This comprehensive buyer’s guide to mobility options, including how to search for the best folding electric wheelchairs. In this guide we will help you work out what to look for when choosing the right chair for you, choosing the right supplier and company to buy from, the various things to watch out for, as well as all the basic and necessary essentials you must know before you begin your search.
Nowadays, it’s important that all users can find the best mobility device to help them take control and get more freedom. From walking aids, to scooters, electric wheelchairs, and folding varieties there are many options out there. The right solution for you will depend on many factors such as; use case, budget, height and weight or ones health conditions. When narrowing down the best electric wheelchairs, it helps to understand what to look for on the market. There may be a lot of mobility solutions and suppliers, but they’re certainly not created equal.
With advice and tips from mobility experts LITH-TECH, we can help you discover the most suitable chair for you and your disability.
Finding the Best Electric Wheelchair for You
The world of folding electric wheelchairs is the fastest growing sector in mobility right now, which is down to a few things really. Firstly users are understanding their mobility needs better and also have a better idea of all the various mobility aids that are available to them online so they can do better research. Secondly they are understanding that if they choose a (Large Wheel, 26kg style multi terrain Folding Electric Wheelchair) that it can actually totally replace their standard heavy duty chair with the added advantage that they can take their folding chair absolutely everywhere with them, (even world wide). Third and finally, and a huge factor – (the non heavy duty style) lightweight mobility scooters were once the must have mobility aid, but more recently they are dying a slow and painful death. With poor build quality, long dismantling times, small wheels and bad outdoor capabilities as well as poor indoor capabilities due to them being long wheel base giving them a very poor turning circle making them almost impossible to use in shops, pubs and restaurants.
In 2023 there are now lots of options, companies and products on the market, which can not only lead to confusion but also costly mistakes if users aren’t more aware of what they should be looking out for. From unreliable suppliers and products, deceiving or false specifications and wheelchairs or batteries that don’t comply with regulations, it can make it hard to search for the right chair. Buying the perfect electric wheelchair for your needs will help you take back some control of your mobility and give you freedom, but if you get it wrong it can also turn into your worst nightmare.
Our buyer’s guide can be used to inform and help you so that whatever chair or brand you decide to go with (even if it’s not ours), you now have the facts and can make an informed decision, rather than buying something unsuitable for your needs and lifestyle.
1. Research Thoroughly Before You Buy
A very simple rule to go by when choosing any chair online is this: if it looks too good to be true, or seems cheap compared to the rest of the market, then there is always a reason why.
In the wheelchair market, you get what you pay for. It is impossible to produce a quality and reliable chair, which has decent parts, long life lithium batteries, brushless motors, a safe, strong and lightweight frame for under around £1500 at the absolute cheapest. To put it into perspective, just the components alone (not the chair itself) that LITH-TECH use cost more than the cheap chairs you see selling online or on ebay for around £900.
Although it is important to buy a quality mobility chair. The most important thing of all is where or who you buy it from. The company you buy from must have a good reputation, good knowledge, good stock levels, carry spare parts and have decent product liability insurance. (These types of insurances will protect you in case of injury or product failure) I can guarantee you that 80% or more of uk mobility companies operate without adequate insurance. The reason being is the mobility industry is deemed very high risk for many reasons so most insurers stay well clear. And the ones that can offer you all the correct cover you need are incredibly expensive meaning most companies either can’t afford it or just refuse to pay it and wing it.
LITH-TECH says: when researching, avoid buying a wheelchair from any untrustworthy or unknown company or person, especially if it’s operating outside of the UK. There are huge complications when buying a chair from overseas, hidden costs like big shipping expenses, another 20% tax and duty to be paid on top of the purchase on UK arrival which they fail to mention, problems clearing customs, battery and chair safety checks and seizing of goods, (For every day your chair is held in customs storage facilities it costs you about £60-£100 a day until its released). Also no returns policy, and if they do offer one it will cost you (not them) around £500 to send it back as they wont front the costs.
The biggest problem with buying overseas is that they don’t legally have to honour warranty. If something goes wrong more than likely they will just blank your emails, (and theres no number to call for help or advice) and if they do agree to send you the part, they will make you pay the postage, tax and import fees. Then you have to find and pay someone to fit it. (And if they diagnose the fault wrong and they have send you the wrong part you will have to pay to send the wrong part back before they issue another one. Costing you hundreds in shipping, tax and worst of all time. You will 100% be without your wheelchair for a minimum of 15 days and a max of over two month (which i’ve heard of countless times from new customers that bought their first chairs from overseas and had to first hand go through that traumatic experience) also remember that if an overseas company goes out of business and you can’t get any spare parts in or out of warranty then you are screwed and your chair becomes worthless.
No overseas companies selling in the UK via ebay, facebook market place or through online adverts can offer you legitimate warranty or insurance. This means that, in the unfortunate scenario of an accident, injury or product failure, you wouldn’t be able to claim for any damages or costly losses even if you have valid UK insurance on your chair. In these worst case very serious scenarios your seller will just totally disappear or change their trading name and just go back to ripping American and European customers off.
It can be tempting to buy a second hand or a cheaper wheelchair online (normally ebay), especially if you’re operating on a tighter budget. Sadly this is what often leads customers to buy from untrustworthy sellers, or from Ebay or Facebook market place where theres no come back if its faulty, not fit for purpose or if they seller lies about the age of the chair or spec etc. Especially with mobility equipment, skimping on an initial cheaper upfront cost will always leads to much more expensive bills and headaches later on.
2. Look out for warranties
By far the biggest problem UK wheelchair users are faced with today is finding a decent warranty and aftercare for their wheelchair with plenty of access to spare parts.
Be wary that online sellers, even those on eBay marketplace, might say they offer a warranty, but it means nothing if it doesn’t protect you and your wheelchair purchase. If any damage occurs, or you breakdown, you will need a direct point of contact. A trustworthy supplier will be able to offer support and quick resolutions in these types of scenarios and will help you process your claim under warranty to get you back on the road asap. Without a valid warranty you will get stuck with alot of extra costs and lots of hassle and heart ache if anything goes wrong and you need to replace faulty or damaged parts. The protection of a genuine warranty means that users can have peace of mind that parts – along with general aftercare – is covered.
Without a warranty from a trustworthy company, you could be exposed to many risks, including:
- Costly part replacements
- Costs for shipping new parts
- Finding someone to fit the parts
- Damages that can leave you immobile
- Delays in receiving new parts
- Confusion over installing new parts
- Limited or restrictive communications with your supplier
3. Understand the Common Issues with Buying a Wheelchair
A wheelchair is a big purchase, an investment even, and not only that it’s an incredibly important one for many who need mobility support. This is a purchase that, if researched, will change your life and give you back some freedoms.
The most important thing with any major purchase, whether it be a car, house or a piece of mobility equipment, is to do your research. There is a lot of choice out there now, but not every wheelchair is made equal. As there is so much variety, it is imperative that your research is thorough – so, search the internet, watch videos, look at the different specs on offer and, most importantly, ask lots of questions before you buy. This is the critical part, because not every Electric Folding Wheelchair will be right for you or for your disability.
This is why you need to find a specialist who has a range of Electric Folding Chairs that suit an array of different needs and budgets, so you can be properly assessed and properly fitted.
We have identified solutions to the three major (and common) issues with buying a wheelchair.
1) You Can Still Budget
Part of your research should involve budgeting for the best wheelchair for you. This means being aware of your own financial limits and shopping around for a reasonably priced, but decent wheelchair. Budget shouldn’t be your only priority though, finding a chair that matches your needs is the most important thing.
2) Buy Bespoke
Many suppliers will more than likely only stock one model of chair, which typically includes models like the Pride Igo. This type of limited choice means it’s likely that you will struggle to purchase the best wheelchair for your disability – that means a more bespoke mobility solution is needed.
3) Seek Advice from an Expert
Your local mobility shop will likely stock an array of different mobility products, but expertise in any specific mobility solution is often lacking. A true specialist means a cultivated knowledge for a handful of bespoke mobility solutions, rather than a broad spectrum of them.
With a general mobility shop, the likelihood is that a supplier will have limited knowledge about Folding Electric Wheelchairs, modern mobility, and key regulations. For example, many mobility shops may not know about aftercare, battery rules for travelling (on aeroplanes) or may even unintentionally sell you a wheelchair that isn’t to the highest, or most appropriate, spec for your needs.
LITH-TECH says: Understanding customers disabilities, what they want and need from their chair as well as knowing your products inside out is what sets a specialist apart from your local mobility shop. We make it our job to know all the specs, battery and travel regulations, especially on aeroplanes, and all the other important information. Users looking for the best all round products and all round buying experience should always visit a specialist.
3) What to Look for When Choosing the Perfect Electric Wheelchair For You
This subject is a must read for anyone looking to purchase a Folding Electric Wheelchair. This guide can also be applied to anyone looking to purchase any piece of expensive mobility equipment.
The very first and most important thing anyone needs to do in their journey when choosing the perfect powered wheelchair is to just take a breath, try not to get too over excited, or to jump into the market headfirst. This will only leave you confused, resulting in a bad decision.
Instead, take your time, be smart and just grab yourself a piece of paper and write down a list of the most important priorities that you need in your wheelchair. Also write down the key attributes that your new chair must have, whether that’s cosmetic or performance related. This should be your starting point as it will also help you narrow down what questions to ask.
Once you know roughly what you’re looking for, your list of priorities will help eliminate a lot of models and makes of power chairs because they won’t have the right specs or design for you.
By far the most important thing you should do though is to just call a specialist and let them help you. This will save you time, confusion, money and most importantly choosing the wrong for your use case and needs.
If you need some help or you are struggling to make a list, here are a few case studies below which may help you.
Case study 1 – 60-Year-Old Lady who is 5ft 4 and weighs 15 stone.
What does she need and want from her new chair?
Due to her height to weight ratio, she’s looking for a chair that can comfortably take her weight easily and most importantly that she can feel comfortable in when sitting and that she doesn’t feel pinched in between the arm rests.
This is an incredibly important point to understand. Just because a wheelchair can easily take your weight that it states in the spec, it still doesn’t mean that it will comfortably fit your specific body shape.
It’s well-known that men and women can have completely different body shapes. Men tend to hold their weight in their mid-sections and normally outwards, whereas females tend to hold more weight around their lower midsection, meaning that they normally protrude widthways.
Although the exact same weight, a 15 stone, 6ft man would more than likely fit into a standard Folding Electric Wheelchair (depending on the brand and model), whereas a 15 stone 5ft-4 lady due to her height to weight ratio would feel uncomfortable in a standard chair, the side bars of the armrests would be digging in and they would feel uncomfortable. (On top of that always remember to allow space for a jacket or coat as well for the winter months.)
This means that someone that fits this similar type of case study would need a chair with more space between the armrests (for example the LITH-TECH SC-1 XL), which at its widest point is still no wider than the regular SC-1. Instead, it gives the user more comfort and space between the armrests and on the seat resulting in them loving their chair instead of it making them feel bad about their shape or uncomfortable.
Ultimately, the two most important things that you must feel in your new wheelchair is safe and comfortable!
What if she is newly retired and her and her partner want to travel the world once she has her new chair?
First and foremost, she is going to need a proven and reliable chair with reliable parts from a well-known and reputable company.
The next most important thing whilst travelling is for your chairs batteries to be easily and quickly removed in seconds (not minutes), and this feature will reduce hassle, waiting around and the awkwardness when in either queues, hotels or getting it into taxis. Some users may even need to remove batteries so a chair can be easier to lift and transport.
Most importantly, the batteries must be able to be removed so they can be charged directly.
The next major point is that she needs to buy a chair with plane safe batteries, so under the new rules so she can travel with her chair on airlines where it’s safe to do so. The only batteries which are completely plane safe and compatible are 6ah batteries. You can take two of these and you will experience no problems on any airline globally. (Other airlines may accept travel with only one 10ah.) The longer haul flights are less strict, so it pays to check who you’re flying with.
A large majority of companies may be unaware of these regulations, so users must anticipate anything that can delay or hinder their travels. Plan for airline travel with an electric chair with batteries deemed safe for travel.
Why it matters to plan ahead
Two summers ago, we experienced a holiday horror story where a customer had bought a chair from eBay. Part of her criteria when buying it was that it was plane safe, as she was just about to go on her first family holiday abroad and needed the new chair to make this holiday happen. Irresponsibly and deceivingly, she was assured by the company that it was all safe for flights and this kind of travel.
Two months later her and her family got to the airport ready to enjoy their well needed trip to Spain when they were stopped whilst checking in the wheelchair. They were told that it wouldn’t be able to board the flight due to its batteries being above regulation output. She was told they would keep the chair for her in storage at the airport but she would have to hire one out there. She was left completely distraught and also panicked, worrying that she wouldn’t be able to hire or find one out there.
She made the decision to Google someone for help. She typed into Google “folding electric wheelchairs uk” and found LITH-TECH right at the top and called us. After she explained the situation, we gave her a ten-minute telephone consultation in which we agreed on a suitable model, and we shipped it out to where she was staying in Spain. She received it in 48 hours and was utterly thrilled with her new SC-1, our response time and most of all that we saved her holiday.
Case study 2 – A 70-year-old man who lives by himself near town but can’t walk more than 20 meters without aid (and who gets out of breath easily)
He needs the chair to be capable, safe and one that can be used on multiple terrains, so that he can safely make the 1-mile journey into his local town.
As a rule of thumb, if you need a wheelchair that can tackle town or city life, you ideally need a safe, capable and multi terrain chair (such as a SMART CHAIR or Smart Chair X. You will be faced with an abundance of obstacles, bumps, curbs, uneven pavements, and people in your way while you are trying your best to get to your end destination without mishap.
This means your criteria should be a medium weight chair (around 24-28kg) with big rear wheels and (preferably rubber tyres), so you can hold the road well and stop safely and quickly.
The bigger wheeled chairs will also be better and smoother at taking curbs, cobbles, grass and uneven pavements. Wheelchairs with anti-tip bars at the back are often low to the ground and are not good at taking curbs, uneven terrain and just get in the way. If big rear wheeled chairs have these it means the centre of balance isn’t very good and potentially dangerous, only small rear wheeled chairs should have them.
It needs to fold up and have the ability to be pushed or towed in free wheel mode when either in a folded or unfolded position.
This is an imperative feature to have these days when buying a modern chair and all of LITH-TECH’s chairs can do this. They can either be used like a stroller (standing behind the chair and using your hands to hold the top of the back rest for balance) meaning the user can still safely get some exercise and push their own chair in freewheel mode very easily. It also means a friend, loved one or family member can easily push and manoeuvre you whilst you’re sat in your chair.
All of our customers also want the luxury of being able to fold up and tow their chair behind them like a suitcase or, alternatively, they can push their chair around forward by holding the legs and just pushing. This is great for those of you that have small houses or flats. Being able to push or pull a chair in freewheel mode is great as it means you don’t have to lift the chair around the place and risk hurting or injuring yourself. It also means that when the chair is not in use it can simply be folded and wheeled out of the way and into the corner of a room or hallway. General rule when it comes to motors, the more free running they are in freewheel mode means the better quality the motor is (always brushless) if when you push and the chair shows alot of resistance then you know they are budget lower quality motors and almost undoubtedly (brush motors) – These type of motors are what you get on the £850-£1500 wheelchairs.
Case study 3 – Someone who is predominantly housebound
They would ideally want a smaller chair which is narrow and nimble with a good turning circle so it’s nice and easy to use around a typical house or bungalow.
In this specific scenario (dependant on user size and weight) they would be looking for a smaller, probably lighter and a slightly narrower chair if possible.
It would need a small turning circle and be able to manoeuvre easily in small and tight areas; for example narrow hallways, doorways and around the kitchen.
This time it’s not about big wheels or being able to do an array of terrains, it’s about being responsive, breaking well, and being very nimble and easy to navigate. For example, reversing into bathrooms or coming up really close so you can transfer onto the sofa. It is also a must that both arms must be able to fully lift up out of the way for easy access. A great example would be either the LITH-TECH COMPACT or Compact + from our range. These chairs are great inside but can also still tackle grass, cobbles and other obstacles easily as well.
4) Ask Lots of Questions
When buying a piece of equipment as important and as expensive as an electric folding wheelchair one can never ask too many questions before a purchase.
It’s imperative that you firstly understand your own needs, then look for the right chair for you based on this. If you are struggling with this or just have more questions, then that’s when it’s a great idea to call a wheelchair specialist like ourselves and start asking away.
Good questions to ask.
- My wheelchair needs are xyz, what chair would you recommend for my needs and why?
- What range or distance can I expect from a particular chair’s batteries?
- Can your chairs batteries be charged on and off the chair?
- Are your batteries plane safe under the new airline regulations?
- How long do your chairs take to fold or unfold?
- Can your chairs be pushed and towed in a folded and unfolded position in freewheel mode?
- What warranty comes with your chair and what does it cover?
- What happens if my chair stops working under warranty?
- Does your company have legitimate product liability insurance?
- Are your chairs multi-terrain capable and if so, to what extent?
- Do your chairs armrests fold up and out of the way for easier access and getting under tables?
- What is the delivery time if I purchased a chair?
5. How to Fund Your Wheelchair
A good wheelchair is quite a big financial outlay so there will more than likely be some saving needed before the big purchase. If you can’t afford to buy the wheelchair outright yourself, here are a few options that may help:
- Finance – If you have a good pension coming in or still work there is a good chance you will be eligible for finance. This is normally done over a 3-5 year price plan but can also be done in as little as 12 months.
- A grant- These are usually from charities or government funded schemes. Find one that fits and supports your specific disability, and they will be much more likely to help you fund it.
- The NHS – It is possible to get a wheelchair through the NHS but sadly the wheelchairs they offer are often unsuitable and the wait times on the personal budget chair scheme where you can pick your own chair (like a LITH-TECH) for example can be frustrating, and even take up to a year. So most people on the waitlist just give up or try and get funding from friends and family. (LITH-TECH No longer accept NHS Wheelchair vouchers)
For more information on finding the best wheelchair for your needs, get in touch with us today for a consultation.