A wheelchair should be maintained regularly so that it will last a long time and work properly. 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 exact nature of these tasks is partly determined by whether the wheelchair is manual or electric.
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.
To take proper care of a wheelchair, you need a basic set of tools. 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.
There is no one set time interval in which you should do maintenance. Rather, it will depend on your climate, the environment in which it is used, and how much demand is put on the wheelchair for daily use. 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, the same general checks should be done daily, weekly, and monthly as for a manual chair. Reading the manual is the best place to start. With electric wheelchairs, cleanliness is even more important so that dirt and debris don't get into the gears, motors, or other parts. Depending on the model of electric wheelchair, some routine maintenance and inspection procedures may not be possible.
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 an authorized service provider 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 hole on either cross brace. 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, it should be replaced. Whether you can replace this yourself will depend on the exact model wheelchair you have.
The tubing that holds the seat connects to the tubing that forms the back rest, 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 will be your best option. While some of these repair shops are independent, some brands of wheelchair have authorized service centers you are required to use so as not to void the warranty. If you are capable of fixing your wheelchair, there are many places online from which you can order replacement parts.
If you need to purchase a wheelchair but do not have any insurance coverage for the purpose, you can search out used wheelchairs on the internet, or through organizations like Goodwill Industries in the U.S. 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 and donate their wheelchair when they no longer need it.
Related: Wheelchair rentals