Motorized mobility scooters are meant to be liberating, offering those who have difficulty walking a new path to freedom in the home, office, and anywhere a pedestrian is allowed. Scooters range in size from small, foldable models ideal for travel to hefty heavy-duty scooters suited for outdoor use, whether around the yard, out on the highway, or for rougher terrain.
Although some countries do produce and sell what they list as 4-wheel drive all-terrain mobility scooters, the US does not. Any website, ad, or salesperson who claims otherwise may be relying on a manufacturer’s definition. In the US, the terms 4-wheel drive, 4-WD, 4×4, or all-wheel drive – at least when applied to mobility scooters – do not have industry-accepted definitions. Each manufacturer can define those terms as they choose to.
This article will look at what the US does offer in the way of 4-wheel off-road scooters, supplying information that ideally will help you in your search for the perfect one.
What Makes An Off-Road Mobility Scooter Different?
An off-road mobility scooter, when contrasted with an ordinary 3- or 4-wheel scooter used for everyday living is substantially bigger and heavier with enhanced shock-absorbing suspension and added power. The superior ground clearance (as much as 5” higher than an everyday scooter) lets the passenger traverse relatively rough surfaces and negotiate hills, even if with limitations.
The batteries for off-road scooters are bigger and heavier, as well, many of which provide energy for longer trips between charging as well as higher speeds. The maximum speed for an indoor scooter is around 4 mph, and, depending on the batteries used, the passenger could expect 8 or more miles to a charge. Off-road models, like those made by E-Wheels, claim a top possible speed of 15+ mph and – depending on the model – a possible maximum distance of 43 miles.
Both distance and speed will be affected by the combined weight of the passenger and the batteries (those in use as well as any backup batteries for emergencies). Another factor is the drain on the battery of head- or tail-lights (LEDs provide bright light while using less battery power). Also, add in whatever else you may be carrying on board or if you’re towing a trailer.
Terrain, weather conditions, tire wear and how well inflated they are, and battery wear also have an effect.
Why Would I Want A 4-Wheel Drive Scooter?
Anyone who has enjoyed outdoor activities like walking, hiking, birdwatching, photography or nature study would understandably be deeply depressed if they could no longer engage in them. If your profession also involves outdoor activity, then there’s an added stressor.
Being cut off from the fresh air, from a creative or lucrative outlet, from the sense of being an active part of a bigger, beautiful and natural world could cause your quality of life to deteriorate. Appetite, sleep patterns, the desire to exercise or take medications, your relations with others, how you see yourself, all this could suffer.
Even if you’ve never considered yourself an outdoorsy type, you might consider changing that. This sort of contact and activity can be very stimulating, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Just being able to accompany others on outdoor activities not only helps to reinforce relationships with them while enlarging your world but also reminds you of just how alive and capable you are.
Keep in mind that though that, as a rule, the most heavy-duty machine can be driven on hiking trails or dirt roads, the soil or mulch should be tight-packed and dry. It’s fine to go onto short grass, so long as it’s dry. Even a humid climate can be damaging. Your salesperson can help you understand what types of mobility scooter will work for your needs and your geographical region.
What To Expect From a 4-Wheel Drive Scooter
The machine you’ll want for off-roading will be a heavy-duty four-wheel scooter with added power, good shock-absorbing suspension, and superior ground clearance. It would also have a well-designed seat for added comfort and support, bigger tires for traction and increased stability, and be capable of greater speed than a standard scooter.
There are 3-wheel off-road scooters, but the consensus is that though they may be easier to transport and may have more legroom, it’s not worth the sacrifice of that fourth wheel. While it’s still possible to have an accident or even to tip over on a 4-wheeled rig, it’s less likely.
No matter what kind of scooter you’re driving, it’s essential to learn how to handle it and to pay attention when in motion. Always drive a mobility scooter sensibly, with an eye for your safety and that of others.
Before shopping for an off-road scooter, get a sense of the demands of the terrain you want to explore. What could be the steepest inclines or declines, and this includes ramps. One of the specifications of an off-road scooter is the “climbing angle” or “climbing grade.” These terms refer to the steepest incline this scooter’s motor can handle while keeping all four wheels on the ground and avoiding tipping over.
What type of surfaces will you be traversing? How wet is it likely to be? How rough will it be? Will it be stone, dirt-packed or loose – gravel, wet leaves, pine needles? Armed with this information, you can better search online or – best of all – speak with a knowledgeable salesperson who can help you narrow down your best options.
Remember that the maximum stated distance per battery is just that, the maximum. Honest reviews by scooter riders can tell you a lot about what you can reasonably expect. Speaking directly with either a manufacturer’s representative or a salesperson in a brick-and-mortar store may also give you a realistic picture, especially if you go in prepared with solid information and a list of questions.
If possible, talk to people who use these scooters. Don’t be reluctant to stop people when you see them riding one that looks like a possible choice; they’ll probably be pleased to share their insights. If you have a neighborhood newsgroup available online, you could email them, describing your circumstances, and asking if anyone has any recommendations.
What To Look For in A 4-Wheel Scooter
A common complaint expressed in customer reviews is that the manufacturer stated the maximum range only, while many customers cite significantly shorter results. It’s possible, of course, that the reviewer neglected to consider the factors listed above – tire wear, battery age, how much weight the scooter was carrying, etc. A careful reading of reviews from various sites, though, can help build a more reasonable set of expectations.
The taller or heavier the rider, the more substantial the scooter should be. It is also key that the passenger knows how to ride the scooter. One problem some riders have is leaning too far out of the machine; whether too far forward, backward, or to the side, they run the risk of the machine tipping over. If the machine is too small or lightweight for them, that only increases the likelihood of an accident.
Remember, too, that, rugged as this machine is, batteries and electronic elements (especially the control panel on the tiller steering wheel), are vulnerable to moisture. Some exposure is fine, but just as you should never “hose down” your scooter to clean it, you want to purchase a protective cover to shield it from overexposure to the elements. You can even get a brightly colored rain “poncho” that protects both you and your machine at the same time.
Tips for Purchasing a Mobility Scooter
- Gather as much data as possible about the terrain you’ll be traveling.
- Don’t get into the habit of using more than 50% of your charge before recharging. Using more than half the charge on a regular basis wears the batteries out faster.
- The less weight your scooter is carrying, the farther you’ll get on a battery charge.
- Don’t skimp on batteries. A cheap battery may not last long or deliver the reliable power you need.
- Keep track of your tire pressure. As tires deflate, your traction decreases, making soft or slick surfaces that much more dangerous. Also, you get less mileage per charge, the tires wear out faster, and the ride is less comfortable.
- Off-road scooters can be very large and heavy. When it comes to transporting them, some do disassemble, but others do not. The My Vita Monster S12X, e.g., is about 5’ long and weighs more than 300 lbs. If transporting will be an issue, do you have the right vehicle for that? How many people will you need to handle the process?
- Though there are 3-wheel scooters that bill themselves as “off-road,” the consensus seems to be that four wheels provide more stability. Yes, the turning radius is larger the more wheels you have, but a narrow turning radius, while valuable indoors, does not tend to be an issue for off-road machines.
Mobility Scooter Features to Consider
A motorized off-road mobility scooter needs to be not only comfortable but to carry whatever it is you need to make your trips both safe and pleasurable. Here are just some of the practical features you want to keep in mind.
- Multi-position seat – This type of seat not only provides comfortable seating options but also makes getting in and out of the scooter easier.
- Suspension system – Is it adequate for the terrain you’ll be traveling?
- Is the control panel easy to use?
- Is the tiller (steering wheel) the best type for the user? Some tillers come with ergonomic, wrap-around handles.
- Battery indicator – Be sure it is highly visible; the last thing you want is to run out of charge just because you forgot to check it.
- Drivetrain – Is it sufficient to ease the strain on the frame?
- Storage – Are there enough baskets, food storage, general storage units (under the seat or in the form of a trailer to be hauled by the scooter), cup- and phone-holders, etc.?
- Phone jack – Keep your phone, tablet, or other small electronic devices charged. The last thing you want is to have your phone die on you!
- Freewheel mode – This option allows easy movement of the scooter even when it’s turned off.
- Head-, tail- and indicator lights – Are there enough of them? Are they well-located and highly visible?
- Reflective tape – Reflective decals and stripes greatly increase your visibility. Reflective coats and hats help too.
How Much Do 4-Wheel Drive Scooters Cost?
Prices range from about $1,600 to $7,000 or more. The size and weight of the scooter affect the price as well as the number of features and accessories.
When it comes to selecting a vehicle, don’t just go with the least expensive. That may even be the best choice, but if it isn’t, at the least you’ll have to return it. At the worst, an avoidable accident could result. Take your time to look and ask around. There’s information available, whether from online or from actual people.
Be clear on return policies, warranties, and consider the value in purchasing an extended warranty.
How Can I Defray The Cost of My Scooter?
Mobility scooters are expensive, although it's possible to find less expensive options. Unfortunately, Medicare does not help cover the cost of motorized mobility scooters. An everyday scooter can be deducted on your income taxes as a medically “assistive” item if approved by your doctor. It’s unclear how an off-road scooter might be treated. If it’s necessary to the passenger’s professional pursuits (a photographer of wildlife, e.g.), there may be a deduction possible.
Talk is a tax consultant. Regardless of the outcome of any potential tax deductions, be sure to keep all paperwork relating to correspondence with your doctor and to the purchase of the scooter.
Those who already have a mobility scooter may be able to get a trade-in value at the time of a new purchase. Don’t hesitate to ask the salesperson if they’re interested in this idea.
Even if there is no genuine all-terrain motorized mobility scooter for seniors in the US, there are heavy-duty off-road scooters that grant you the freedom to enjoy the outdoors and to do so safely. The rider, though, must work with the machine, by practicing proper driving technique and paying attention.
Once you’ve looked at your circumstances – as regards your physical and financial positions – a well-thought-out purchase will get you a machine you can use and enjoy, enriching your life experience.
While it’s so easy to buy online, it’s smart to find a store that sells scooters where you can have some hands-on experience. Go armed with as much information as possible: know what you need, what you want, and have reasonable expectations.
Finally, remember that mobility scooters, of whatever type, are meant to make life easier and more pleasurable, but not at the expense of your physical welfare. Do not neglect the advice of your doctor when it comes to exercise or physical therapy. The point is, use a scooter when it’s practical but do what you need to do to maintain your body and overall quality of life.