Electric wheelchair maintenance – The complete guide
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Electric wheelchair maintenance is an important subject if you own a powered wheelchair. By simply knowing the basics of how to look after your wheelchair, you can potentially avoid expensive problems. This could be everything from electrical faults, to general wear and tear to essential parts of the chair, like its wheels and upholstery.
This can mean you avoid the risk of breakdowns and reduce the chance of hidden extra costs when your wheelchair is serviced every 1 to 2 years.
Clean your wheelchair regularly & keep dry
One thing that every wheelchair user should do on a regular basis, is clean their chair. By keeping the wheelchair clean, you are much more likely to spot any faults or potential problems before they become a real issue. This can save you money in expensive repairs and will prolong the life of your wheelchair.
Cleaning your electric wheelchair is something that we recommend doing on a weekly basis. This can be done by wiping your chair down with a damp cloth to clean away any dirt that has been accumulated and then drying.
Also, if you have been out and your wheelchair has become wet due to rain, or puddles, we also recommend thoroughly drying. By keeping the chair dry you will avoid the risk of rust and corrosion to the frame and mechanics of your chair. You will also avoid mould on your upholstery, that can easily form if damp is not addressed.
We do not recommend cleaning your electric wheelchair with a hosepipe, or excessive amounts of water. The chairs motor, batteries and controls, will all be susceptible to damage if they are soaked in water. So, it is best to avoid using large amounts of water in the cleaning process.
Check tyres and rear wheels
You should check your wheels and tyres on a regular basis. Most electric wheelchairs will have solid puncture proof tyres to the rear and castor wheels at the front. However, in some instances you may have pneumatic tyres that need pumping up.
If you do have tyres that need to be pumped up, you will need to check them on a weekly basis to make sure they are not losing pressure. This can be done by simply pressing on the tyre to check. When your tyres need pumping up you can use a standard bike pump or an electric pump.
The advantage of an electric pump is you may be able to see the PSI on your pump. The recommended PSI (pound-force per square inch) should be visible on your tyre.
Most rear tyres will be puncture proof and will not use compressed air. Instead these are usually filled with foam, which means your tyre will not become flat. For this type of tyre, you should check it on a monthly basis.
You will need to check your tyre for the following issues:
- Worn treads and balding.
- Splits and cracks to the tyre
- Loosening of the tyre
If your wheels are becoming very worn down, it is important that the tyres are replaced. Worn tyres can lead to difficulty in maneuvering your wheelchair, as well as the risk of slippage and accidents on smoother surfaces. This could include poor breaking on slopes and uneven surfaces which could lead to accidents.
Many electric wheelchairs will have smaller caster wheels to the front. These are generally solid wheels that are often made of hard rubber or polyurethane.
Just like the rear wheels you should inspect the castor wheels for wear. This will include cracks and tears in the wheel, as well as general wearing of the wheel. Most wheels will have a rounded top, once this starts to flatten the maneuverability will be affected. You will often be able to see a visible change in colour as the wheel wears through the top layer. At this point it is advised to change the castor wheels.
Just like the rear wheels, if your castor wheels become overly worn or damaged, it could cause issues maneuvering your chair, as well as increasing the risk of accidents.
Your electric wheelchair batteries are the next area you should check. Nowadays, most electric wheelchairs use lithium Ion batteries. These can last from anywhere between 2-3 years on average.
Just like the rest of your chair you should make sure to wipe down the batteries and aim to keep them dry and clean. This will avoid corrosion and rust.
Also try and store your batteries at room temperature or lower. Lithium Ion batteries tend to last longer if they are stored at lower temperatures. Prolonged exposure to higher temperatures will reduce the longevity of your batteries.
Finally keep your Wheelchair batteries well charged and avoid completely running the battery down. It is recommended to charge your batteries at least once per week despite usage.
The best time to charge your batteries is usually overnight. This will allow time for your batteries to completely charge.
If you want to read more about battery life and how to maintain your electric wheelchair batteries click here
Check the frame
As we have already mentioned, you should aim to keep your wheelchair frame clean and dry. You should also regularly check the chair for damage, such as cracks and bends to the frame.
Any cracks and bends can potentially cause your wheelchair to completely fail. This is especially true for damage to welded joints and bends in the frame of your chair. These are areas that will come under extra pressure with use.
If left untreated, even small faults could become worse and cause irreversible damage to your electric wheelchair.
More importantly, damage to your wheelchair could increase the risk of injury. For this reason, if you find any damage to the frame of your chair, it is advised to contact an electric wheelchair maintenance professional.
Finally, you should also check your electric wheelchairs suspension. The suspension on your chair should increase comfort when driving your wheelchair and will also make it easier to manage rougher terrain.
One of the benefits of your suspension is it will absorb a lot of the stress from the rest of your wheelchair. This will help to avoid the damage we have already mentioned such as fractures, cracks and bends.
Your suspension should be quite durable, so it is less likely to fail compared with the rest of your wheelchair frame. However, you should carry out the same checks as the rest of the frame and listen for any unusual noises when traveling over rough terrain and bumps.
The main supports on your electric wheelchair will be the foot supports, arm supports and the main back support of your seat.
You should check the supports on your wheelchair at least once per month. Check all nuts, bolts and other fixings to make sure they are tight and secure.
Next check that the supports are fully functional. This will include checking the following:
- Can they be removed and replaced easily?
- Are all fold up, or swing away actions working correctly?
- Is there any unusual rattle in the fixed or movable supports?
- Is the back support intact and free of damage?
Checking the supports should only take a few minutes and the most common issues will be loose nuts and bolts, this is quite common as they can loosen over time. The good news here is they can easily be tightened.
Make sure to adequately tighten any loose nuts and bolts. But also, be careful not to over tighten, as this could risk damaging them, or potentially snapping the bolts.
Check the electronics
The last area to check is the electronics. This is obviously a more specialist area, so we do not recommend performing electrical work yourself unless you are qualified to do so.
However, maintaining your electric wheelchairs motor and electronics, is something you can help without touching the electronics themselves.
The first thing you should do is become familiar with the sound your electric wheelchair makes. If you begin to hear excessive noise from your motor, especially unfamiliar noises, this is often an indicator that there could be an issue. At this point it is recommended that you call an electric wheelchair maintenance professional.
The next area to pay attention to is the joystick. Make sure this is working smoothly, without any sticking or binding. Most joysticks will be easy to move in all directions and should return to a central position when released.
Also, check the rubber seals around the joystick. The seal is the main protection against water and dirt
Excess moisture and dirt can cause damage to the electronics inside your joystick, which can cause your wheelchair to malfunction and potentially cause irreversible damage.
We advise carrying a protective cover to avoid unexpected exposure to water. This could be as simple as a plastic bag. Or a better option would be a waterproof joystick cover. You can see a good example and read some reviews here on Amazon.
If your joystick does get wet, make sure to dry it thoroughly. You can use something like a hair dryer to blow through the joystick and fully dry out the electronic components.
Finally, be sure to check for any visible signs of corrosion, dirt or rust around any of the electrical wiring and connections. Cleaning and removing this in the early stages can avoid build up and avoid future issues.
Finding electric wheelchair maintenance professionals
For any major faults we recommend that you talk with a professional. If your wheelchair is under warranty, this may be covered by the company that you purchased your wheelchair from.
Many companies will also offer service and repair to existing customers, as an annual service.
It is recommended that you regularly have your chair serviced to avoid larger problems from developing. So, you should ask what options are available when you purchase your electric wheelchair.
Alternatively, you can contact a local mobility company. Even if you did not purchase your wheelchair with them, many local companies will offer a full service and repair option for most electric wheelchairs and scooters.
Generally, we would recommend a full service every 12 months. This will help to maintain your electric wheelchair for a longer life. In the long run this should save you money, by avoiding more serious faults that could develop over longer periods.
Conclusion – The benefits of maintaining your electric wheelchair
Taking a small amount of time each month to maintain your wheelchair is highly recommended.
Even something as simple as a regular clean and removing build-up of dirt and grime can have a big impact on the longevity of your electric wheelchair.
If you follow the recommendations in this guide, you should already be doing a very good job of maintaining your wheelchair over the long term. Keeping on top of the smaller maintenance tasks, could save you money on repairs when it comes time for your annual service.
We hope you have found this electric wheelchair maintenance information useful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.