Like other mechanical devices, wheelchairs should be maintained regularly. When chairs break down often, the user's health and safety can be threatened, and the user is less apt to get involved socially. While there are times that a trained professional must do certain maintenance or repair tasks, there are many things that a wheelchair user or their caregiver can do to maximize the chair's lifetime and usefulness.
The first step in preventive maintenance is reading the owner's manual as soon as you purchase the wheelchair. This will contain specifics of caring for that particular brand of wheelchair, and will also give you information about the chair's warranty. Keep the manual for future reference after you read it.
Your wheelchair maintenance toolbox should contain a tire repair kit, a Phillips head screwdriver, flat head screwdriver, Allen wrenches, a spoke wrench, and an adjustable wrench. If a small toolbox containing these items can be attached to or stowed on a wheelchair, it is a good idea to have it there just in case an emergency repair is necessary. What follows is a rough guide to regular maintenance for a manual wheelchair.
Wipe the chair with a soft, damp cloth to keep it looking good and keep dirt out of the mechanisms.
- Check tire pressure and ensure that the wheel locks are still tightly attached to the frame and that they are easy to activate.
- Look at the axle housing and clean away any debris.
- Check the spokes are secure and that the wheel rims are not bent.
- Examine the front casters to check for looseness, misalignment, or wobbling.
- Check nuts and bolts to make sure they are all present and secure. If any nuts or bolts need replacing, only use nuts and bolts of the same size, strength rating, and grade.
- Look for cracks in the frame, and check that removable parts, like the leg rests or back rests can be easily removed and put back on.
- Give the chair a thorough cleaning. Some people use car wax on the frame to keep it cleaner longer.
- If your chair folds, make sure it opens and closes easily. Lubricate the folding mechanism if it is not working smoothly.
With electric wheelchairs, cleanliness is even more important so that dirt and debris don't get into the gears, motors, or other parts. You should check the battery and its connections regularly. Cables and terminals might need cleaning with a wire brush if there is any corrosion. Every week, check joystick controls to make sure they are operating properly. Keep an eye out for worn-out cushions, positioning equipment, and pads.
If you find a loose wire, and you aren't sure where to reconnect it, it is probably best to have an authorized service provider look at it. Wires connected in the wrong place can cause chair damage, and even burns. Keep up with your battery charge indicator, and plug your charger in when the charge level is half or less. You should consult your manual or the battery manufacturer to check for any specific charging information. If you are able, lubricate pivot points and ball bearings. Otherwise have a mechanic do this.
Both the American National Standards Institute and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America promulgate recommendations for wheelchair care. Websites that provide information about wheelchair maintenance and repair include:
A well-maintained wheelchair that isn't regularly banged into walls or other objects can last for five years or so. The most common failure points on a manual wheelchair are the cross-brace, the-seat-to-backrest interface, and the caster connections. The cross-brace beneath the wheelchair can develop fatigue cracks near the bolt holes. You can also sometimes find cracks on the welds connecting the cross-braces to the seat tubes. If you find cracks in either of these places, the cross-brace should be replaced.
The tubing that holds the seat connects to the tubing that forms the backrest, and where these two meet is another common failure point due to rocking back and forth against the backrest while propelling the chair. A new frame is required when this area breaks. The place where the casters connect to the frame by bolts or welds is another area at risk for failure. Check for cracks around bolt holes and weld points. This is another situation where cracks or breaks will mean a new frame is necessary.
In these situations, a professional wheelchair repair shop is your best option. Some brands of wheelchair have authorized service centers you are required to use so as not to void the warranty. If you want to skip the professionals and can fix your own wheelchair, there are many places online from which you can order replacement parts.
Your insurance plan may pay for a new wheelchair, but if not you can find used wheelchairs on the internet, or through organizations like Goodwill Industries. Goodwill is sometimes able to offer wheelchairs at low or no cost to people who need them. They are able to do this as people upgrade their wheelchairs and give away their older ones, or as people recover from temporary disabilities and donate their wheelchairs.