Electric wheelchairs, or powered chairs, can be game-changing when it comes to personal mobility. This is because, with the right electric wheelchair, users can more easily travel with limited additional assistance, meaning greater freedoms to get around.

Yet, when deciding which powered chair is ideal for your needs, one of the most important aspects to consider is its type of power drive. The three main types include centre wheel, front wheel or rear wheel drives. What are the differences between power drives and how do they affect your mobility needs?

Read our guide to help you choose the right power drive for your mobility.

What Does ‘Power Drive’ Mean for a Wheelchair?

For a motorised wheelchair, the wheels are connected to the motor which gives it power. The three main power drives include:

  • Front wheel
  • Centre wheel
  • Rear wheel

The location of your drive wheels will impact a wheelchairs performance in different settings and scenarios, and the way it feels to drive.

Front Wheel Drive for Electric Wheelchairs

This type of power drive means that the wheelchair is pulled from the front (two wheels) rather than pushed from the back. With its drive wheels at the front, when moving, the wheelchair can be pulled over uneven environments and hills and other bumps, including obstacles such as curbs or speed humps.

Pros and Cons of Front Wheel Drive Power Chairs

Front wheel drive chairs are suitable for daily use, easily navigating roads, pavements and other soft surfaces, such as grass. This type of power drive is desirable for users who only need to use their wheelchair for ordinary short journeys, rather than longer or more challenging ones.

However, turning in a front wheel drive power chair, especially for new users, might feel tricky at first. For many models, the rear of a wheelchair can feel somewhat bulky, which means users need to be more aware of what’s behind them.

Is Front Wheel Drive Right for Me?

Front wheel drive power chairs can manage a range of terrains, including hard and soft surfaces, such as roads or grass. This can be ideal for outdoor use, with some indoor use although the turning and navigation will make it tricky in smaller homes.

To compensate for the layout and weighted rear, these power chairs tend to have lower top speeds when compared to other drive configurations, such as rear wheel drive.

Man in wheelchair drives through park

Centre Wheel Drive for Electric Wheelchairs

Sometimes referred to as mid-wheel drive chairs, they have the drive wheels located in the middle of the power chair. Typically, designed with three sets of wheels – where the centre wheels are larger than the front or rear – this type of power chair gains added stability only on flat surfaces but with that comes added weight.

Pros and Cons of Centre Wheel Drive Chairs

One of the most notable features of a centre wheel drive power chair is how it benefits from a small turning circle. With the drive wheels located in the middle, a user can spin their wheelchair more naturally. As the user is sitting above the wheels, turning and manoeuvring in this type of power chair can feel more intuitive. This can be very helpful when it comes to navigating tight spaces.

However, depending on the model and make of the wheelchair, users may notice that a centre wheel drive power chair struggles with uneven terrains and other challenging surfaces. There can be instability troubles when navigating obstacles and other tougher terrains, such as curbs and bumps. It’s really only suitable for homes with large flat flooring areas or steady surfaces such as flat pavements.

Is Centre Wheel Drive Right for Me?

If you are largely house bound, then a centre wheel drive may be a solution to consider. However, the extra weight of the additional wheels can make it slower, and the added instability on bumpy ground can make it not worth the investment if your situation changes.

Rear Wheel Drive for Electric Wheelchairs

Power chair users who get outdoors a lot, particularly on uneven ground, will favour a rear-wheel-drive electric wheelchair. This is because the wheel placement increases stability, meaning they can negotiate obstacles more easily. 

They are also better as a daily use, for those with long term health problems who require to be permanently in a chair, or for those who need it when going outdoors. Rear wheel drive wheelchairs are one of the best solutions on the market for most people who require a powered wheelchair of any kind.

Pros and Cons of Rear-Wheel-Drive Chairs

In addition to being well-suited to uneven terrain and longer distances, rear wheel drive power chairs offer higher top speeds. This makes them popular among those who need to use a power chair more frequently and to cover substantial distances. These are also considered more stable on a range of different surfaces, from more aggressive ones to softer surfaces like grass.

The only downside to rear wheel drive electric wheelchair is the occasional large turning circle with badly designed models. However, LITH-TECH’s Compact Model overcomes this with one of the smallest turning circles on the market.

Is this Right for Me?

A rear-wheel-drive power chair is best for users who need to cover a lot of ground when they use their chair. This type is also ideal for those who wish to use their wheelchair to navigate uneven environments, such as rocky paths or in rural locations. The larger wheels on our models means they can be reversed up steeper curbs with no hassle or struggle.

LITH-TECH specialises in rear wheel drive folding electric wheelchairs because we know they are the best solution for anyone. The stability, manoeuvrability, and ease of use of our range of wheelchairs makes them the perfect choice for any person wishing to purchase a new wheelchair.

Get in touch for advice on finding the right power chair for your needs or watch some of our videos to get an idea of what LITH-TECH electric wheel chairs offer.