Try to plan your route using dropped kerbs, which are becoming more common with the increasing awareness of local councils.
In a three-wheeled vehicle, it is always best to adopt a 'straight on' approach when climbing a kerb - approaching at an angle may cause the vehicle to tip. Scooter users should be able to use their body weight or feet to stabilise the scooter if necessary. Four wheeled vehicles tend to be more stable, and some larger ones have flexible chassis to allow for an angled approach.
FREEDOM OF TRAVEL
Powered vehicles allow the user to travel quite long distances without too much personal effort, especially in hilly areas. Scooters and buggies have tiller steering, which tends to be more tiring to drive than a powered wheelchair with joystick steering. Although many vehicles have a good distance/range per battery charge - some even travelling up to 30km to 40km (25 miles) - the time taken to cover these distances also has to be taken into account. Powered vehicles are not replacements for cars. It would still take a minimum of two hours to cover 25km (16 miles), even in the class 3 (8mph) vehicles.
Most vehicles will easily climb a 1:6 slope without losing speed, although the fact that more battery power is used up reduces quite dramatically the maximum distance claimed by the manufacturers. The user needs to take these factors into account when working out the distance that needs to be covered.
A VEHICLE THAT IS EASY TO TRANSPORT
Although most scooters can be dismantled for transporting it may not be easy. Some smaller models can be folded and levered into a car boot others have to be dismantled and the user may require assistance, as components may be large, awkward and heavy. It is best to check with the supplier as to the weight of the heaviest component. This can be anything from around 9kg upwards. Remember that a bag of sugar weighs only 1kg. Also bear in mind that, if the vehicle is to be taken somewhere to be used and then brought back again, this will involve lifting the components at least four times, assembling and disassembling them. Various methods other than manual lifting can be used to get components or the whole vehicle into a car.
Since many of the buggies and powered wheelchairs do not dismantle, or do not dismantle easily for transporting, ways of carrying them 'whole' may have to be found.
A VEHICLE THAT MEETS THE ASSISTANT'S NEEDS
For lifting and transporting, powered vehicles are not very 'carer friendly'! Although most of them dismantle into several manageable or even compact sized components, most of these are still quite heavy to lift. Try lifting them before purchase. If transportability is an essential feature, practise dismantling the vehicle and re-assembling it to ensure that these are manageable tasks.
A VEHICLE THAT MAKES THE USER LOOK GOOD AND FEEL CONFIDENT
Although 'to look good and feel confident' is last in this list of user's needs, it is of primary importance. A scooter or buggy which provides a good stable seating base from which to carry out activities and provides the maximum amount of mobility, will contribute towards giving the user the confidence and ability to lead an active and independent life.
FEATURES TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A SCOOTER OR BUGGY
The base unit is the body of the scooter and consists of a steel, aluminium, or composite frame and floor to support the feet and batteries. The base unit, according to the size of its wheelbase, ground clearance, turning circle and overall dimensions, determines whether the scooter is designed for indoor or outdoor use and its manoeuvrability.
The base unit also determines the comfort and safety of the user. It is important to ensure that the user sits comfortably, and that he/she can reach and use the controls. Some models have a longer length/extendable base that can accommodate longer legs. The length may need to be fixed by the supplier at the time of purchase. An increased base length will increase the turning circle of the vehicle. Try the scooter before purchase to evaluate its overall stability. A scooter should not tip easily during sharp turns or on inclines.
On some scooters, the base unit may be consist of modular units or may otherwise be disassembled for transport and storage. These same features may also allow the scooter to be converted from a three- to four-wheeled model and/or from indoor to outdoor use.
The size of the wheels on a scooter determines the ability of the scooter to surmount obstacles and affects its stability. Scooters usually have six-, eight-, or ten-inch wheels. And these are usually of equal diameter front and back. Smaller wheels are generally found on front-wheel drive scooters intended for indoor use. The larger the wheels, the more stable the unit, and the larger and wider the tyres, the greater the ability of the scooter to manage kerb climbing and to be driven on rough terrain will be.
The number of wheels affects the scooter's performance.
Four wheeled scooters tend to be more stable than those with three wheels especially for kerb climbing and turning sharp corners.
Three wheeled scooters tend to be more manoeuvrable ie have a smaller turning circle.
The drive wheels are those to which the motor directs its power.
Rear wheel drive provides better grip and power when driving over uneven or slippery ground, especially as the user's weight is directly over these wheels.
Free-wheel facility enables the wheels to be disengaged from the motor so that the scooter can be pushed manually in an emergency situation. Beware; it is heavy and difficult to push.
There are different types of tyres including:
- pneumatic tyres, which need to be inflated regularly to maintain air pressure, and also need to be checked as they can puncture. They give a more smooth and comfortable ride and better traction on kerbs, slopes and rough ground than solid rubber tyres. Punctures can be repaired in a similar way to bicycle tyre punctures. If this task is too difficult to manage at home, a local cycle shop or mobility vehicle suppliers should be able to carry out the repair.
- solid tyres do not puncture or need inflating and may make it easier to manoeuvre on some surfaces.
- puncture-proof tyres are a compromise between solid and pneumatic tyres. They are made of an open cell rubber compound to help with shock absorption.
- deep tread tyres are available with different levels of tread. The deeper the tread, the greater the ability of the scooter to provide increased grip and stability on kerbs, slopes, muddy grass and rough or uneven ground.
Most seats consist of a moulded plastic or contoured padded seat with lift-up armrests. Seats usually come in one size and do not provide postural support.
Some scooters have a height adjustable seat, which allows the user to find the most suitable sitting position. Some have powered, elevating seats, for use when the vehicle is stationary which enables the user to reach higher work surfaces and storage areas. In the elevated position, the feet of the user will not be supported on the base platform and therefore stability will be compromised. Since, it will also increase pressure on the thighs, this facility is designed for short period use within the daily schedule.
Most scooter seats swivel through 90°, 180° or 360° by releasing a lever to make transferring on and off the seat easier. Check that the user can reach and manipulate the lever, and swivel the seat round while sitting on it.
Forward and/or backwards adjusting seats ensure that the user can reach the tiller comfortably and therefore has full control of the scooter/buggy. Also, moving the seat forwards/backwards can accommodate different leg lengths.
The whole seat unit on some scooters can be removed for storing and transporting.
Some scooters have a moulded backrest and seat to which no individual adjustment can be made.
Some scooter backrests fold forwards or backwards for easier storage and transporting; this is especially useful when driving the unoccupied scooter up ramps into the back of an estate car.
Fold-up/fold-down/swing-away armrests make transferring on and off the seat easier. On a swivelling
seat, they provide a hand hold to push up from or to control descent onto the seat.
All scooters have automatic brakes which come on immediately when the user releases the accelerator control.
Some models have the option of a handbrake, which acts directly onto the tyre when stationary. Therefore, the tyre pressures must be kept firm. Although not essential, this provides extra security.
The tiller is the control and steering mechanism for the scooter, and has the controls to drive the scooter forward or in reverse, as well as steering the front wheel or wheels. Most scooters offer one style of standard tiller. Some may also include height/angle adjustment to ensure that the user can comfortably reach the tiller and therefore has maximum control over the vehicle. A console, centrally mounted on the tiller, has the ancilliary controls for lights, indicator, horn and the on/off switch/key.
Acceleration on a scooter is controlled by a single proportionally controlled lever (ie the greater the pressure applied to the lever, the faster the vehicle moves). This may be situated on the right or left hand side, or both sides of the tiller. This lever is often controlled by thumb movement or by squeezing (rather like the action required to apply a bicycle cable brake). This may be difficult for people who have poor movement or little strength in their hands.
The reversing mechanism on a scooter is operated by a lever, which may be on the opposite side to the accelerator or may be on the same lever as the accelerator but working in the opposite direction. Alternatively, there may be only one acceleration lever with forwards and reverse selected by a switch on the control panel.
Some scooters have a speed limiter which determines the maximum speed to which the scooter can accelerate. The speed dial allows more varied and accurate control of maximum speed.
KEY/JACK PLUG IGNITION
If the key/jack plug ignition is removed, the scooter or buggy is immobilised, thus allowing the user to leave the vehicle unattended, for example, outside a shop.
Scooters and buggies do not have specific kerb climbing devices. Smaller wheeled vehicles are not designed to mount or descend kerbs. Vehicles with larger wheels may be able to negotiate kerbs of up to 13cm in height. Check with suppliers the recommended maximum height for each model and the technique you should use to climb kerbs safely. Four-wheeled scooters and buggies are more stable going up kerbs than the three-wheeled versions.
Some three-wheeled scooters have stabilising wheels on the chassis on either side of the front wheel. These help to stabilise the vehicle when travelling over rough ground and lessen the risk of tipping during kerb climbing.
The addition of standard bicycle lights may be adequate. Lights and indicators are available as accessories on some models and are wired to the vehicle battery but some vehicles come fitted with lights and indicators as standard.
Some scooters are supplied with hoods that enclose the user in the vehicle for weather protection. For more information refer to the Assist Ireland Information Sheet ‘Clothing Ideas for Wheelchair Users’.
This is the manufacturer's prediction as to the scooter or buggy's range under optimum conditions with new batteries on a full charge. Range can be affected by:
- condition of batteries - older, well used batteries will not store as much power;
- weight of user - the heavier the person the more power will be used;
- terrain - climbing hills and kerbs uses up more power;
- accessories - lights and indicators are powered by the wheelchair batteries;
- weather - batteries do not perform as well in cold weather.
This is the manufacturer's prediction as to the maximum gradient under the best conditions, taking into account the user's weight, temperature, surface etc.
Check the overall size of the vehicle, especially of buggies, as they tend to need quite a large space for storage and charging. Also, remember that the larger vehicles have a bigger turning circle and are therefore less manoeuvrable.
Scooters can be dismantled for transporting and storage. However, the components still tend to be very heavy.
Check the weight of the heaviest component and compare it to the weight of a bag of sugar, which weighs only 1kg. Buggies cannot be dismantled and therefore will need to be transported whole.
It is essential to find out the capacity of the vehicle as exceeding it will increase the wear and tear on the motors and batteries, and also increase running costs. It may also invalidate the guarantee of the manufacturer. Most standard scooters will carry a person up to 89-102kg but larger capacity vehicles are available.
In addition to the standard features, manufacturers offer a range of optional accessories, including crutch and cane holders, oxygen carriers, front and rear baskets, trailers, headlights, rear lights, horns and canopies.
BATTERIES AND CHARGERS
Battery powered vehicles operate from either one or two, 12 volt rechargeable batteries. They are usually maintenance free gel batteries and are so called because their conducting chemicals are suspended in a gel-like substance. Airlines will carry gel batteries on their aircraft because there is no risk of leakage of corrosive chemicals. However, scooters with a lead acid/wet battery may be subject to air travel restrictions. Intending passengers should always contact their airline prior to travel to check the suitability of their battery for carriage.
Battery output is measured in Ampere hours (ah) and, generally, the larger and heavier the batteries the greater the output capacity and range travelled. A choice of battery capacities is often, available when purchasing new vehicles or replacement batteries. The kerb and gradient climbing ability of a vehicle is dependent on the battery output capacity and the power output of the motors driving the wheels (and will decrease with a heavier driver).
The distance travelled or range from a fully charged battery depends on its ampere rating, age, condition, type, temperature, weight of vehicle and user, frequency and distance of travel on rough ground, slopes and kerbs. Batteries in a vehicle stored outdoors at cold temperatures may not maintain their charge effectively. The figures quoted in the manufacturer's specifications are tested with an occupant of around 70kg on level ground and under ideal battery conditions.
Remember to include the on-going costs of maintenance and replacement of batteries when budgeting for a scooter or buggy.
The following information covers general points to consider regarding the maintenance and charging of batteries. However, it is advisable to follow the guidelines recommended by the manufacturer.
Ideally, the scooter/buggy needs to be placed beside a mains electrically power socket, so that the batteries are charged in situ, usually overnight, using a specified battery charger. If this is not possible, then the batteries can be removed and charged separately, although a special charging harness, or an adaptation to the vehicle wiring may be needed.
Remember the following points:
- Check that the charging point is easily accessible.
- Plug the charger into the wheelchair charging point before plugging it into the mains.
- The battery charger may have a mains and a charging indicator light. Check they are both on.
- Take care not to overcharge the batteries. If this is frequently done it changes the chemical composition and will reduce the life of the battery. Overcharging may occur if this type of charger is turned on regularly for short periods. It is much better to leave the batteries to charge overnight.
- Most chargers have a cut out and a light indicator which operate when the battery is fully charged.
- If there is a battery level indicator, it will guide you as to when charging is necessary. The reading should be taken when the vehicle is stationary and the lights switched off. Most of the power should be used in the battery before recharging. Wheelchair batteries are designed to be used in this way. Ideally, they should be recharged when the battery level indicator reads 20% to 25% charge. Below this level, decay of the chemical components begins to take place.
- When chemical decay takes place recharging becomes impossible and new batteries have to be purchased. It takes about two months for the batteries to decay if left uncharged.
- Vehicles not in use should be charged once a month.
- Vehicles used infrequently should be charged once a fortnight.
- Vehicles in constant use should be charged daily. Daily use will increase the life span of the batteries.
- Do not touch both terminals at once with wet hands or place a metal object across the terminals. Although a lethal shock would not be given, a small shock can be quite nasty!
- Keep the terminals free from corrosion by smearing with petroleum jelly.
- If replacing the batteries, check that the new ones will fit into the allotted space.