Mobility Scooter Buying Guide
When buying a mobility scooter, there are various factors to take into consideration when making your selection. Mobility scooters have allowed people to regain their independence and increase their confidence when getting out and about. The following guide will hopefully help you to make your selection.
- Scooter Basics
- Things to Consider
- Scooter Features
- Portable Scooters or Boot Scooters
- Mid Size Scooters
- Luxury / Performance Class 3 Scooters
- Looking after your Scooter
The following information is an extract from the Department of Transport code of practice for mobility scooter users. Three types of 'invalid carriage' are defined in 'The Use of Invalid Carriages on Highways Regulations 1988':
Class 1 - manual wheelchair, i.e. self-propelled or attendant-propelled, not electrically powered;
Class 2- powered wheelchairs and scooters, for footway use only with a maximum speed limit of 4 mph;
Class 3- powered wheelchairs, and other outdoor powered vehicles, including scooters, for use on roads/highways with a maximum speed limit of 8 mph and facility to travel at 4 mph on footways.
Where can Class 3 vehicles be used?
They can be used:
- On footpaths, pavements, bridleways and pedestrian areas at a maximum speed of 4 mph;
- On most roads at a maximum speed of 8 mph;
They cannot be used on motorways, cycle lanes or in bus lanes (when in operation). Nor is it advisable to use them on unrestricted dual carriageways (i.e. those with a speed limit of over 50 mph).
If they are 4 wheeled vehicles, then they must use an amber flashing light for conspicuity when used on dual carriageways.
What are the legal requirements?
A Class 3 vehicle is not legally defined as a motor vehicle and, therefore, the user is not required to have a driving licence or to take a test. The vehicles themselves are not subject to Vehicle Excise Duty ('road tax') or mandatory insurance requirements. However, they need to be registered with DVLA and display a 'nil duty' tax disc. Further information can be obtained from DVLA website.
The law also states that:
- a Class 3 vehicle can only be used by a disabled person aged 14 or over, or by an able-bodied person who is demonstrating a vehicle before sale, training a disabled user or taking the vehicle to or from a place for maintenance or repair.
The vehicle must have certain construction features, including:
- a maximum unladen weight of 150 kg (330 lbs);
- a maximum width of 0.85 metres (2'9");
- a device to limit its speed to 6.4 km/h (4 mph);
- a maximum speed of 12.8 km/h (8 mph);
- an efficient braking system;
- front and rear lights and reflectors, and direction indicator which are able to operate as a hazard warning signal;
- an audible warning instrument (horn);
- a rear view mirror;
- an amber flashing light if a 4-wheeled vehicle is used on a dual carriageway.
If these conditions are not met, you are liable to prosecution by the police.
Should I have insurance?
Although it is not a legal requirement, an insurance policy is strongly advised. Suitable schemes are not too expensive and are available to cover your personal safety, other people's safety and the value of the vehicle.
Things to consider
When and how often you will use your scooter.
This is the most important question to ask yourself. You probably have a good idea of where you intend to use your scooter if you are thinking about buying one. The most common scenarios are:
- Going to the shop for supplies or to pay bills
- Visiting people
- Going on holiday
One of the most important questions to ask yourself is do you require the scooter to be portable? If so, then you would need to restrict your choices to the lighter boot scooters that are available on the market. The one downside to 'boot' scooters is that they are a lot less comfortable than full size scooters, as they often have solid tyres and no suspension. They also make it harder when crossing roads as they have minimal ground clearance.
Dependent on your personal circumstances, you may require different types of scooter. If you suffer from back problems, you may need good suspension to take up the bumps in the road. Alternatively, if you do not have anywhere to store your scooter, you may opt for a small scooter so you can store it in your house, out of the way. If you are of a heavy build, you will need to chose a scooter that is capable of taking your body weight as if you are too heavy for the scooter and this causes damage to the scooter, your warranty will be invalid.
Where will you use the scooter?
The areas that you are going to drive your scooter on need to be considered before making your choice. If you have a lot of kerbs to negotiate, but there are very few dropped kerbs, you will need to opt for a scooter with good ground clearance. This will enable you to climb kerbs when necessary. If the local terrain is full of steep hills, you will have to consider this also, and reduce the effective range of the scooter by the required amount. In your user manual, there should be a section describing the scooters specifications. In this there will be a reference to the maximum gradient the scooter will climb. This should not be exceeded. Generally, the bigger the scooter, the greater the gradient.
How will you store the scooter?
You need to consider where you will store the scooter when it is not in use. The bigger scooters are generally quite wide, so you need to ensure that you can get the scooter close to a power socket to enable you to charge the scooter at the required intervals. The ideal place to store the scooter would be in your garage, as it is dry and normally there will be access to a power socket.
If you cannot store it in your garage, then you will have to consider bringing the scooter into your home. To enable you to do this you will have to confirm that the scooter will get into your house. You may need to get access ramps to get your scooter over the door threshold, and that the scooter will actually fit through your door!
If you have no way of getting the scooter into the house, and you do not have a garage, you can buy a specialist scooter store. This is generally a metal cabinet that the scooter can be put into with some form of a locking system. These provide high levels of security, but you will still need a competent electrician to install a power socket in the store.
Scooters have generally 3 or 4 wheels. Some of the 3 wheel scooters have 2 stabilizing wheels a couple of inches from the ground to stop the scooter tipping over. Some other 3 wheel scooters have 2 wheels very close together at the front.
The 3 wheel scooter tends to have a far tighter turning circle, therefore it is more maneuverable. Some users prefer this as it makes certain tasks easier, for example when shopping. Some people believe that the 3 wheel scooter is liable to tip over. This is not exactly true, because if you use the scooter in a sensible manner (slowing down when turning, approaching kerbs head on as a slow speed) then you should have very few stability problems.
The controls on a scooter have either a conventional handle bar arrangement, or they have what is called a delta bar configuration. In general, the delta bar is preferred. This configuration allows the user to either push or pull the throttle lever to drive the scooter.
All scooters have some form of a key to power the scooter up. Some have a standard ignition key that is unique to the individual scooter, and some have a simple plug in key that is similar to an old fashioned headphone connector.
The part of the scooter that is called the tiller is basically the whole column that the controls are attached to. Almost all tillers are adjustable for angle, so you can alter the position that best suits you, so you are driving the scooter in the most comfortable position possible.
The seats on scooters tend to come in two types, and the two types are generally a smaller seat with a fixed padded seat and backrest for the smaller 'boot' scooters, and the more elaborate 'Captain's Seat' which are bigger, and more adjustable and have a head rest. Most scooter seats will swivel to allow the user to get on and off with more ease.. The arms normally flip up as well to allow a sideways transfer if needed. Most seats can also be adjusted for height, and some can be adjusted fore and aft as you would in a car.
The main seat adjustments available are as follows:
- Seat height
- Seat Position (fore/aft)
- Seat Backrest Angle
- Headrest Height
All scooters are battery powered vehicles using a combination of 12 volt rechargeable batteries. The greater the range of the scooter, generally the greater size of battery. The power output of the battery is measured in Ah (amp-hour). The amp-hour rating is An indication of how much energy a battery can store.
A battery's amp-hour rating indicates the total amount of energy it will deliver at a constant rate of discharge over a period of 20 hours before it reaches a voltage at which it is stone dead for all practical purposes. A 12-volt battery, the most common nominal voltage, is fully discharged at 10 volts.
Generally, the larger and heavier the batteries the greater the output capacity. Small portable scooters will typically have two 12Ah batteries whilst Luxury / Performance Class 3 scooters may have batteries as large as 75Ah.
The brakes on a scooter are permanently on. The brakes are electrically released when you pull or push the throttle lever to get the scooter to move in any chosen direction. Once you release the throttle, the brake then re-applies.
Scooters also have a lever that will mechanically disengage the brake so the scooter can be pushed. Some scooters have a button on the control panel that allows the brake to be electrically disconnected should you wish to push the scooter a short distance, for example if you are going through a shop doorway and the scooter is a tight fit.
Some scooters have a lever brake on the tiller. This is used as a hand brake would be used on a car, and is also used as a fail safe should the electrical brakes fail.
Portable / Boot Scooters
These scooters are very popular as they are small and light due to their ability to be stripped into small pieces that are able to be loaded into the boot of your car, hence the name, 'boot scooter'.
To keep the scooter light, the batteries and motor of these boot scooters are generally small, and are limited to a 10 mile range. Some boot scooters have the facility to carry a spare battery to increase the scooters range. Due to the small size, most boot scooters are restricted to carrying a maximum of 18 stone with the exception of a couple of models that can take up to 21 stone.
Most designs incorporate mechanisms to easily dismantle the scooter. This reduces the scooter to 3 or 4 pieces. These are:
- Seat (normally lifts off or folds down)
- Battery pack
- Scooter chassis (3 wheel boot scooters are generally a 1 piece chassis, 4 wheel are generally 2 piece.)
The tyres on portable scooter are usually solid, which means that you don't have to worry about punctures, however the ride can feel firm. The smaller wheels on portable scooters are not designed to be driven on or off kerbs so try to use dropped kerbs instead.
A good example of this type of scooter is the Sterling Little Gem 2
Mid Size Scooters
The range of mid size scooters incorporate scooters that are capable of traveling on the pavement at up to 4 miles per hour. They are larger in size and are capable of giving the user a more comfortable ride. They have larger batteries, and are capable of traveling in the region of 20 to 25 miles. They are also capable of carrying a user weighing up to 23 stones.
The tyres are pneumatic, this helps to absorb some of the more uneven terrain than the solid variety. The only problem with pneumatic tyres is that you are open to get a puncture, and you have to maintain the pressure in the tyres. To help to combat punctures, you can have the tyres filled with a puncture proof liquid that seals the hole when you get a small puncture. As these scooters have a larger ground clearance than and pneumatic tyres they can climb larger kerbs if needed. However, this can be difficult to master and we always recommend you look for and make use of dropped kerbs on your journey.
Although some mid sized scooters can be dismantled, they often need a tool kit and the parts are heavier to lift into the car. If you are looking for portability then we do not recommend the mid size scooters, unless you can transport them without dismantling by using ramps, vehicle hoists or even a trailer with your car.
You will also need access to mains electricity where you store your scooter, as the batteries can only be charged on the scooter.
A good example of this type of scooter is the Sterling Sapphire 2
Class 3 Scooters
This range of scooters encompasses all of the top of the range scooters which travel at speeds of between 6 and 8 mph. The main differences between mid size and town & country class 3 scooters are:
- Stronger batteries therefore greater range and weight capacity
- Fully adjustable captains seat
- All round Suspension
- 8 mph Capability
- Greater Luxury & Comfort
These additional features add greatly to the driving experience and the comfort that the scooter provides.
Class 3 scooters are permitted to be driven on the road and can be particularly useful in rural areas where there are limited pavements. They are also able to travel across uneven terrain such as grass, gravel and cobbles as they have a higher ride height and suspension to cushion the bumps.
However, you should bear in mind that the larger scooters have a bigger turning circle and are therefore less maneuverable. They are also extremely heavy making them difficult to move without the assistance of the motor. They are not portable unless you have a large vehicle and ramps.
Like the mid size scooters, as the batteries can not be charged off the scooter, you must have access to a mains electricity point where you store your scooter in order to charge it.
A good example of this type of scooter is the Sterling Diamond
Looking after your scooter
The Batteries on your scooter need to be kept in tip-top condition to maintain a reliable service from your scooter. A common mistake that people make is when they store their scooters over the bad weather period of winter.
They store the scooter for a few months and presume that if they are fully charged when they are put away, they will be fully charged when brought back out. This is not the case. Your batteries are constantly discharging (if only by a very small amount) and if left without charge, can be damaged beyond repair. (This can be identified by a simple test that can be carried out by your scooter supplier) It is advised that if you store your scooter for any period of time, you set out a strict charging regime so not to cause any problems. Generally, if your scooter is not going to be used for a while, charge the scooter over night once every two weeks. It is helpful to make a note on a calendar so you do not forget when you have charged your scooter up.
When you first take delivery of a new scooter or if you have had new batteries fitted to your current scooter, the following procedures must be followed if you wish to get the best out of your equipment.
Before you use your scooter you must charge the batteries for 24 hours, after which time the scooter will be ready for use. You will find that the first time you use it the batteries will only give about 85% of their capacity. As soon as you get back from your first run, you should plug the charger in and leave it charging overnight.
The next time you use your scooter, your batteries will give about 90% of their capacity. Again, after use, give the machine another overnight charge. After a few of these discharge and charge cycles, your batteries will give 100% of their capacity.
Keeping your batteries in top condition requires following the charging regime correctly. Most standard chargers are manufactured to charge the battery on the scooter from empty to full. A short trip to the local community centre or just to the local shop may only discharge the battery by 10 to 15% If on your return you then put the scooter on charge to top the battery up, then do this repeatedly, this can cause irreparable damage to the battery over time.
So when charging your battery with the standard charger, you need to discharge the battery almost completely, then allow the battery to charge fully, normally a minimum of 8 hours but sometimes up to 24 hours. As a rule of thumb, let the battery discharge until the red light in the charging display is lit, or the display is into the red area, then put it on charge. This method can often create problems especially if you struggle with your memory, as it is very easy to forget to charge the scooter unless you are in a repeated charging pattern.
To make the process simpler, the alternative method is to upgrade to a Connect & Forget charger. This charger is designed specifically for charging and maintaining your batteries. These chargers boast 'Deep Discharge Recovery', 'Fast Cycle Charge', and 'Long Term Battery Maintenance' When you have finished using your battery simply 'Connect + Forget' and you can rely upon the charger to make sure your battery is in peak condition when you need it to be. We can supply a suitable charger for almost all mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs that have the 24 volt charging system (2 batteries).
Like your car, a scooter needs to be serviced in accordance with the manufacturers guidelines. Failure to do this can result in your warranty becoming invalid. Check your user manual supplied with your scooter for the model specific service schedule.