IIf you have difficulty getting around for any reason a mobility scooter may be in your future but before you run out and buy one, you should read this. It should answer most of your questions and if not it will provide links to sites that can be helpful. This is a serious effort to respond to questions based on my personal experience of purchasing three mobility scooters over the past five years for my own use.
I am a 78 year old man with osteoarthritis and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Pain and limited lungpower make walking more than 50 feet difficult or impossible. Like many of you who have similar impediments I still want to be active, to move around on my own, go shopping, sightseeing and traveling. Mobility scooters have allowed me that freedom and they help to alleviate the depression caused by being disabled.
IMPORTANT. Before you decide that you need any kind of mobility assistance you should be as honest with yourself as possible. Surveys clearly indicate that people who own disability scooters and wheelchairs are likely to overuse them and could risk shortening their lives due to a lack of exercise. While I have both an indoor and an outdoor scooter I only use them when walking is not an option. I never use a scooter inside my home. Any amount of walking I can do is good for me even though it isn’t always comfortable to engage in that activity. Please keep this thought in mind as you read the rest of this report.
You’ve all probably used the supermarket-type electric shopping carts. Don’t compare them to mobility scooters, they are totally different because they are a single purpose vehicle. They are built to stay indoors, carry a lot of weight, turn around in an aisle and move slower than a glacier. All of those qualities are great for a supermarket but serve little purpose at home or for outdoor travel.
Will Medicare or private insurance pay for Mobility Scooters?
The best answer is that there are a limited number of cases in which either will offer financial assistance and at best it will be only 80 percent. The fact is if you want a mobility scooter for the same purposes I do it is likely you will pay for it yourself. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance all pretty much abide by the rules Medicare has set up to qualify for their involvement. (WARNING! If you are depending on Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance to pay for your scooter SIGN NOTHING until you have their approval in writing, know what kind of scooter they will approve and how much they will pay).
In order to qualify for Medicaid assistance in purchasing a scooter or wheelchair you must be able to provided evidence from your physician that you have a medical need for it. Medicare won’t cover this equipment if it will be used mainly for leisure or recreational activities, or if it’s only needed to move around outside your home. And — you may need to get your power wheelchair or scooter from specific Medicare approved suppliers. For more information you can visit Medicare.gov/supplier, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for more information. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Or you can use this link for more information. https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/manual-wheelchairs-and-power-mobility-devices.html
If your ability to move around or walk very far has become compromised in some way and you are thinking about acquiring a mobility scooter, talk to your physician before you do anything else. You cannot declare yourself disabled, only a physician can make that determination. If you are seeking government financial help for mobility assistance your physician will first have to formally make that declaration. He or she will use certain conditions to determine if you qualify. Most physicians use the criteria established by Medicare and Medicare Part B. Included in these conditions, as outlined on the Medicare website, are:
- Overall strength – To operate a scooter you must be able to sit upright and have the strength in your hands to operate the controls
- Upper body strength – If you have sufficient upper body strength Medicare may require you be prescribed a manual wheel chair rather than an electric mobility scooter
- Ability to balance – If you cannot maintain your balance, you may not qualify for a mobility scooter
And — this bears repeating. If Medicare pays at all, they will only pay 80% of the cost of a vehicle and, again, only for use IN the home (that doesn’t mean you can’t take it out of the home). You must prove to Medicare via diagnosis by a medical professional that you are indeed disabled and unable to get around your home without such a vehicle. If you want a vehicle for outside use only, neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for it. Be aware, too, that changes in the law could have taken place since this was written so it is always best to refer to the links and numbers posted above.
How do I decide on a scooter?
The first thing you must do is determine exactly where you will use your scooter and why. Emotions aside, this decision should be practical and logical. Do you need it to get around your home? If that’s the case and the areas to which you need access are all on one floor with no steps or raised thresholds to cross, then a smaller, less expensive vehicle will do (some older homes are just not suitable for mobility scooters and maybe not even wheelchairs so retrofitting them to be more accommodating could become prohibitively expensive. If your home is compact with lots of turns and little room to turn around you may want to choose a wheelchair because of its tighter turning radius).
This link provides the names of all mobility scooter manufacturers with links to their specific products. https://www.mobilityscootersdirect.com/mobility-scooters/by-brand.html
Below is a striking example of the difference in scooters (specs provided by Drive Devilbiss Medical, the manufacturer of the two scooters mentioned. I used these examples because I own them but you should be aware that there is a wide variety of scooters between the two mentioned here. All scooter sales companies have all the specs you need on any given scooter. You’ll find more detailed specs on them by clicking on this link. http://www.drivemedical.com/power-mobility).
Drive Medical Spitfire Scout three wheel, among the lowest priced scooters (about $600). Mainly for indoor use.
- Maximum weight it will carry 300 lbs.
- Top speed 4.25
- Range on fully charged battery 9 miles
- Turning radius 45.5“
- Climbing slope 6 degrees
- Ground clearance 2.5 inches
- Base weight 49 lbs.
- Battery weight 20 lbs.
- Seat weight 16 lbs.
- Total weight 85 lbs. This scooter can be broken down into three parts; the battery, the base and the seat.
- Warranty 16 months on electronics and 6 months on the battery
- Motor 270 watts
Drive Medical Panther four wheel heavy-duty, all-terrain mobility scooter. Expensive (about $3,000). Mainly for outdoors.
- Maximum weight it can carry 425 lbs.
- Top speed 8 MPH
- Range on fully charged batteries 25 miles
- Ground clearance 4 inches
- Base weight 145 lbs.
- Battery weight 64 lbs. total for the two batteries)
- Seat weight 55 lbs.
- Total scooter weight 264 lbs. (only the seat is removable)
- Warranty 24 months on electronics, 12 months on batteries.
- Motor – 800 Watts
So back to the question about which scooter is right for you. If you anticipate extensive use in a variety of outdoor environments you are going to pay a hefty price for a “heavy-duty” or “all-terrain” scooter. If you only want something portable that you can throw in the trunk of your car and take into Wal*Mart or a shopping Mall (which is how I use my Spitfire Scout) your choices will be far less expensive but the tradeoff is that they need charging more often, won’t carry much more than 300 lbs. and are slow. Prices range from just under $600 to well over $6,000 for more elaborate models. I have a Spitfire for indoor use and a Drive Mobility Panther for outdoor travel. As mentioned earlier neither was paid for by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. I knew I did not qualify so I did not even apply.
What if I need to transport my scooter?
All mobility vehicles have the same challenge — you have to get them to where you want to use them. (THIS IS A MAJOR ISSUE, DON’T GLOSS OVER IT.) It is important to remember that the cost of a scooter may only be the beginning. Your useage may reuire additional expeditures. Some, like the Spitfire Scout, require no added expense because it can be disassembled and tossed in your trunk quite easily often by the user him or herself (you can purchase a rear bumper platform that will elevate and secure the scooter for outside your car or van transportation but these can be costly).
The Panther or one like it does not disassemble (except for the seat) will require a mechanism to lift it or pull it inside a van (these pieces can be expensive). Because my wife Robin is an artist who sells her creations at art fairs around the south and central U.S. we have a high top van. We cut the expense of transporting the scooter significantly by building a special comp
artment in the van with access through the side door. A folding aluminum ramp cost about $200, a remote controlled winch was another $100 and we used one of those jump-start batteries to power the winch which cost another $100. The rest is easy. I drive the scooter to the edge of the ramp, connect the winch hook to the frame of the scooter and with a flick of a switch on the remote control, pull the scooter into the van. The whole process from setting up the ramp to securing the scooter inside takes about 5 minutes.
If you don’t want or need to transport your scooter and only need to drive it out your front door to the corner store then you will have very few problems. You may need a ramp to get in and out of the house and a place to store the ramp and scooter inside, but that’s about all. Remember, too, that indoor scooters are certainly capable of traveling outside the home but they don’t do well in any kind of rough or uneven terrain.
Just as small scooters can be used outdoors, heavy-duty scooters can be used indoors – sometimes. They usually don’t do well because of their size (the Spitfire Is 42 inches long and has no back basket. The Panther is 56 inches long without the rear basket and 62 inches with it). Heavy duty scooters are big, bulky and have a wider turning radius, so unless you live in spacious one floor home or apartment they are not of much use in a home. Outside of the home they are wonderful. About three times a week I take my Panther on the two mile round trip to our Publix Supermarket. I drive it right into the market, fill my baskets with whatever I need, go through the checkout and drive out again.
Once I decide on the size of scooter, should I get 3 or 4 wheels?
Both types have advantages and disadvantages. Three wheel scooters have a much tighter turning radius and are usually more maneuverable around the house and in tight places they are also a little lighter and sometimes a few dollars less than their 4 wheeled siblings. On the minus side they are not as capable in rougher terrains because they can tip onto their sides. I have had that happen a couple of times with an older three wheel scooter. If you approach a bump or curb at an angle instead of head-on you run the risk of tipping. Finding yourself on your side on a sidewalk, a berm or in the street with your groceries rolling around is not a comfortable feeling. When I tipped it was when crossing a street probably due to my driving error. A scooter doesn’t respond like a car or resemble the family auto in any way. If driven properly they are quite safe, but if you violate the instructions you could be seriously injured. When climbing a curb or going over an elevation in the ground the driver must be careful to follow the instructions in the owner’s manual. Most people ignore the instructions or warnings in a manual. Don’t! Read them a couple of times.
Do I need a Ramp for any reason?
An often overlooked item is a ramp. If you keep your scooter in the house and want to take it out the front door, even if it is at ground level you may need a small ramp to keep from getting hung up on the threshold. If you are going to do that often, please consider having a ramp built according to the disability codes in your city. If you rarely go out, a small folding aluminum ramp could be a great help. The weight of a ramp, though, depends on how long it is and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has requirements for how long a ramp should be. This link will help you determine the proper size for your needs. https://mobilitybasics.ca/wheelchair-ramps/ramp-length-calculator Google mobility scooter ramps for your city and you’ll likely find several places from which to choose. If not you can order from places like Amazon, Google, EBay and several others.
Is ground clearance an important consideration?
Ground clearance is another important issue to consider in your scooter. You will need enough to be able to clear objects that might get in your way. The term describes how far off the ground the lowest point of the scooter not in contact with the ground is. Ground clearance is an very important consideration for outdoor scooters that might need to traverse an uneven or poorly maintained surface. Too little clearance can result in getting your scooter hung up and unable to move, or worse yet, might cause it to tip over. It is important, too, in those cities where standard disability curb-cuts have not been constructed on sidewalks. You will often find either a standard old curbs or the sloped variety. A scooter with less than 4 inches of ground clearance may have some trouble negotiating these hazards. If your scooter is to be used around the home, then clearance is not as important but if you are going outside the home, you may want to consider heavy-duty or all-terrain scooters.
Do I really need the “lighting package” that scooters offer?
Many people ignore this feature but you could really be sorry if you find yourself out at night in the dark. Even if you think you will never have to take your scooter outside, I can assure you that at some point that’s where you will find yourself. For example, we have dogs. Dogs need to be walked. I have difficulty walking so I learned to take them for a “scooter walk.” If you have an indoors scooter it likely will have minimal ground clearance. You may need the lights to see the uneven ground ahead of you to avoid damaging your scooter or, worse yet, tipping and hurting yourself. Scooters, even the big ones, are hard to see so if you decide to purchase a bare bones, no lighting scooter, go to Wal*Mart or Target and purchase a headlight, a taillight and some reflectors for the back and sides. You should be able to get all three for under $20 at the stores mentioned or at any bicycle supply dealer or from any of the on-line sellers like Amazon and EBay. All scooters are very close to the ground and it pays to be lit up like a Christmas tree along with having one of those bicycle or scooter safety flags on the back. I don’t recommend driving your scooter on the street but sometimes it is unavoidable….that means you should also have a rear view mirror and even a horn. You need to be totally aware of your surroundings and you need to let your surroundings know you are there.
I weigh less than 200 lbs. and the scooter will carry 300 isn’t that enough?
Maybe 300 lbs. is adequate, chances are it is but take nothing for granted. Think about the situations you might be in and what you might need to carry in your lap, on the floor and/or in the basket. Your scooter should be able to support what you need like oxygen tanks, crutches, a walker, drinks, groceries or other purchases. Taking the time to consider your needs could save you money in the long run.
Is the size and type of tires important?
Yes, those are important considerations. There are two types of tires; pneumatic (air-filled), and solid-core tires (no flats). Air-filled tires are a good choice if the quality of your ride is important. That’s especially true of the larger scooters that have four-wheel suspension (springs) where the shock of hitting a bump is dampened before it gets to your rump. The air-filled tires help absorb some of the shock. Smaller scooters don’t have suspension of any kind so they ride like a skate board anyway. Most of them don’t come with pneumatic tires. There are circumstances where tires become extremely important and that is almost always outside of the home. Bigger, wider, tougher tires are a necessity if you are traveling over rough terrain, near construction sites, in sand or grass or a number of other situations. Thin, small tires likely will get stuck very quickly in adverse conditions. Scooters for use out of doors should always have tires that are at least 10 or 12 inches in diameter and 3 inches wide (the Panther’s tires are 14 X 4)
How long does it take to charge scooter batteries?
How deep is the ocean? It depends on the scooter and the batteries. Manufacturers list that information and more with each scooter but it there are several variables. Usually the first charge should be overnight. After that, look to your owner’s manual (many owner’s manuals can be downloaded before you buy a scooter just Google (brand and name of scooter like Spitfire) owner’s manual).
When the maker says a scooter has a range of 20 miles, is that accurate?
Well, kind of. I’m not sure if all manufacturers use the same criteria for making that determination but how far you can go depends entirely on how much weight the scooter is carrying, how fast you are going and if the battery was fully charged when you left. The fact is I rarely ever even consider the range because most of my trips are short and I put the scooter on the charger when I return from my journey. In five years of riding scooters I have never even come close to running out of power.
I’m sure you have other questions but I hope those provided cover your key concerns. Scooters aren’t for everyone. Some people don’t have the coordination, strength or concentration to operate a scooter. Hopefully your physician will tell you that. In many cases a power wheelchair might be a better choice, but that’s a discussion for another day. I have no experience with wheelchairs and will have to do considerable research to be sure I’m offering accurate information.
Scooters are not meant to be like motorized ATVs, motorcycles, or SUVs. They were not designed or built to be recreational vehicles either. They are designed to help disabled persons get from point A to point B. A mobility scooter is not a toy but it is also not a car or bus. You can have the most decked-out, high-priced scooter ever made and it still won’t perform like a car or an ATV. Your 150 lb. scooter traveling at 7 miles an hour is no match for a 3500 lb. car going 45 or 50. Remember that if you think about getting off the sidewalk and onto the street. Be cautious, responsible and extremely careful. Keep in mind that you have a scooter and it should be ridden on sidewalks and paved areas. Avoid riding on streets. Even the fastest of scooters will only go 15 miles an hour, far too slow to stay with traffic and far too small to be seen. However, if construction or other barriers force you to get into the flow of traffic on a street and your scooter has a lighting package turn on your flashers, put up a safety flag and look for a place to get back on the sidewalk as fast as possible.
Good luck with your decision and please, be careful out there. If you have comments or questions include them in the space provided. If you would like to contact me directly you can at firstname.lastname@example.org
And from where I sit, that’s the truth.