Does your wheelchair need maintenance?
All wheelchairs require a degree of maintenance to ensure they continue to operate in a way that suits your needs. This is vital to continue the safety, usability and performance, because an incorrectly maintained wheelchair can easily switch from being a tool to improve your mobility to actively hindering your ability to move around.
Without maintenance, your chair may require additional effort to move, which can cause muscle strain if you use a manual wheelchair.
Luckily, there are a few checks you can perform to keep your chair in tip-top condition – and they’re fairly quick and easy. Karma Mobility supplies wheelchairs specifically designed to function for you for as long as you need them, which is why we’ve created this guide on wheelchair maintenance to ensure your chair receives the best care.
How often to check your wheelchair
Different manual wheelchairs will require different levels of maintenance, but as a standard rule, it is recommended that you check the main features of your chair monthly, or even weekly. This includes measuring tyre pressure, checking the brakes and all moving parts.
For other safety features, a more in-depth general check should be performed every 3-4 months, or if your wheelchair feels unbalanced for any reason.
We would also recommend seeking an annual full maintenance check by an authorised supplier.
Wheelchair maintenance checks
Tyres are the first point of contact between your wheelchair and the ground which makes them one of the most important elements of your chair’s functionality. The correct tyre pressure and condition of inner tubes will ensure the best possible performance, if your wheelchair has pneumatic (air-filled) tyres.
If they don’t have the correct pressure, it will take more effort to move the chair, and can increase the likelihood of them wearing down too quickly or even bursting.
Inflation: Ensure your tires are properly inflated. Overinflated or underinflated tires can affect your stability and manoeuvrability. Different makes of wheelchair will require different levels of tyre pressure, so you should always check with the manufacturer or a professional maintenance service, who can also fix your tyre pressure for you.
Check the tyre pressure by pressing down firmly. If you can press the tyre down by more than 5mm then you need to inflate it.
Tread wear: Regularly inspect the tread of your tires. Worn-out treads can reduce traction and increase the risk of slipping.
Your brakes should be checked more regularly than any other feature on your wheelchair because, as you will know, if your brakes malfunction then your safety can be at risk.
As the daily user of your wheelchair, you will be able to pick up on any changes in the feel of your brakes, which means you are the best person to determine when they need maintenance.
You may be able to check them yourself, but you should always take your brakes for professional servicing to make sure they are safe.
Wheelchairs are constructed with numerous screws and fasteners to maintain their structural integrity. Loose screws can affect the stability of your chair. Screws are one of the easiest things to check yourself as they often just require tightening or oiling.
- Tighten loose screws: Regularly inspect your wheelchair for loose screws, bolts, and nuts. Tighten them as necessary to prevent wobbling or instability.
- Lubricate joints: Use appropriate lubricants on moving parts to reduce friction and wear on screws and joints.
Cushions and upholstery
The cushion on your chair is fundamental to your comfort and preventing pressure sores. Cushions require regular cleaning to prevent the build-up of dirt and bacteria, and, unless you have a cushion tailored to your disability, flipping it can ensure even wear and pressure distribution.
Cushions will need to be replaced every few years depending on the material they are made from. It is estimated that they last anywhere from 2-5 years, but the best way to determine when you should replace your cushion is to ask the supplier.
The technical construction of pressure cushions means they should be replaced more frequently to work as necessary, which means you should order a new one every 2-3 years.
If you have a powered wheelchair, then maintenance can be a bit more tricky. In some cases, motorised wheelchairs require more crucial maintenance checks as a motor malfunction could leave you stranded.
You will need to get your wheelchair attended to by a trained professional annually who will inspect, repair and deep clean your wheelchair safely and as quickly as possible.
From home, you can check the following things on a more regular basis:
- Battery health: Monitor the health of your wheelchair’s batteries. Charge them according to the manufacturer’s guidelines and replace them when they no longer hold a charge.
- Wiring and connections: Ensure that all the wiring and connections for the motor are secure. Loose connections can lead to malfunction or loss of power.
- Spokes: Check your wheels for any broken or damaged spokes and tighten as needed.
- Wheel locks: Ask an assistant to help you check your wheel locks are working correctly and tighten if required.
- Fitting: Check the alignment of your footrest, cushions and other wheelchair accessories.
Foot rests are usually one of the first parts of a wheelchair to become damaged because they come into contact with obstacles regularly. You’ll know that turning corners, manoeuvring into vehicles and even getting through doors can cause your footrest to be knocked out of palace.
In fact, you may be familiar with using your footrest as a bumper of sorts.
Every month, you should double check the stability and placement of your footrests. Most footrests are designed to be easy to reset and move to place them in a comfortable position for you, so all you’ll need to do is move it back to where you need it.
This can be done using a latch system, or by loosening the bolts.
If you find your footrests are especially stiff, or you find any other issues then you’ll need to take your chair to wheelchair maintenance professionals.
How to clean your wheelchair
Cleaning your wheelchair prevents the build up of sweat, dirt and bacteria that can be unhygienic to you but also damaging to the fabric and other materials that keep it functioning smoothly.
Metal parts can become rusted and dirt can get stuck between moving mechanisms. Luckily, cleaning your wheelchair is fairly straightforward.
Every month, you should:
- Rinse the frame and cushions with warm water then dry thoroughly.
- Wash the cushion cover and dry out of direct sunlight.
- Use fine cleaning tools to remove any sign of hair, grime, gravel etc from axles and joints.
How to find parts for your wheelchair
Finding the right parts for your wheelchair can be a daunting task, but with the right guidance, you can ensure that your wheelchair remains safe and comfortable.
- Identify Your Wheelchair Model
The first step in finding the right parts for your wheelchair is identifying its make and model. This information is typically found on a label or plate on the frame of your chair. Knowing the make and model will make it much easier to find compatible replacement parts.
- Check with the Manufacturer
Contacting the wheelchair’s manufacturer is often the most straightforward way to source replacement parts. They can provide you with genuine, high-quality parts designed specifically for your chair. You can usually find the manufacturer’s contact information in the owner’s manual or on their website.
- Local Mobility Equipment Providers
Many local mobility equipment providers or medical supply stores can help you find the parts you need. They often carry a variety of wheelchair components, and their staff can provide guidance on selecting the right parts for your chair. Additionally, they may offer repair and installation services.
- Online Retailers
The internet has made it easier than ever to find wheelchair parts. Numerous online retailers specialise in mobility equipment and offer a wide selection of replacement components. Some popular online platforms where you can find wheelchair parts include Amazon, eBay, and dedicated mobility equipment websites.
- Wheelchair Repair Shops
Wheelchair repair shops or mobility equipment repair specialists are experts when it comes to wheelchair maintenance and repairs. They often have a stock of common replacement parts and can order specific items for you. Additionally, they can provide professional installation and maintenance services.
- Online Communities and Forums
Online communities and forums for wheelchair users can be valuable sources of information and recommendations. Members may share their experiences and offer advice on where to find specific parts or share tips on DIY repairs.
- Consider Used Parts
Sometimes, wheelchair repair can come out of nowhere and you might not be prepared for the cost of your replacement parts. If this is the case, you could consider exploring the option of used wheelchair parts. There are websites and forums where individuals sell or trade wheelchair components. Ensure that the used parts are in good condition and compatible with your wheelchair before purchasing.
- Consult a Professional
If you’re unsure about the type of part you need or how to install it, it’s wise to consult a professional. A wheelchair technician or mobility equipment specialist can guide you in finding the right part and ensure it’s installed correctly to guarantee your safety and comfort.
How do you know when to replace your wheelchair
When maintenance is no longer an option, it may be time to look for a replacement wheelchair that serves your needs better. Pay attention to these signs, and consult a healthcare specialist if you are unsure:
Physical Wear and Tear
One of the most evident signs that your wheelchair may need replacement is physical wear and tear. This includes:
- Frame Damage: If you notice cracks, bends, or deformities in the frame, it’s a clear indication that your wheelchair is no longer safe to use.
- Rust: Extensive rust on metal components can compromise the structural integrity of the wheelchair.
- Corrosion: If you have a power wheelchair, corrosion on electrical components can lead to malfunction and may indicate it’s time for a replacement.
If your wheelchair is constantly in need of repairs, it can be more cost-effective and convenient to invest in a new one. Frequent breakdowns not only disrupt your mobility but can also lead to safety issues.
Loss of Adjustability
Modern wheelchairs often come with adjustable components to ensure a custom fit for the user. If you find that the wheelchair’s adjustability features are no longer working correctly, it can affect your posture and comfort. In such cases, it might be time for a replacement rather than general maintenance.
Changed Mobility Needs
Your mobility needs may evolve over time. If you initially required a manual wheelchair but now find that a power wheelchair is more suitable, or vice versa, it may be a sign that it’s time to invest in a new wheelchair that better aligns with your current needs.
In the case of power wheelchairs or complex mobility devices, technology can become outdated. Newer models often feature more advanced technology that can enhance your mobility experience. If your current wheelchair lacks important features, it may be time for an upgrade.
Check the user manual or contact the manufacturer of your wheelchair. They often provide guidelines on the expected lifespan of the wheelchair and when it’s advisable to consider replacement.
For more information, advice and guidance or to find like minded individuals, join the Karma community by following Karma Mobility on social media.