An electric wheelchair is propelled by means of an electric motor, rather than by hand like a standard wheelchair.
Electric wheelchairs provide unmatched convenience for those with mobility issues. They are easy to use, safe, dependable, and can run for up 20 miles on a single charge. The electric wheelchair market has exploded in recent years, with a wide variety of styles now available to suit every need and budget.
We spent long hours researching the topic from every angle and concluded that the following represent the best electric wheelchairs of 2021.
1. Forcemech Voyager R2
Forcemech has hit a home run with their Voyager R2. The chair is light, handsome, responsive, and has an operating range of 16 miles. It is an excellent choice for travelers who appreciate style and dependability.
What we like: The Forcemech Voyager R2 is handsome and technically proficient. The ride is silky smooth on most surfaces, and it doesn’t shy away from hills or rough terrain. We love the look, the light weight, and the outstanding build quality.
Flaws: Hard to find fault with this wheelchair. If we had to quibble, we might say the armrests could be more comfortable.
2.Sentire Med Forza FCX Deluxe
The Med Forza FCX Deluxe is built for larger individuals and delivers its power without compromising appearance or comfort. It has a pair of 250-watt motors along with two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and is fully ambidextrous.
What we like: This is the best compact, foldable, heavy-duty wheelchair on the market. The upper weight limit is 360 pounds, and it has no trouble with that weight. We appreciate the solid tires and that there are two lithium-ion batteries.
Flaws: It does not handle uneven terrain as well as some other electric wheelchairs.
3. Majestic Buvan Limited Edition Electric Wheelchair
The Majestic Buvan Electric Wheelchair is ultra-reliable and built to last. It’s also one of the most comfortable chairs on our list, though at first glance it may not seem so.
What we like: This chair folds up easily and is airline approved. It’s very stable and the carbon steel construction means it’s here for the long-haul. It’s also surprisingly lightweight.
Flaws: The backrest does not recline. And the chair is pretty expensive.
4. KD Smart Chair Lightweight Travel Wheelchair
The KD Lightweight Travel Wheelchair is an outstanding companion whether you are spending an afternoon in the park or meandering down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on vacation.
What we like: The chair is very light. We like that. We also like that they thought to include a carrying basket under the seat. The shock absorption system is a nice touch too. And the dual 200-watt motors produce plenty of power.
Flaws: The rear wheels are small, which has a negative effect on stability. Also, it is not for wide bodies.
5. Hoveround Electric Wheelchair
If comfort is a primary concern, the Hoveround Electric Wheelchair should be on your wish list. It has an incredibly low center of gravity that allows it to accommodate up to 300 pounds without compromising safety.
What we like: We appreciate the 300-pound weight limit and the all-day comfort of this chair. The front-wheel drive enhances stability, and the armrests are the most comfortable we found on any electric wheelchair.
Flaws: The chair is comfortable, but you would be stretching things if you called it ‘attractive’.
Who Needs an Electric Wheelchair?
Electric wheelchairs are for people with mobility issues who either do not have the upper body strength to operate a manual wheelchair, or are simply disinclined to do so. The electric wheelchair makes life easier for the person with mobility issues. It comes from the same school of engineering thought as the automobile.
Just as the car is now far more luxurious and technically refined than its distant ancestors, so too is the modern electric wheelchair. But the mission of both remains the same: to make life easier and more convenient for those that use them. So, if you are dealing with mobility issues and you are looking for a way to make your life easier and more convenient, consider an electric wheelchair.
How We Ranked
Electric wheelchairs are high tech electric vehicles that embody leading-edge engineering concepts. If we were doing a technical review of them, this section would be very lengthy indeed. Instead, we are more concerned with the overall user experience. So we looked at things like comfort, both short and long term, while sitting still and in motion on a variety of surfaces.
We also looked at the frame. What material is the frame constructed from? We want to see high-grade aluminum and stainless steel. Both are extremely durable and resist corrosion. The frame also has to be able to handle the stress and strain of everyday use. And it should be able to support 200 – 250 pounds with no effort.
For foldable units, we looked at how quick and easy the wheelchair is to fold. Can one person do it without help? Does it fold down small enough to easily fit in the trunk of a car or on an airplane? Does it take more than 5 or 10 seconds to fold or unfold it? Foldable electric wheelchairs should also be as light as possible so they can be moved around with little effort.
From a technical standpoint, we looked at things like the power of the motor, how long the battery takes to charge, and how far you would get on a full charge. The controller also had to be easy to use, conveniently located and not too sensitive. The wheelchair also had to be well-balanced, bottom-heavy, and stable.
An electric wheelchair can be taken on most airplanes. Many electric wheelchairs fold down to a very manageable size and can be taken on most commercial airliners (1). On some larger planes, a foldable electric wheelchair may be allowed in the passenger cabin. On smaller commercial planes, you may have to store it in the checked baggage compartment.
An electric wheelchair allows you to retain your independence. Not everyone has the upper body strength to operate a manual wheelchair. Nor does everyone have a caregiver available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist them. With an electric wheelchair, you have the ability to decide where you want to go and when. You are no longer limited by what your arms will do on a given day. Nor do you wind up housebound if your caregiver is unavailable.
An electric wheelchair is comfortable. Electric wheelchairs are often much more comfortable than manual wheelchairs. They offer several kinds of padded seat cushions, padded armrests, tilting seatbacks, and more. You can ride around town all day long in complete comfort without breaking a sweat. Some high-end model electric wheelchairs have suspension systems that absorb shocks. And most have shock-absorbing inflatable tires.
An electric wheelchair is easy to use. Once seated in your electric wheelchair operation is simple and effortless. The joystick enables complete control, and the battery will provide you many miles of uninterrupted mobility. Most electric wheelchairs allow for extremely tight turns as well. So there is no danger of being caught in a tight spot at the supermarket or on a crowded sidewalk.
An electric wheelchair provides long-distance mobility. Most electric wheelchairs have an operational range of 10 – 20 miles. If you have a fully charged backup battery with you that range expands to 20 – 40 miles. Few are the people who would ever need to go further than that in a single day. The bottom line is that wherever you need to go, your electric wheelchair will take you there.
An electric wheelchair lets you conserve your energy. The wheelchair has been around for centuries (2). And there is no doubt the manual wheelchair revolutionized life for the disabled when it first came into widespread use some 150 years ago. But the manual wheelchair has always had one drawback: it is tiring to operate. An electric wheelchair allows the user to conserve their energy so they arrive at their destination refreshed and not exhausted.
An electric wheelchair won’t take over your house. Mobility scooters require a lot of space to move and to store. But a foldable electric wheelchair can be slipped into the hall closet until it is needed. Many are maneuverable enough to be used right inside the home as well. They can turn on a dime and be pulled up to the kitchen table at dinner time without having to move anything.
An electric wheelchair makes life easier for everyone. Family, friends, and caregivers are invaluable when it comes to helping the disabled person move about in a standard wheelchair. But pushing a wheelchair can be a tiring experience no matter how young or strong a person might be. The electric wheelchair provides disabled persons with unparalleled levels of freedom, while also making things easier on the people that care for them.
An electric wheelchair is ready when you are. If you are like most people, you will want to take full advantage of the freedom afforded you by your electric wheelchair. That is easy to do because the battery on these chairs can be fully recharged while you sleep so that it is ready to go in the morning. And if you make sure to always have a fully charged back up battery on hand, the sky’s the limit.
An electric wheelchair is safer than a manual wheelchair. The reason is that, with the weight of the electric motor under the seat, the center of gravity is much lower than that of a manual wheelchair. So the odds of tipping over are reduced. In addition, most electric wheelchairs have electromagnetic brakes (3) that can stop the chair quickly and safely in all conditions with no input necessary from the operator.
An electric wheelchair is easy to maneuver. Mastering effective and efficient motion in a manual wheelchair can take years. Even then, that type of chair is limited in what it can do. By comparison, the electric wheelchair has smaller, more nimble wheels, and turning radius no bigger than the chair itself. The joystick control also ensures that this precise control comes without effort on the part of the operator.
An electric wheelchair can handle most kinds of terrain. It can sometimes be difficult for a person to navigate uneven sidewalks, paths, or parking lots in a manual wheelchair. Hills are another area of concern. But an electric wheelchair can easily glide over cracks, bumps and rough patches, as well as climb most hills with little effort. You will no longer need to avoid certain areas because of uneven terrain.
An electric wheelchair can help restore self-esteem. No one wants to feel they are dependent upon others to get around. It is the kind of thing that can weigh on a person’s self-esteem. Those with manual wheelchairs often need to wait for help to arrive before they can venture out. Switching to an electric wheelchair can restore a sense of self-sustainability that can help improve a person’s outlook and bolster their self-esteem.
An electric wheelchair opens the world up to you. An electric wheelchair can be used indoors and outdoors. You can use it to socialize or simply get some fresh air. You can run errands or visit the family. And it can be taken on the cruise ship (4) or airplane to empower you while on vacation. It is transformative technology that literally opens a world of possibilities for the disabled person.
An electric wheelchair makes dealing with huge airports much easier. Over the past 20 years or so, many of the world’s cities built new airports. Many of these airports dwarf anything that existed before (5). And their terminals are like small cities unto themselves. Navigating these enormous structures can tire out even the healthiest of travelers. But with an electric wheelchair, you will glide quickly and effortlessly from gate to gate.
An electric wheelchair can enhance your social life. People unable to get around easily will often give up trying and begin to isolate. That is especially true of older individuals (6), whether they use a wheelchair or not. For those with no or minimal ability to walk, the danger of isolation is even more acute. An electric wheelchair can provide the mobility and independence they need and prevent a disabled person from sinking into isolation.
Electric wheelchairs come in a wide variety of styles. Half a century ago wheelchairs all looked pretty much the same. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. Especially if we are talking about electric wheelchairs. Today’s electric wheelchairs may have a restrained, balanced look. Or they may have sleek, compelling designs that seem like a cross between a lunar rover and a racing bike. Either way, you will find one that suits your temperament.
Q: Why should I switch from a manual to an electric wheelchair?
A: This is entirely your decision, but there are some real advantages to making the switch. The most obvious advantage is no longer having to wear yourself (or someone else) out pushing the chair around all day. Also, if you typically depend on a caregiver to assist you in your manual chair, having an electric chair can free you from having to wait for help. Electric wheelchairs are often more comfortable than manual wheelchairs as well.
Q: Can an electric wheelchair go uphill?
A: Yes, an electric wheelchair can go uphill. But there are limits. If the grade (7) of a particular hill exceeds 18 percent, the chair is likely to encounter problems. The good news is that most roads – and therefore most sidewalks – never come close to that kind of steep grade. So, unless you live in a city like San Francisco, where numerous streets exceed a 30 percent grade (8), you’re not likely to encounter streets too steep to climb with your chair.
Q: Is it easy to get in and out of an electric wheelchair?
A: That will depend on the user’s physical limitations. However, if a person is typically able to walk a short distance by themselves, they should not have much difficulty getting into or out of an electric wheelchair. Those with more serious physical limitations will likely need some level of assistance. Depending on the user’s needs, they may want to consider rotating armrests, or a swiveling seat.
Q: What is the range of an electric wheelchair?
A: There is no one answer to this question. It will depend entirely on the type of chair, the weight of the user, and the type of terrain being navigated. The same chair may run out of power after 10 miles if the person is heavy and the terrain hilly. Or it may cover 20 miles if the terrain is flat and the person relatively light. If you are concerned about running out of power, it is advised that you purchase a backup battery and keep it with you at all times.
Q: Will Medicare pay for an electric wheelchair?
A: Yes, Medicare will pay for an electric wheelchair as long as a doctor has determined it to be medically necessary. Medicare covers 80 percent of the cost of most powered wheelchairs (9), with the wheelchair user being responsible for the remaining 20 percent. The important thing to note is that a doctor must sign off on the wheelchair. If you cannot find a doctor who will, you will have to pay the entire cost.
Q: Are electric wheelchairs comfortable?
A: In many ways, they are far more comfortable than manual wheelchairs. Electric wheelchairs typically have padded seats and armrests, and many offer the ability to recline somewhat as you ride. Also, most have inflatable tires that absorb shocks much better than the solid tires you will find on most manual wheelchairs. And not having to push yourself along makes each outing much more comfortable and enjoyable.
Q: What makes electric wheelchairs so expensive?
A: There are a number of factors that influence the final cost of an electric wheelchair. The biggest factor, however, is the money spent on research and development, or R&D (10), before bringing a chair to market. That cost needs to be recouped. To do that, a small portion of the total R&D cost is added to the price of each chair. Beyond that, the chairs need to be built to a very high standard to ensure safety and dependability.
Q: What is the weight limit on an electric wheelchair?
A: Most electric wheelchairs have an upper weight limit of around 250 – 300 pounds. Foldable electric wheelchairs are relatively small by nature. That compact size puts a de facto limit on the size of the person who can use the chair. But all is not lost for large individuals. There are some heavy-duty wheelchairs on the market, like the Sentire Med Forza we looked at above, designed to accommodate an additional 50 – 100 pounds.
Q: Why are the wheels on an electric wheelchair so small?
A: One of the first things people notice about electric wheelchairs is that the wheels, in particular the rear wheels, are much smaller than on a manual wheelchair. The main reason the wheels on a manual wheelchair are large is so that the person seated in the chair can reach them to push. Since pushing the wheels isn’t necessary on an electric wheelchair, the wheels can be small. That makes the chair more maneuverable.
Q: Can an electric wheelchair be modified to suit my needs?
A: Yes. Most manufacturers of electric wheelchairs offer various accessories that can be used to modify their chairs. These include foot and leg rests attachments, different seat cushions and armrests, cup holders, joystick covers, tires for rough surfaces, and more. If the manufacturer doesn’t have the particular accessory you are after, there is a good chance some enterprising third party vendor will offer it.
Q: How long does the battery last on an electric wheelchair?
A: Battery life will vary depending on the make and model of the battery, the type of terrain the rider is traversing, and how much the operator weighs. If the operator weighs more than 200 pounds and spends a lot of time climbing hills, the battery will be drained in relatively short order. Maybe just a few hours. But if the rider is light, the surfaces are flat, and the speed is kept down, the battery may last all day and net you about 20 miles.
Q: Do I need a prescription to buy an electric wheelchair?
A: No. You do not need a prescription to buy an electric wheelchair. However, if you buy one without a doctor’s recommendation and use it in public, you can potentially run into trouble. The ADA protects the right of disabled people to use wheelchairs in public. It does not protect the right of someone to use an electric wheelchair on a public sidewalk just because they don’t feel like walking.
Q: Can I ride an electric wheelchair in the rain?
A: The answer to this depends on the severity of the rain and the make of the wheelchair. Some electric wheelchairs have splash guards and modest rain guards protecting the most important electrical components. The battery may even be stored away in a sealed compartment. But even so, these wheelchairs are not waterproof. A heavy rain or deep puddles may very well cause the motor to short out. If it starts to rain, get inside as soon as possible.
Q: What is the top speed of an electric wheelchair?
A: The average electric wheelchairs tops out at about 4 mph. That might not seem like much, but the average person walks at around 3 mph (11). So you would actually be passing most pedestrians (given that there was room to safely pass them, of course). The speed on electric wheelchairs is kept down for safety reasons. It would be all too easy to topple over on a sharp turn if you were going any faster than that.
Q: Do I need a license to operate an electric wheelchair?
A: Currently, you do not need a special license to operate an electric wheelchair. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states quite clearly that people with disabilities must be allowed to use their wheelchairs in any area that is open to pedestrians (12). There is no mention of licenses or special permits or any other requirements that might prevent someone with a legitimate need from using an electric wheelchair in a public area.
Q: Do I need insurance to operate an electric wheelchair?
A: No. You do not need to have any type of special insurance to operate an electric wheelchair. Even so, you may want to consider it. Why? Because there is always the possibility of getting in some type of accident with any motorized vehicle (13). Someone could get hurt. And in today’s world, that more often than not means a lawsuit. Many insurance companies today offer policies that cover motorized wheelchairs. You should at least consider it.
Q: Will I need to assemble the electric wheelchair when it arrives?
A: In most cases, no. The electric wheelchair will come fully assembled. If it is a foldable model, it will likely come folded up. All you need do is unfold it. There may be a few instances where you will have to install the seat cushion, footrest or other such components. Also, if you ordered any accessories, you will need to install them yourself. But anything that needs to be will be done will be simple and straightforward.
Q: Are electric wheelchairs high-maintenance?
A: ’High maintenance’ is the wrong way to describe them. An electric wheelchair will require some regular basic maintenance (14). But all that typically entails is wiping down the seat, armrests, and seat back after every use and making sure the tires are not under or over-inflated. Also, if the wheelchair got wet while you were out, it is important to dry it off thoroughly once you get home. Failing to do so could lead to corrosion.
Q: How long does it take to charge an electric wheelchair?
A: Most of today’s electric wheelchairs use state of the art, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (15). They typically charge fast (for their size), and hold a charge for a good long time. In most cases, it will take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to charge an electric wheelchair battery. Some of the slower ones can take as much as 12 hours. But even that is not a terribly long time, considering what these batteries are asked to do.
The electric wheelchair represents a major step up in convenience for people with mobility issues. It does not matter if you are 18 or 80, the electric wheelchair will improve your quality of life in a variety of ways.
Electric wheelchairs are more expensive than their manual cousins. But if you are 65 or older, and your doctor will sign off on your need to have one, Medicare will cover 80 percent of the cost. If you are younger and can prove financial hardship, Medicaid will likely cover a similar amount for your electric wheelchair.
All of the electric wheelchairs on our list are well-built, durable, and reliable. Any one will serve you well with minimal muss and fuss for many years to come. If you are unsure which one will be right for you, discuss the matter with your doctor.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended electric wheelchair, click here.