What To Look For When Buying A Self Propelled Wheelchair: A Detailed Guide

A self-propelled wheelchair is a type of mobility aid designed to be maneuvered by the user without needing assistance from another person. This is achieved through large, hand-rimmed wheels that the user can reach and turn while seated in the chair. These wheelchairs are a significant development in assistive technology, providing individuals with mobility impairments greater independence and freedom.

The importance of self-propelled wheelchairs cannot be overstated. They offer numerous benefits, the key being the autonomy they provide. Users can move around at their own pace and on their terms, significantly enhancing their quality of life. This independence can also improve mental health, as users often report feeling more confident and less reliant on others.

self-propelled wheelchair

Additionally, self-propelled wheelchairs can provide exercise, helping maintain upper body strength and cardiovascular health. They also offer flexibility, as they can be used in various environments, from the home to the outdoors, and are typically designed to be durable and long-lasting.

In this guide, we will delve into the key features to look for when buying a self-propelled wheelchair, how to choose the right one for your needs and provide recommendations for the top models currently on the market. Whether you’re buying for yourself or a loved one, we aim to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding Self-Propelled Wheelchairs

self-propelled wheelchair

Self-propelled wheelchairs are a type of mobility aid specifically designed to be operated by the user rather than requiring another person to push the wheelchair. This is made possible by including two large wheels, typically located at the rear of the chair, fitted with hand rims. These hand rims are within easy reach of the user when seated, allowing them to propel themselves forward or backward by pushing on the rims.

How They Work

The operation of a self-propelled wheelchair is relatively straightforward. The user propels the wheelchair by applying force to the hand rims. By varying the amount and direction of force applied to each rim, the user can control the speed and direction of the wheelchair. For example, to move straight forward, the user would simultaneously apply equal force to both rims. To turn, the user would apply more force to one rim than the other, causing the wheelchair to pivot around the slower-moving wheel.

Braking in a self-propelled wheelchair is typically achieved through push-down brakes. These are levers located by the wheels that, when pushed down, apply a brake pad to the tire, stopping the wheelchair. Some models also include parking brakes for added safety when stationary.

Different Types of Self-Propelled Wheelchairs

self-propelled wheelchair

There are several different types of self-propelled wheelchairs, each designed to meet different user needs and environments:

  • Standard Self-Propelled Wheelchairs: These are the most common type and are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. They typically feature a sturdy metal frame, cushioned seat and backrest, and large rear wheels with hand rims.
  • Lightweight Self-Propelled Wheelchairs: These are designed to be lighter and more portable than standard models, making them ideal for users who travel frequently or need to transport their wheelchairs regularly. They often have frames made from lightweight materials like aluminum.
  • Sport Self-Propelled Wheelchairs: These are designed for users who wish to participate in sports or other physical activities. They often feature enhanced maneuverability, specialized seating for added stability, and sometimes additional features like angled wheels for better performance.
  • Heavy-Duty or Bariatric Self-Propelled Wheelchairs: These are designed for larger users, with reinforced frames and broader seats for added comfort and stability. They typically have a higher weight capacity than other models.
  • Pediatric Self-Propelled Wheelchairs: These are designed for children and smaller users. They are typically smaller and may feature adjustable components to accommodate growth.
  • Each type of self-propelled wheelchair has advantages and is suited to different user needs and lifestyles. The key is to choose the one that best fits your circumstances and requirements.

Key Factors to Consider When Buying a Self-Propelled Wheelchair


Comfort is paramount when choosing a self-propelled wheelchair. The user will likely spend a significant amount of time in the chair, so the seat must be comfortable, the back support is adequate, and the leg rest is positioned correctly. Look for chairs with padded seats and backrests, and consider the user’s posture and any specific physical needs they may have.

Size and Weight

The size and weight of the wheelchair can greatly impact its usability. A chair that is too heavy may be difficult for the user to propel themselves, while a chair that is too large may not fit through doorways or in certain areas of the user’s home. Consider the user’s strength and the environments they’ll navigate when choosing a wheelchair.

Wheel Size

The size of the wheels on a self-propelled wheelchair can affect both its maneuverability and the ride’s comfort. Larger wheels can make it easier for users to propel themselves and provide a smoother ride over rough surfaces. However, they also make the chair larger and potentially more difficult to transport.

Material and Durability

Wheelchairs are a significant investment, so they must be built to last. Look for chairs made from durable materials like steel or aluminum. Consider the quality of the construction, including the joints and any moving parts. Remember, however, that more durable materials can also make the chair heavier.


Everyone is unique, and so are their needs regarding a wheelchair. Look for a chair with adjustable parts, such as seat height, armrests, and footrests. This will allow the user to customize the chair to their body and ensure a comfortable fit.

Ease of Use

A self-propelled wheelchair must be easy for the user to propel, turn, and stop. Test out different chairs to see how they feel. Consider the positioning of the wheels and the effort required to move the chair. Also, consider how easy it is to adjust the chair’s settings and use any additional features.


If the user plans to travel with a wheelchair, it must be easily transported. Look for chairs that can be folded or disassembled. Consider the size of the chair when folded and the effort required to fold it. If the user has a vehicle, ensure the chair fits in the trunk or backseat.

Additional Features to Consider

Reclining Back

A reclining back feature can provide added comfort, particularly for users who spend a lot of time in their wheelchairs or need to rest or change position throughout the day. This feature allows the user to adjust the angle of the backrest, providing more support and comfort.

Detachable Armrests

Detachable armrests can make it easier for a user to transfer in and out of the wheelchair. They can also be beneficial when the user needs to get closer to a table or desk.

Elevating Leg Rests

Elevating leg rests can benefit users who need to elevate their legs due to swelling, circulation issues, or injury. They can also provide added comfort during longer periods of sitting.

Who Should Use a Self-Propelled Wheelchair?

self-propelled wheelchair

Self-propelled wheelchairs are designed for individuals who have mobility limitations but possess enough upper body strength and coordination to propel the wheelchair themselves. This includes people with conditions such as spinal cord injuries, stroke, cerebral palsy, and certain types of arthritis.

However, the suitability of a self-propelled wheelchair also depends on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Here are some considerations:

  • Physical Ability: Self-propelling a wheelchair requires a certain level of upper body strength and endurance. Individuals with weak arms or limited upper body mobility might struggle to use a self-propelled wheelchair. In such cases, an attendant-propelled wheelchair or a power wheelchair might be more suitable.
  • Environment: The environment where the wheelchair will be used also plays a role. Self-propelled wheelchairs are versatile and can be used in a variety of settings. However, they might be challenging in steep slopes or uneven terrain.
  • Lifestyle: For individuals who lead an active lifestyle or value their independence, self-propelled wheelchairs can be an excellent choice. They allow the user to move around freely without needing assistance from others.
  • Health Benefits: Using a self-propelled wheelchair can also provide health benefits. The physical activity propelling the wheelchair can help maintain cardiovascular health and upper body strength.
  • Age and Size: Self-propelled wheelchairs come in different sizes to accommodate users. Pediatric self-propelled wheelchairs are designed for children, while bariatric self-propelled wheelchairs are designed for larger users.

Self-propelled wheelchairs can benefit a wide range of individuals. However, it’s important to consider the user’s physical abilities, environment, lifestyle, and personal preferences when choosing a wheelchair. Consulting with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist can also be very helpful in making this decision.

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Maintenance Tips for Self-Propelled Wheelchairs

self-propelled wheelchair

Proper maintenance of a self-propelled wheelchair not only extends its lifespan but also ensures it remains safe and comfortable for the user. Here are some key maintenance tips:

  • Cleaning and Care: Regular cleaning is essential to keep your wheelchair in good condition. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the frame, wheels, and seating area, removing any dirt or debris. Avoid using harsh chemicals that could damage the wheelchair’s materials. For the upholstery, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which may recommend specific cleaning products or methods.
  • Regular Checks: Regularly inspect the wheelchair for any signs of wear and tear. Check the tires for any punctures or reduced pressure. Inspect the frame for any cracks or damage. Ensure the brakes are working properly and the wheelchair is easy to maneuver. Also, check the condition of the seat and backrest for any signs of wear or damage.
  • Servicing: Depending on how frequently the wheelchair is used, it may need to be serviced by a professional every 6 to 12 months. This service should include a thorough cleaning, lubrication of moving parts, checking and adjusting the brakes, and checking the condition of the tires and wheels.
  • When to Seek Professional Help: If you notice any issues during your regular checks, such as difficulty maneuvering, squeaking noises, loose parts, or ineffective brakes, it’s time to seek professional help. Don’t attempt to repair significant issues yourself, as this could lead to further damage or safety risks.

Remember, a well-maintained wheelchair provides a smoother ride and ensures the user’s safety and comfort. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific maintenance guidelines for your model.

Where to Buy a Self-Propelled Wheelchair

Medical Supply Stores

These stores often carry a range of medical equipment, including wheelchairs. One of the benefits of buying from a medical supply store is that you can often try out different models in person to see what feels most comfortable and meets your needs.

Online Retailers

Websites like Amazon, eBay, and specialized online medical supply stores offer various wheelchairs. Shopping online can provide access to a broader range of models and prices. However, the downside is that you can’t try the wheelchair before buying.

Directly from Manufacturers

Some wheelchair manufacturers sell directly to consumers. This can be a good way to get a high-quality wheelchair; these companies often offer customization options. However, prices can be higher than other sources.


Some larger pharmacies also carry medical equipment, including wheelchairs. The selection may not be as extensive as other sources, but it can be convenient.


Websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace often have used wheelchairs for sale. This can be a more affordable option, but it’s important to check the condition of the wheelchair carefully.

Trying Out a Wheelchair Before Purchasing

It’s highly recommended to try out a wheelchair before purchasing, if possible. This allows you to see how comfortable it is, how easy it is to maneuver, and whether it suits your needs. When trying out a wheelchair, consider the following:


Please sit in the chair to see how comfortable it is. Check the seat, backrest, and leg rests.


Try propelling the wheelchair on different surfaces to see how it handles. Make sure you can easily turn and stop the chair.


Check that the wheelchair fits through doorways and other narrow spaces you must navigate regularly.


If you are transporting the wheelchair in a car, check that you can lift it.

Remember, a wheelchair is a significant purchase that can greatly impact your quality of life, so it’s worth finding the right one.

How much does a quality wheelchair cost?

The average cost of a new self-propelled wheelchair is between $500 and $1,500, but it depends upon what kind of wheelchair you’re shopping for. You can find manual wheelchairs priced as low as $100, while a power wheelchair can be as high as $30,000.

More Wheelchair Articles Here

Off To A New Adventure

self-propelled wheelchair

Choosing the right self-propelled wheelchair is a crucial decision that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. The right wheelchair can provide independence, mobility, and a sense of freedom, while also catering to the specific needs and lifestyle of the user.

Throughout this guide, we’ve explored what self-propelled wheelchairs are, how they work, and the types available. We’ve discussed who can benefit from these wheelchairs and the key features to look for when purchasing. We’ve also highlighted the importance of regular maintenance to ensure the longevity and performance of the wheelchair.

As you choose a self-propelled wheelchair, whether for yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to consider the information provided in this guide. Remember, the goal is to find a wheelchair that meets the user’s physical needs, enhances their lifestyle, and provides the freedom to navigate the world easily and confidently.

Choosing a wheelchair is a personal journey; there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Take your time, research, consult with healthcare professionals, and most importantly, listen to the needs and preferences of the wheelchair user. After all, the best wheelchair is the one that makes life easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable for the user.

What’s Next?

Now that you have an idea of What To Look For When Buying A Self Propelled Wheelchair check out my post on the 3 Best Self Propelled Wheelchairs For Adults.

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Hi, my name is Ron Anderson, a VA Certified caregiver and I’ve been my dad’s (Lee Anderson) caretaker for 5 years now, which has been a massive education for me.

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