How to choose and buy a mobility scooter
The information below should help you choose the correct mobility scooter for your needs and budget, first time. This information has been written by the directors of Mobility Plus Limited, who are a professionally qualified occupational therapist (BSc Hons. O.T.) and a trade qualified technician (Trade Cert). The information provided is free of charge, so whether you purchase with Mobility Plus or another company you will find the information below invaluable.
What is a mobility scooter?
In the most basic form, a mobility scooter is a small electric vehicle that helps you get around and maintain your mobility. It is like a small electric car and needs to be maintained in the same way. To be classified as a mobility device (mobility scooter or power chair) the electric motor in the mobility scooter must be under 1500watts. Ideally, any mobility device should have a fail-safe brake. This means should a user suffer a catastrophic event, the mobility device will come to an immediate stop. More information on legal requirements can be found via NZ Transport Agency: 0800 699 000 NZTA READY TO RIDE - keeping safe on your mobility scooter
Types of mobility scooters, power chairs and electric wheel chairs.
Mobility Scooters come in all sizes and shapes. From small travel scooters for the boot of your car, to large fully enclosed mobility scooters. Some mobility scooters are 3-wheeled some are 4-wheeled. The majority of mobility scooters sold in NZ are 4-wheeled and fit in to the mid-size category. Power chairs, sometimes called electric wheel chairs, can be used instead of a mobility scooter depending on the needs of the user. Small power chairs are ideal for use indoors, at retirement homes and villages, as well as around other purpose built care facilities.
Used or New?
Buying a mobility scooter can be a costly experience. Prices for new mobility scooters range from $2,500 to over $15,000. Because of these high purchase prices, many people are tempted to purchase a cheap, import or even a used mobility scooter. There are pro’s and con’s with buying new and used but it mainly comes down to cost.
Pro’s of a new scooter.
A mobility scooter from one of the large global brands (not a cheap direct import) will be built to current legislation, and offer up to date features and usability. All good quality mobility scooters will come with a full warranty (between 1-3yrs) and service backup (if purchased from a reputable dealer). Being new, they have not been abused and mis-used - you know its history - everything is new! This means costly battery and parts replacements will be years away, and it is far less likely to breakdown.
Pro’s of a used scooter.
The real only pro of buying used is the cost. If you can find a used mobility scooter with a full service history that the owner bought new, and it is a reputable brand and only a couple of years old, then you may have found a good deal. Be wary of mobility scooter brands that have no service or parts backup/availability, or old mobility6 scooters that have no history or paper work. Just remember, most used mobility scooters will need a set of new batteries; these cost between $300-$1200. This cost must be factored in when buying a used scooter.
Buying a approved used mobility scooter from a reputable company may be a way to enter the scooter market at lower cost for less risk. The other option is to have a pre-purchase check, completed by a qualified technician, so you have a greater understanding of the mobility scooter you are buying.
Does it come with a warranty?
When buying a brand new mobility scooter you will be covered by the consumer guarantees act, as initiated by the government (www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz). More information can be found via the Citizens Advice Bureau (www.cab.org.nz), or your local library and the internet. Companies are bound by the act to only sell products that are fit for purpose. If something breaks in the first year of ownership and the mobility scooter has not been misused, then the company should repair or replace the mobility scooter under the terms of the warranty. In some cases the manufacturers will give longer warranties for chassis and electronics - remember to always purchase from a long standing reputable company.
Prices vary hugely. As the saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for’, and this is very true with mobility scooters. Generally, the cheaper the mobility scooter the poorer the quality. To the first time buyer two scooters may look the same or very similar, but below the shiny paint the quality of the electronics, mechanical components, motor and chassis can vary hugely. Cheaper mobility scooters often use older, outdated designs and can be poor copies of good mobility scooters. This is not to say that you should not shop around as many companies run selective sales, and a bargain on a good quality mobility scooter can be had by shopping around. Just make sure you are comparing like for like, or apples with apples!
The bigger the wheel the more ground clearance and the rougher terrain the mobility scooter can handle. Small mobility scooters have smaller wheels and are designed for around town use. Larger mobility scooters with larger wheels have bigger batteries, and can ‘soak up’ the bumps of the sidewalks better but take up more space, and have a bigger footprint.
Modern mobility scooters are being equipped with far more features than ever before. Older designs tend to be very basic and quite uncomfortable. Mobility Scooter suspension has come a long way in the last few years, with some of the top brands giving a much smoother ride. Tighter turning circles (where the front wheels turn more), is another great advantage of modern mobility scooters. Better seating is another great improvement, with some mobility scooter’s having luxurious moulded seats. Top-end mobility scooters tend to have an LCD odometer and speedo so you can monitor the distance you have travelled. Some can even tell you the outside temperature!
Mobility Scooter Canopies & Covers
Mobility scooters can sometimes be fitted with a full rain/weather cover, referred to as a canopy, which allows the user to go out all year round in all weathers. Before considering fitting any such canopy to your mobility scooter it is worth considering one or two points. Most manufacturers will not cover any warranties if the mobility scooter is modified in anyway, this includes fitting a third-party canopy. The reason for this is many canopies put a huge strain on mobility scooters and can even break the chassis. Most mobility scooters on the market today are not designed to operate in wet weather. This is clearly stated in the manufactures owner’s manual; operation in wet weather could again void your warranty. Canopies fitted to small/medium mobility scooters can be a hazard in NZ’s windy conditions with the mobility scooter being blown over, or blown sideways causing the driver to end up in the road.
There a few good quality mobility scooters available on the market, that come with manufacturer fitted canopies. These tend to be expensive as they are full-sized mobility scooters that are built to run in wet conditions. These mobility scooters come with solid front screens so the driver can clearly see through and optional fabric rain sides. Be aware to stay away from cheap imported models, the attractive buy price may be hiding a low poor quality mobility scooter (see direct import information).
Mobility scooters generally have two 12v deep cycle batteries that run a 24v motor. The batteries are measured in amp hours (ah). The greater the amount of amp hours the larger and more expensive the battery. A small travel scooter may only have two 24ah batteries where a large scooter may have two 100ah batteries. Larger batteries are generally in larger mobility scooters.
The batteries in a mobility scooters are called deep cycle batteries. This means they are more expensive than your standard car battery. Mobility Scooters must have deep cycle batteries fitted or they will not function properly. As mentioned before, ‘you get what you pay for’. Cheap batteries are cheap for a reason; they don’t last as long or perform as well. Batteries have a life span of between 2-5years depending on how they have been used and cared for. A set of new batteries will cost between $300-$1000.
How far can I go on one charge?
This is a question we get asked a lot. There are many factors that can affect a mobility scooters range: size of the batteries fitted; how you drive; terrain covered; outside temperatures, to name a few. Small scooters generally can travel up to 25km on one charge. Large scooters can go more than 40km. Don’t be fooled by companies advertising much greater distances, as these are not always ‘real world’ situations and those distances were gained in perfect test conditions i.e. good quality flat road, with good weather etc.
Different makes and brands and direct importers.
There are many makes and models of mobility scooters on the market. Purchasing a mobility scooter made by one of the larger global brands is generally the safest bet, and generally gets you the most up-to-date mobility scooter. These manufacturers have plenty of parts available, as well as technical support helplines, and don’t quibble over honouring guarantee’s. Pride, Heartway, Invacare, Shoprider, and CTM have all been around for many years in NZ, and have an excellent range of spares available. It is wise to stay away from brands that are not recognised. The reason for this is that many of these mobility scooters can be a poor copy of the larger brands. They may look the same and have an attractive price, but the quality of the scooter may not be great; spare parts could be few and far between, not to mention expensive! In many cases, a small one/two-man company brings a few containers of scooters in to NZ from Asia (direct importer). They sell them cheaper than established businesses and then disappear once they have sold all of their stock off onto the unsuespecting public. This means parts and service back-up and warranty’s for these scooters can be non-existent, and can leave the owner searching far and wide for hard to find parts. Thus the re-sale of unbranded scooters is likely to be much less.
Scooter usage – where can I go?
Mobility scooters are specially designed for the purpose of keeping people mobile. Under NZTA rules they must be used on the foot path, if no foot path is available then they must be driven over to the left hand side of the road.
Most manufacturer’s say not to use your scooter in the rain and stay away from any puddles and mud. Treating and looking after your mobility scooter as per the manufacturers recommendation’s as set out in their complimentary owners manual, should give you years of trouble free enjoyment. If not treated properly, any misuse at the hands of the operator may cause the mobility scooter to experience a breakdown, and incur costly repairs that may not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
Servicing and breakdowns.
Just like a car, your mobility scooter will need to be maintained. Keeping the tyres pumped up and the battery fully charged, are simple daily tasks that can be carried out by the owner. Most manufactures will recommend a service every 6-12 months. This may be sooner if you cover large distances. Keeping your mobility scooter well serviced and looked after should avoid breakdowns and maintain the value of your mobility scooter if you ever decide to sell it.
The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) have designed a comprehensive booklet called “Ready to rRde. One of these can be supplied by Mobility Plus free of charge. The booklet sets out current rules and regulations and shows you how to safely use your scooter. When operating your mobility scooter on the pavement it is important to remember to be courteous to other people, slow down and move over as pedestrains have the right of way. With regards to speed, remember you are driving a mobility scooter, they are not designed to go very fast and it is best to moderate your speed when on the pavement.
Is funding available?
Funding may be available from various organisations depending on your personal circumstance. ACC (www.acc.org.nz or 0800 101 996) can help with the purchase of a new mobility scooter if you have a need as assessed under a claim covered by ACC. The Lottery Grants Board also have a system that is both means tested and needs tested. If you pass their initial screening requirements (www.communitymatters.govt.nz or 0800 824 824 for more information) they may also help you with purchasing a mobility scooter. With regards to the upkeep and maintenance of the scooter, WINZ can help with a disability allowance (DA), (www.workandincome.govt.nz or 0800 559 009).
Even with all this information available, purchasing a mobility scooter is still a daunting task for most people. We would recommend that where possible, family members or close friends share the responsibility of helping to choose the correct mobility scooter with you.
There are many different types of scooter businesses, from direct importers selling out of containers or out of the back of vans at your house, to retail showrooms. It’s always worth researching who you are going to purchase from via friends and family before setting up an appointment. Review sites such as google are useful to ascertain without pressure, the quality, service and after-sales/back-up. In an ideal situation when choosing where to purchase, choosing a company that has numerous different brands and models on the shop floor for you to test-drive, will allow you to compare different makes and models and ensure the right scooter is purchased from the outset.
After-sales and back-up support is just as important as the initial purchase. Make sure that the company you purchase from completes all maintenance, servicing and warranty work in-store. (Not sub-contracting the work out)!