The following Buyer’s Guide will provide you with the basics of scooters and what to consider when thinking of buying a scooter. It is meant to be used as a guide to helping you to choose which model you will need to suit your needs.
For people who find they have difficulty walking about outdoors, a mobility scooter can provide an independent means of getting out and about to do those activities that used to be a matter of course. However, like all considered purchases, there are a few essential considerations that need addressing before purchasing.
Firstly, it is always a good idea to seek advice and discuss purchasing a scooter with a medical practitioner / therapist initially. Your may have unique health needs which should be considered and factored in.
Categories of wheelchairs/scooters
Three are three categories of scooters/wheelchairs:
Class 1: Manual wheelchairs which do not have a motor (which is dealt with separately in the Wheelchair Buyers Guide on the website www.allcare.co.uk )
Class 2: Powered (with motor) wheelchairs and scooters with a top speed of 4 mph which are designed for pavement use only and also zebra and pedestrian crossings.
Class 3: Powered wheelchairs and scooters with a top speed of 8 mph designed for driving on the road and must be fitted with front and rear lights, a rear-view mirror, horn. Indicators, hazard warning lights and lastly, emergency handbrakes before travelling on the road.
Class 3 vehicles, although capable of speeds up to 8mph, must also be able to be calibrated to the lower speed of 4 mph, usually with a simple switch mechanism, for use on pavements. It does not require road taxing or a yearly MOT. Also, although it does not need to be insured, it is recommended that you do so.
A Class 3 scooter must not be driven on an unrestricted dual carriageway (over 50 mph speed limit). If you do drive on a dual carriageway, you must have amber lights fitted. You must not drive a scooter on motorways, cycle or bus lanes.
Please also note that, legally, a scooter cannot be driven by an able-bodied person except for specific reasons involving either repair or maintenance.
Why do you need a scooter?
Do you need it for shopping trips?
Do you want to visit friends and family?
Do you want to take it on holiday or for days out?
How portable do you need your scooter to be?
Will you need to stow it into a vehicle and unpack it once you arrive at your destination?
A portable scooter is more lightweight and can be dismantled quite quickly into more manageable parts for lifting in and out of a car, but the motor and batteries can still be considered weighty for someone, say, with reduced strength.
Portable scooters are designed with size and ease of lifting in mind, so everything will be more basic. There will be less seat padding, kerbs will be more difficult to manoeuvre due to the lower ride height. The wheels too are generally smaller. But if you are planning to use it for journeys on flat terrain in built-up urban areas, such as shopping malls, on a cruise ship or short journeys, this may be what you prefer.
Do you need a scooter for longer journeys, to and from home with more features to match specific medical needs?
Do you need a scooter with more comfort?
Suspension is available on larger scooter models. Padded backs and seating provide even more long-term comfort. Bigger wheels and a higher ride height makes negotiating kerbs and uneven surfaces a lot easier, together with pneumatic tyres.
Depending on the area where it will be used most, a larger and more powerful scooter can provide a more comfortable all-round ride experience.
Scooters are designed and developed with the user’s weight in mind.
If you are likely to increase in weight, this should be factored in when considering a model.
It is very important to take weight into consideration as the lifespan and the capability of the chosen scooter’s motor will be seriously compromised otherwise and the warranty invalidated. All scooter models come with the manufacturer’s maximum weight limit. Carrying your weight and extra weight such as shopping should be carefully thought out. The largest and more robust the scooter model, the greater the weight it can carry. There are specific bariatric models for people who need the maximum weight allowance available.
Mobility scooters should not be used to carry additional passengers such as small children. They are not designed for this and may cause loss of performance and invalidate insurance.
The environment is must also be considered:
Do you intend to use the scooter in a hilly area? The more hills, the steeper the hills, the more energy the batteries will use. Obviously, the larger the scooter, the more it can manage hills effectively between battery charges. This reinforces the need for not exceeding weight limits as a scooter will struggle uphill otherwise.
The height of kerbs also needs to be navigated so the higher the kerbs are, consider a higher ride height model.
It is essential to plan for effective storage before purchase.
A large scooter will need suitable storage for several reasons. It needs to be stored safely from a security point of view. It needs to be protected from the weather, especially inclement weather. The batteries need to be regularly charged so access to an electric point is essential.
You also need to be able to manoeuvre in and out of the storage facility easily.
A garage is ideal. Failing this, a shed could be used. There are other specific outdoor metal scooter storage solutions available or simpler solutions such as scooter covers but the batteries will still need to be carried indoors and charged on a regular basis.
Whichever option is decided upon, this needs to be in place before delivery of your scooter.
You may prefer to store the scooter indoors but you will need to consider carefully how this will work. Would you need a ramp to navigate steps into your home?
Will the width of the door opening accommodate the width of the scooter?
Will you be able to negotiate around the scooter? Consider also the turning circle needed to enter/exit your property.
If you choose to purchase a portable scooter, you may decide to leave it folded in the boot of the car but remember that the battery will still need to be removed and carried indoors for charging.
Generally, scooters are driven the finger and thumb pressing levers either side of the handlebars. On some larger models the levers (wig-wags) are pulled back with the fingers instead. The standard arrangement is for the left-hand lever to take you backwards and the right hand side to go forward but you can specify for this to be changed around if this would be preferred.
Scooters use a key ignition system. Without the key you cannot operate it, but the parking brake can be disengaged so it is advisable, when leaving it unattended for any length of time, to secure it safely using a lock.
The tiller is the column at the front which houses the handlebars and controls. On most scooters the angle can be adjusted to suit the user, usually providing a choice of 4 or 5 different angles. Some of the portable ones have only a fixed tiller, however, whilst at the other end of the scale some of the more powerful scooters have a gas strut method which is easy to adjust the angle to suit. A fixed position tiller that is too far away from the body is a lot less comfortable to drive.
Comfort is of importance and the correct posture position is vital. There is a great choice available in the amount of padding and adjustment options between models.
A basic model will have a padded seat and backrest. Larger models will include deeper padding and more adjustable positions for the armrests and will have a head rest as well.
Most seats will swivel to allow for easy transfer in/out of the seat. Arm rests will usually flip up to allow for side transfers.
Seats are generally height adjustable and some of the mid-size and larger models will also allow for forward adjustment, seat back angle and adjustable head rests on the higher end models.
The seat width and depth is also vital. A comfortable seat width allows the user to rest the arms comfortably on the armrests without leaning the torso either way . The seat depth needs to be deep enough to support the thighs. Too short or too long a seat depth will be uncomfortable in the long term.
Scooters come with either three or four wheels. Three wheeled scooters have a smaller turning circle, whilst larger vehicles will consequently need to be reversed to complete the wider turning circle. Four wheeled scooters are better at manoeuvring wider circles or on inclines.
Tyres on scooters are either solid rubber or pneumatic. The rubber ones are tougher and will not puncture if pierced by, for instance, a sharp object such as a tack. The pneumatic style tyres, however, provide a more comfortable ride but are vulnerable to punctures but they can be puncture-proofed if desired.
Each scooter model is powered by two twelve volt rechargeable batteries, the size corresponding to the specific model it is intended for. In general, the larger the batteries, the greater the output capacity – proportionate to the range and weight of the scooter. Portable scooters will usually have two 12 Ah batteries whilst a top end Class 3 scooter might have up to 74Ah batteries.
All scooters will come with the relevant charger.
A scooter’s brakes are not like a car’s brakes. They are electro-magnetic and always on until the levers on the throttle are pressed.
The brake is connected to the motor not the wheels. As soon as you take the pressure off the throttle the scooter stops.
There is a free-wheel option for pushing the scooter manually when required but do not forget to reconnect the motor drive afterwards otherwise the brakes will not be connected and the scooter will just run away from you.
Some larger models boast an emergency brake which affects the rear wheels and slows down the scooter. It can be used in the very rare chance that the electro-magnetic brakes should fail.
That said, if the brakes were to fail, most scooters are fitted with fail-safe systems designed to cut power and apply the brake in such situations.
Basic scooter covers will provide protection from the weather and environment and will usually have an elasticated hem to keep it in place. Other styles will match the shape of the scooter, but the price will reflect the improved design and materials used and will incorporate more robust securing points such as strong belt ties.
There are also covers which consist of a metal framework which fit over a scooter – a cross between storage and a cover. This rigid frame can be left outdoors and will give more protection in bad weather conditions. They also come with some security to protect your scooter.
Further up the scale, you can purchase metal frames which are fitted securely to the scooter and provide more protection from rain when both driving the scooter and also for storage. They are designed for specific models, have certain security features and are meant to be a permanent fitment, especially during the worst of the winter months. If removed, they will take up space. They are not designed for portable scooters, as they are not easily detached from the scooter. Take extra care in high wind situations as they provide a solid shape that may make a scooter harder to drive.
Walking stick/crutch holder
These can be fitted easily and are useful if you need extra support on leaving the scooter. They are usually fitted behind the seat or else underneath the armrests, depending on the manufacturer. They are designed as either tubular or as a clip system. Some shopping bags also incorporate a walking stick holder. Your stockist will be able to advise with this.
Scooters come with a small basket in front attached to the tiller. However, for shopping trips and more storage in general, a larger receptacle is often needed. There is a wide range of designs to choose from. Most fit to the back of the seat. It is advisable to guard against overloading the bags as the steering will be affected by the extra combined weight.
Other Areas of Importance
Although not a legal requirement, it is highly recommended that you take out insurance for your scooter.
The most important one is third party insurance liability, followed by theft and accidental damage of the scooter. Scooters are expensive to replace and can cause significant damage and subsequent costs even with a relatively small accident.
Take good care of your batteries. Without them, your scooter will simply not perform. Every scooter battery is either sealed lead acid or gel based. They do not need topping up at all. They are all 12V Direct Current rechargeable batteries and are maintenance free as such.
What they do need is to be recharged regularly, otherwise their lifespan is severely curtailed. They are indeed, as mentioned, maintenance free but that does not mean that they can therefore be neglected for months at a time.
They should be recharged every time after a two-mile journey or more. If they are holding a charge of 80% or more, they will not need charging until this starts to drop below 80%.
If you are not using the scooter overwinter, you should still charge the batteries at the very least every fortnight as the batteries will lose their charge and seriously affect the overall lifespan and will decay if left in a discharged state for a long period.
Batteries also are affected by cold conditions. Where possible, keep them indoors over the extreme winter moths to prevent fluctuations of temperature.
It is not easy to predict how long the average battery will last, but under normal conditions and treated well, they should last 2/3 years for lead acid batteries. For gel based batteries, this rises to 5 years, provided they are charged properly and regularly.
You can purchase replacement batteries which cost between £30 to £200 each, so it makes sense to look after them.
The appropriate charger comes included with each scooter. Please read the manufacturer’s instruction manual carefully on its use. The charger should be connected to the scooter’s charging point before connecting the charger to the mains electrics. When the batteries have completed the charge, the charger will automatically stop the charge.
Manufacturers recommend that scooters have an annual service. This may also be a provision in the insurance policy.