Since the 1950s, motorized mobility scooters have been making life easier for those who have difficulty walking but don’t require a wheelchair. Scooters come in a range of sizes and styles and are divided into two classes: Class 2, smaller and lighter and used chiefly indoors and always on smooth surfaces also includes motorized wheelchairs, and Class 3, typically larger and suitable for rougher, outdoor terrain. (Class 1 is manual wheelchairs.)
We will be looking at 4-wheel and 4-wheel-drive scooters in two separate articles. This article focuses on the 3-wheel models that can be used in the home, on sidewalks, in public buildings, or anywhere pedestrians are allowed. In fact, there are 3-wheel Class 3 scooters, but they generally lack the stability found in a 4-wheel rig.
Who Needs A 3-Wheel Scooter?
Not everyone in pain would benefit from having a mobility scooter. Your doctor may recommend, instead, weight loss, diet changes, increased exercise and/or crutches or a walker as the best medicine for what ails you. But, say you’ve got advanced COPD; to help you get through your day, that same doctor would likely prescribe the purchase of a scooter.
The smallest and lightest of the 3-wheel scooters – termed “travel scooters ”- are perfect for narrow, tight spaces whether in the home, a crowded shopping mall or any other public space, or even a cruise ship. The maximum speed is supposed to be 4 mph, plenty fast enough to get around inside or outside on a smooth sidewalk.
Wherever they’re used, these scooters can go a long way towards prolonging a senior’s independence and sense of self. Despite the fact they’re generally smaller than the four-wheel models, there are models that are safe and comfortable for pretty much any height and weight up to 500 pounds.
Mobility scooters make travel easier, too
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all airlines must allow shipping space for the mobility scooters (or power wheelchairs) of their passengers. Before making a reservation, ask about bringing your scooter; in comparing airlines, you may find that some are more accommodating than others.
Each airline has its own specific guidelines requiring forms of documentation (e.g., a doctor’s authorization) and strict rules regarding how the scooter and batteries should be packed.
Airports and 3-Wheeled Scooters
Here’s a breakdown of key issues regarding airports and traveling with your scooter.
- There is no airline charge for shipping the scooter.
- Each airline – national or international – has its own rules regulating which scooters and batteries they will transport. Be sure you understand and follow those rules to the letter.
- Before buying a ticket, tell the reservation clerk you want to ship your scooter.
When away from home, carry this information with you in case you need to identify your scooter or report a loss or theft.
- The make and model
- Dimensions of the folded or dismantled machine
- Type of battery/ies (gel, lead-acid, or lithium-ion (Li-on))
- The battery power
- The scooter serial number
Airlines supply instructions for how the scooter, and its batteries, must be prepared for flight. Though all lead-acid batteries and gel batteries are acceptable, some lithium-ion batteries are too powerful and dangerous to allow onboard; you may need to get a smaller battery for the trip. Investing in one or two backup batteries (as many as the airline will permit) could make up for not being able to use the more powerful one.
Expect to be asked for documentation from your doctor stating the scooter is a medical necessity.
On the day of departure, arrive at the airport one hour early as staff may need extra time to get your scooter stowed away. Ask the gate agent for a gate delivery tag to attach to the scooter before boarding. Be sure your scooter is plainly labeled with your name, address, and phone number.
Take pictures of your scooter before packing it. If it’s damaged after it leaves your care, you will have documentation. After arriving at your destination, look the scooter over carefully before leaving the airport.
Many airlines offer preboarding, deplaning, and airport assistance for you and your belongings. Do not hesitate to make clear what assistance you may need.
Features to Look For In a 3-Wheel Scooter
The cost of a three-wheel scooter depends a good deal on what features it has. A stripped-down model may be just what you want and need, but foremost, it must be a comfortable and safe fit for the rider. Are the controls easy to access and manipulate? Is the seat adjustable and sufficiently supportive? Is there enough leg space, or too much? These are just some of the questions that should pop up.
The following is a list of possible features for a 3-wheel scooter, whether used in- or outdoors. The list is organized alphabetically by item (armrests, attachments, etc.) or issue (e.g., legroom, weight capacity).
- Armrests – Ideally these flip out of the way when not needed.
- Attachments – Baskets and storage units; various types of cane and/or crutch holders and weatherproof covers; a walker holder; cupholders; water bottle holder; oxygen holder; cell phone holder; hanging organizer with pockets and compartments to hold needed items to hang from the armrest or steering column.
- Battery – How many miles on a charge? How long to charge? Simple to remove and replace? Can the battery be charged while installed on the scooter or must it be taken off and attached to the charger? Is battery upgradeable?
- Controls – Where are they located? Are they easy for the rider to access and manipulate? Are they easily replaceable? (Some scooters are so computer-engaged that replacing a control is either very expensive.) Easy to use for those with arthritis or other health issues?
- Durability – Is this machine suitable to the weight of the passenger as well as the terrain it will be used on? Read reviews and talk to scooter experts for feedback.
- Foldable scooters – Does it have a “remote fob” so it can be folded or unfolded with the push of a button? If yes, once folded, it should be as easy to roll as a piece of luggage on wheels. If no fob, is it easy to fold and unfold? Can the passenger do it, if necessary? Is it easy to pick up and place in a car, etc.?
- Ground clearance – How high does the bottom of the scooter sit from the ground? Generally not an issue for indoor scooters but would be if the model is to be used outdoors.
- Headlights – Well-placed and bright enough? How easy to turn on and off?
- Horn – Can buy separately and attach, if necessary.
- Keys – If the standard key is too small for the user to handle (because of arthritis, e.g.), there may be a larger alternative that is easier to manipulate.
- Legroom – Too much? Too little?
- Maintenance – Is this model easy to work on? Read reviews and ask expert scooter mechanics for feedback.
- Phone jack – May come with the scooter or can be added.
- Reflectors – For outdoor scooters, are the reflectors on the back, front, sides effectively visible?
- Safety features – Safety flags/pennants, lap belt, rearview mirrors.
- Safety wheels/Anti-tip wheels – Found on the front and back of many scooters, both 3- and 4-wheel, these very small, raised wheels help prevent the scooter tipping over when making a tight turn or climbing a curb or any uneven surface.
- Seat: Seat wide enough and well-padded? Does backrest provide adequate support? Need a head-rest? Is seat height adjustable permitting easy access to foot pedals and other controls? Does the seat swivel for easy in-and-out? Are there moveable armrests?
- Security features – Including locks, a wheel lock or clamp, alarms, a tracking device. There are other anti-theft options, the most basic being an ignition key versus a push-button starter.
- Speed control – Depending on the surface and location, there may be a speed limit. E.g., Class 2 scooters are supposed to go no faster than 4 mph, yet many of these scooters’ top speed is higher than that. Even those scooters that don’t come with a speed control can have one added.
- Stability: How stable is a given scooter? Will it work for the passenger and the terrain?
- Storage options – (1) Baskets – for front and/or back – plus baskets or lockers that fit under the seat on certain models. (2)
- Saddlebags. (3) A scooter trailer
- Suspension – What type of suspension system does the scooter have? Just like a car, the rougher the terrain, the more advanced the suspension system must be to provide stability for the passenger. The weight of the rider is also a factor.
- Tiller/Steering wheel – Every scooter has a variation on bike-style steering called a “tiller.” The tiller contains either some of or all the scooter controls, but some tillers are more ergonomic than others. Select one the one that best suits the passenger.
- Tires – Are they the right type and size for the terrain? Tires can be air-filled, foam-filled or solid and are not simply interchangeable. The wrong tires lead to an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe ride and will wear out more quickly.
- Outdoor tires are all about traction, ground clearance, and durability. Indoor scooters need tires that suit the flooring and don’t leave marks or scar floors.
- Turn signals – Bright enough? Well-placed? Easy to replace bulbs?
- Turning radius – Is it appropriate for where the scooter will be used?
- Weather protection options: (1) A “weather cover” to cover the machine if stored outside. Prolonged contact with moisture will damage the scooter. (2) A “weather breaker” which is a clear canopy that attaches to scooter to protect rider’s back and upper body from rain and sun. (3) One-piece waterproof cover for both machine and rider, protecting both when out in the elements.
- Weight capacity of scooter: Is the scooter sturdy enough for the weight of the passenger? (A less expensive and too-small machine will not be an economical purchase.)
Buying a 3-Wheeled Scooter
There are several things to keep in mind when buying a scooter. Here are some things to think about.
- The personal element – This a very personal purchase. Involve the passenger as much as possible as to likes, dislikes and personal preference. If they can’t contribute fully, confer with their doctor and other professionals.
- Manuals/instructions – Not everything comes with a proper manual these days. Many manufacturer websites offer manuals as free downloads.
- Return policy – Check out the return policy, just in case.
- Storage space for the scooter – Know where you’re going to store your scooter. Some scooters fold up or easily dismantle, but not all. If it will have to be stored outside, get a protective cover and superior security features. A cover is the best way to protect the scooter and its computerized parts from dust, moisture and other debris.
- Support – How easily can you access tech support and is it reliable? How good is customer service overall?
- Transporting issues – If the scooter needs to be transported, will it fit in the available vehicle? Will you need a rack on the outside of the vehicle, or a vehicle lift to get it into the car, van or truck?
- Warranty – Not all manufacturers provide the same warranty. How long does it last? What is covered? Consider purchasing an extended warranty.
- Insurance – No matter how many locks or alarms you have on your scooter, a basic – and inexpensive – form of added security is a good, old-fashioned insurance policy.
How Much Does A 3-Wheel Scooter Cost?
The price range for 3-wheelers ranges from $599 to more than $4,000. Generally, the higher the price, the larger and heavier the vehicle is, and the more added features it has. The larger size, with a wider wheelbase, generates increased stability. But the larger 3-wheelers – while supporting passengers up to 500 pounds – can have a much larger turning radius and may not be suited for indoor use.
How Can I Lower the Cost of My Scooter?
Unlike wheelchairs, there don’t seem to be any organizations that provide free scooters or help with financial assistance. However, you can deduct the cost on your taxes, registering it on the Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. This is just one of the medically “assistive” items that can be deducted, but only if the item is approved by your doctor. Just be sure to keep all paperwork relating to correspondence with your doctor and to the purchase of the scooter as proof.
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.
If you meet the Medicare requirements and are on Medicare Part B, you may be covered for 80 percent of the cost, once you’ve paid your deductible. Batteries could also be covered.
If you’re paying out of pocket, feel free to buy from whomever you like. But if Medicare is involved, you must purchase only from a supplier approved by Medicare.
Tips For Maintaining Your 3-Wheel Scooter
Even the least expensive scooter is a serious investment and needs to run well. The introduction of computerized elements makes these machines even more vulnerable to dirt, dust, pet hair, and moisture. Besides, you purchased it to make your life easier so there are things you can do to keep it running well and looking good.
Maintain a detailed record when any problems occur. This log could help you identify the cause of a specific problem. If repairs are needed, this logbook may help the professional more quickly identify the problem and effect a repair.
Keep track of the battery life. Naturally, over time, the battery will naturally take less of a charge, lessening the distance you can cover on a charge. This log could give you a warning that a new battery is needed or illustrate that there is something affecting the battery’s performance.
If assembling or disassembling the scooter is confusing, and the instructions don’t help, either make notes about the steps involved or take pictures – or even a video – of the various stages of the process.
For air-filled tires, make a habit of checking tire pressure. Tires not inflated properly wear out quickly and fail to provide a good, safe, and comfortable ride. An inexpensive ($4+) tire gauge works. Or just press the tire with your finger; if the tire isn’t firm enough to stop your finger from denting the surface, the tire needs air.
Get a high-quality charger. Be sure to charge every day or as needed. Neglecting to do so will shorten battery life. When the battery is fully charged, remove from charger. Remaining on the charger after the battery’s fully charged can reduce the effectiveness of the battery, lessening the distance you can travel as well as shortening the life of the battery.
Depending on how much you use your scooter – and especially if you use it outdoors – a backup battery stored on the scooter could be a good investment. Select a scooter that allows a space to store for secure storage. Test the spare periodically to see if it needs charging.
Especially for outdoor scooters, it should be cleaned every day it’s used. Follow manufacturer guidelines on what cleaning solutions and techniques to use on the scooter and tires. Do not “hose it down”; this will damage the electrical components and shorten the life of the scooter. Even for indoor scooters, consider getting a protective cover for the scooter if dust or pet hair buildup is an issue.
There are a lot of things to consider before getting a motorized mobility scooter, but if you take the process, one step at a time, you’ll end up with the right machine for the passenger. This is an investment in promoting quality of life and even opening some doors that might be otherwise closed. Travel, domestic and abroad, can be easy and enjoyable.
Before getting a scooter of any kind, confer with your doctor, even if you’re capable of paying for it out of pocket and don’t need your doctor’s approval. Your doctor may advise you that a scooter won’t benefit you as much as some other lifestyle changes.
The scooter needs to fit the passenger’s lifestyle, health needs, and preferences. Engage the senior as much as possible in the selection process. For more information and ideas, check out The Senior List for articles about the best scooters available, what to look for in a scooter, and other helpful advice.