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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
24 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
143 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best electric wheelchairs

For those who need to use a wheelchair, whether short term or long term, the improved mobility of an electric wheelchair can provide a new level of independence.

An array of electric (or power) wheelchairs for any number of mobility requirements is now on the market, from compact travel models that fit on aircraft to sturdy, highly maneuverable wheelchairs for day-to-day use. There are even high-powered wheelchairs made for traveling off-road at much higher speeds.

Finding the best electric wheelchair for your lifestyle is important. At BestReviews, we strive to provide the key information you need to know before making a purchase. So charge up your battery and explore our shopping guide to electric wheelchairs. If you’re ready to buy, check out our recommended choices in the chart above.

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Make sure the electric wheelchair and its controls have enough clearance when sitting at a work desk or table.

Determining your wheelchair lifestyle

Before purchasing an electric wheelchair, consider how you plan to use it. What would you like to do with an electric wheelchair? How will your life change with increased mobility? What physical requirements do you have? Here are a few things to consider:

  • How will you be using the power wheelchair most often (mostly indoors, mostly outdoors, or both)?

  • What weight capacity do you need in an electric wheelchair?

  • What is the narrowest width that the wheelchair must be able to pass through?

  • Does the seat need extra cushioning, an adjustable headrest, and/or cushioned legrests or armrests?

  • How fast do you need to go? Are you more comfortable at slower speeds?

  • What range should the batteries have? How many miles will you travel in an average day?

  • Will the chair need to be transported? If so, in what type of vehicle?

  • Do you travel frequently? Do you travel by air, rail, water?

Electric wheelchair types

Electric wheelchairs have undergone a design revolution in recent years. No longer just a conveyance to get from point A to point B, electric wheelchairs are key to a mobile lifestyle. Realizing that every wheelchair user is unique, a wide variety of designs have come on the market to meet various needs.

Travel wheelchairs

Designed for mobility away from home, travel wheelchairs are typically smaller and lighter weight than standard electric wheelchairs. However, wheelchairs classified as “travel” vary widely in weight, size, and portability. Some need to be broken down into separate pieces for transport, which can be inconvenient. The most versatile travel wheelchairs use lightweight batteries that can be taken aboard public transportation including aircraft.

Price: Travel wheelchairs range in price from $1,500 to $3,500.

Folding wheelchairs

This popular class of travel wheelchair is typically lightweight and – as advertised – can be folded into a smaller profile for storage at home or inside a vehicle. Many of these wheelchairs weigh between 50 and 60 pounds, light enough to be lifted by one adult.

Price: Folding wheelchairs range in price from $1,500 to $3,100.

Full-size wheelchairs

For everyday use or for those people who must spend several hours or all day in a wheelchair, the full-size electric wheelchair offers more comfort and stability than a travel wheelchair. This type of chair has a weight capacity of 300 to 350 pounds.

Price: Full-size wheelchairs range in price from $1,800 to $5,500.

"You can lock the controls on most electric wheelchairs so the chair won’t move if the joystick is accidentally touched. Check the user manual to learn how to lock and unlock the controls."
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Heavy-duty wheelchairs

Also referred to as “bariatric,” these are rugged wheelchairs that can easily handle weights of 450 to 600 pounds and higher.

Price: Heavy-duty wheelchairs range in price from $2,500 to $7,200.

Reclining and tilting wheelchair

Some electric wheelchairs include additional elements to recline back (and raise the feet), tilt at various angles, or both. These chairs help improve circulation and relieve pressure for users who must stay in their chairs for long periods.

Price: Reclining and tilting wheelchairs range in price from $2,600 to $7,000.

Standing wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs that convert from sitting to standing mode. These innovative chairs are great for relieving pressure from being in a sitting position for long periods, and they make it possible to access areas that may be too high for those who can’t easily leave their chairs.

Price: Standing wheelchairs range in price from $9,000 to $19,000.

Pediatric wheelchairs

Sized for smaller wheelchair users, many pediatric electric wheelchairs offer the same controls and experience as adult-sized versions.

Price: Pediatric wheelchairs range in price from $1,900 to $7,200.

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Did you know?
Optional controllers like sip-and-puff, chin control, or speech control, are added either aftermarket or as a custom addition by the manufacturer.
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Electric wheelchair components

Drive system

The drive system has a major effect on an electric wheelchair’s speed, maneuverability, and power. Electric wheelchairs have one of the following drives:

  • Front-wheel drive: This system provides good turning capability yet moves at a slower speed than rear-wheel drive wheelchairs (which may be a plus for some users and a negative for others).

  • Center-wheel drive: This is the most maneuverable of any wheelchair drive, with great turning capability. However, the center drive can make this wheelchair unstable and it doesn’t perform well on uneven surfaces.

  • Rear-wheel drive: This system generally provides much more speed than front- or center-wheel drive wheelchairs, but it has less turning capability.

Electronic system

Wheelchair controllers are an important part of the electric wheelchair. Control pads should be easy for the user to access and provide the appropriate controls for his or her situation.

Electric system

Power: Batteries are a key consideration in the purchase of an electric wheelchair. Make sure you’re familiar with the most common types:

  • AGM: Best for wheelchairs that will be used during air travel, this battery is resistant to jarring and shock, it’s leak- and spill-proof, and it requires no maintenance. This is the most expensive battery available.

  • Gel: This is another no-maintenance battery that stands up to bumpy conditions and can be used for air travel. It also works well in low temperatures.

  • Lithium-ion: Fast gaining in popularity, these very lightweight batteries can store up to six times the watt hours of a lead-acid battery.

  • Wet: While these batteries require maintenance – they need to be filled with distilled water periodically – lead-acid batteries are the least expensive wheelchair batteries available. However, this type can leak and isn’t approved for air travel.

Seating system

This is essential for providing adequate support for the wheelchair user and includes the seat itself, armrests, leg rests, and headrest, if needed.

Wheels and tires

  • Wheels: The wheels on electric wheelchairs can vary in diameter. For indoor and travel models, both front and rear wheels are less than 12 inches in diameter and sit almost flush with the outside edges of the chair. This enables the wheelchair to maneuver more easily through tight spaces and doorways. Electric wheelchairs customized for outdoor use may have rear or front wheels with a much larger diameter, making it easier to handle larger obstacles and cover more ground with each revolution of the wheel.

  • Tires: Pneumatic (air-filled) tires are best for increased traction and traveling over bumpy terrain, but these tires are susceptible to punctures. Foam-filled tires provide a less comfortable ride but never go flat.
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Larger wheels on an electric wheelchair offer a smoother, more comfortable ride outdoors but may be a hindrance in tight indoor spaces.

FAQ

Q. Are an electric wheelchair and a mobility scooter the same thing?

A. Not at all. Mobility scooters use different controls – a tiller, in most cases – while electric wheelchairs use a joystick and often have additional controls depending on the user’s needs. While both scooters and electric wheelchairs can be used outdoors, mobility scooters are purpose-built for outdoor use and really meant for short-term use, such as an hour or three spent sightseeing or shopping. Electric wheelchairs are designed with longer-term use – often all day, from waking to bedtime.

Q.  I purchased a power wheelchair that I can take with me when I travel, but I’m not sure if the airlines will allow it on board. What do I do?

A. Contact the airline well before your flight date (you might even want to contact them before purchasing tickets) and ask if it can accommodate your brand and model of travel wheelchair. Airlines will provide assistance at the gate during boarding. Take a picture of the wheelchair before the flight in case it gets damaged in transit.

Q. How long do batteries last on an electric wheelchair?

A. That partly depends on the type of battery, but in most cases the battery (especially lithium-ion) will need to be replaced about every two years.

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