OPINION: Is the reliability of electric mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs in question?
With the mobility market continuing to grow and with new mobility products entering the market trying to entice customers with promises of more features and better performance, mobility blogger Jon Wade who works for one of the UK’s largest mobility retailers reflects on whether mobility retailers and suppliers alike are doing enough to fully inform customers about the limitations of their products?
By Jon Wade
Powered mobility devices, namely mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs (powerchairs) have developed in leaps and bounds over the last 40 years. What started out as a cumbersome product with poor battery life and a short range have been redesigned to become lightweight, stylish mobility devices with ranges of over 30 miles in some cases. But recently concerns have been raised in the media about the reliability of electric scooters and wheelchairs, especially considering the unpredictable British climate.
Although all manufacturers warn users against using these devices in heavy rain, and most retailers recommend the purchase of protective covers, many users quickly forget that they are riding an electric device powered by a battery, that not only needs regular charging but also does not mix well with water.
The result is customers being stranded miles from home with a failed device, and in this modern age of social media, any failure can quickly become a PR disaster.
So, do manufacturers and retailers need to better emphasise the technical limitations of their mobility products, along with rain and water protection options?
Battery life can be short
When you stop to consider that a mobility scooter can travel over 30 miles on a rechargeable battery – the Abilize Ranger has a range of 31 miles on a single 75Ah battery – it really does emphasise how far the technology has advanced. However, complacency often sets in.
The advice for batteries is simple: Fully charge them after every use, and do one full overnight charge (12-14 hours) once per week. Even when the scooter is not being used, it is important to charge the battery every week, otherwise, its capacity may reduce. One of the most common customer complaints about mobility scooters is that the battery no longer fully charges and the range drops significantly as a result. Worst still, if a battery is left to fully discharge for weeks on end, there is a real risk that the battery will fail and need replacing.
Also, range may not always meet manufacturer claims. RIDC recommends that customers “treat manufacturers’ claims about the range of your scooter battery with caution.”
Range is recorded on a flat, even surface in perfect conditions with an average weighted individual. Heavier than average people driving up hills and over grass will achieve much shorter ranges on a full battery.
Water and electricity
Water and electricity really do not mix, and although mobility scooters are built to comply with strict safety regulations, and are designed to be splash proof and spray proof, they rarely cope well in heavy rain and very wet conditions.
For instance, even the Abilize Ranger mentioned above, which is marketed as an all-terrain mobility scooter that can drive over grass with ease, advises in the user manual to “try not to drive scooter at night or in rain or bad weather”.
Many manufacturers instruct customers not to use their products in the rain at all. For example, Pride Colt Pursuit scooter states in the manual “PROHIBITED! Operating in rain, snow, salt, mist/spray conditions and on icy/slippery surfaces can cause damage to the scooter and electrical system.” Few sales reps will inform customers that they are prohibited from driving them in the rain or mist, as this severely restricts their usage in the UK!
Maybe Pride is just being overly cautious, but the CareCo Titan mobility scooter, another road legal model, advises “Do not splash water directly onto your scooter as this could lead to malfunction of the system electrics” and “Do not drive at night or in rain, snow, fog or strong winds”.
Really, what both these manufacturers are advising is that getting a mobility scooter wet will increase the risk of water getting into the electrics, and this could result in the scooter shutting down until it dries out. They are words of caution against something that may happen in isolated instances. Most scooters operate perfectly well in light rain and can handle a little water, but manufacturers need to highlight the risks and worst-case scenarios.
It is important to note that all mobility scooters suffer this same problem, and this is the challenge that retailers face – if one retailer says “don’t drive our scooters in a rainstorm” then people will go to another retailer where sales staff may downplay the risks of water ingress.
What if it gets wet?
If a mobility scooter or powerchair gets soaked in a storm, the best advice is to thoroughly dry it with a towel, and then leave it switched off indoors for at least 24 hours, to give time for any water that has got inside and on electrical components to evaporate.
First and foremost, education is key. Customers should be told how to maintain their scooter batteries and the importance of protecting them from water.
Regarding water, retailers must emphasise that most mobility scooters and powerchairs are not water resistant and that suitable rain covers should be used. Users can wear a waterproof cape that covers the entire scooter or carry a cover with them to allow them to stop and cover the scooter in heavy rain.
Control panel covers are also available and highly recommended. However, none of these protective measures will prevent standing water and puddles from splashing up on the underside of a scooter which may affect the electrics between the battery and the tiller.
Like a car, a mobility scooter should be serviced by an engineer every year. Checks should include steering, tyres, lights, battery and motor performance. If it is used in a dusty or sandy area, then they benefit from a good internal clean too, as grit and dust can reduce the efficiency and lifespan of the motor.
Overall, most people never have a problem with their scooter, and those that do use them in all weather conditions are happy to use a cape or scooter canopy to keep it dry. However, fair weather users, tourists and those using travel scooters rarely adopt this level of protection. A failed mobility scooter or powerchair can be extremely stressful for the user, who may be stranded many miles from home.
Manufacturers should do more to create a truly waterproof scooter – electric cars do not cut out in storms or when driving through puddles – while retailers need to emphasise the importance of having some weather protection on board in case of unexpected rain. However, with the growth in popularity of folding mobility scooters and portable ones that dismantle into many parts, keeping water out is likely to become a bigger problem in future.
Are retailers and manufacturers in the industry going far enough to alert customers to the technical limitations of their products or downplaying some aspects to secure sales? Does the industry need to do more to create a fully waterproof scooter? Contact email@example.com to share your thoughts for an opportunity to be published online or in the next issue of THIIS Magazine.https://thiis.co.uk/guest-article-is-the-reliability-of-electric-mobility-scooters-and-powered-wheelchairs-in-question/https://i2.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Mobility_device_rain.jpg?fit=1000%2C696&ssl=1https://i2.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Mobility_device_rain.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1PeopleThoughts and opinionsAbilize Ranger,battery,CareCo,electric wheelchairs,Managing Director,mobility devices,mobility market,mobility retailers,Mobility scooters,mobility suppliers,powerchairs,Pride Colt,RiDC,technical limitations,waterproof,William HarrisonWith the mobility market continuing to grow and with new mobility products entering the market trying to entice customers with promises of more features and better performance, mobility blogger Jon Wade who works for one of the UK's largest mobility retailers reflects on whether mobility retailers and suppliers alike...Calvin BarnettCalvin Barnettcalvin@thiis.co.ukAdministratorTHIIS Magazine