Wheelchair Care and Maintenance
Modern designs allow a wheelchair or scooter to be tweaked for the ultimate comfort and individual requirements of the user. And there are fewer things to go wrong. Bad batteries, bent wheel rims and failed bearings -- the three Bs of wheelchair repair -- have virtually become problems of the past.
Front casters wheels and forks
Check that the caster wheels spin freely. If not, the problem may be due to hair and other debris caught in the bearing. The wheel usually must be removed to clean the bearing. Check for noises coming from the bearing; a good bearing should be silent. Caster bearings take a beating because they are so close to the ground and pick up dirt and water. The caster stem bearing that supports the fork pivot should turn easily, but should not be so loose that the caster wheel flutters from side to side at high speed. Check that the stem bearing barrel is perpendicular to the floor. If not, the caster will have difficulty turning. Check that the stem caps are in place; they keep water and dirt out. Check that the forks are not bent.
Glide test for manual wheelchairs
Find a smooth level floor such as in a supermarket. Push the chair and let it glide. It should go a long way in a straight line. If not, bearings may be bad or the wheels and casters may be out of alignment. Listen for noisy bearings. If the rear wheels are cambered with a connecting axle, the axle needs to be adjusted so that the wheels are parallel. Otherwise the wheels will have excessive friction.
Wheel locks and electric brakes
Check manual wheel locks for slippage with tires inflated to the correct pressure. The locks should operate easily. If not, the pivots may need lubrication. The pivots need to be tight enough that the wheel lock stays in place when released. If not, the wheel lock will drag against the tire, resulting in wear and wasted effort. Electric brakes for power wheelchairs need to be checked to ensure that they stop the wheelchair without veering and that they hold on a slope.
Check that the footrests are not bent and are at the proper height. Check that the latches hold securely.
Check that the seat cushion is not bottoming out. The air level in inflatable cushions needs to be checked frequently. Gel cushions need to be massaged periodically to keep the gel from settling into hard lumps. Check cushion covers, especially on air cushions since air cushions will not work without a proper cover. Check sling seats and backs for tears and sags.
Check that rear wheels on manual chairs spin freely without wobble. Check for loose and broken spokes. Check quick release axle pins. They should release easily. The axle pins should be adjusted so that they are slightly loose when in place to ensure that the locking mechanism is fully engaged. Always check that the wheel is locked firmly in place after mounting a wheel.
Electrical problems on power wheelchairs
If you have electrical problems, note which side it affects. If the lights on the joystick box are flashing, note carefully the pattern; they signify an error code, usually by the number of lights or the number of blinks.
Listen for unusual noises coming from the motor or gearbox. Check drive belts for slippage and wear. Check for jerking motion of the chair; this indicates serious problems.
Check that the joystick returns freely to neutral without binding. Check that the seal on the joystick is intact; it keeps dirt and water out. Check that all switches and controls are tightly in place. Check that the joystick clamp holds the joystick firmly in place.
For easier handling of wheelchair maintenance, repair and emergencies, keep a card with your chair at all times that includes the following information:
* Your name, address and phone number (in case of an accident).
* Your doctor's name and phone number (in case of an accident).
* The names and phone numbers of relatives or friends to be contacted in case of an accident.
* The make and model number of your wheelchair.
* The manufacturer's toll-free number.
* The name and phone number of your local repair facility.
* The phone number of a mobile repair firm, if there is one in your area.
* The phone number of a local wheelchair transport service (in case you're stranded while out of the house).
* Your insurance policy number and related information.
* Your insurance company's phone number for any necessary authorization.
If you're going to be alone in your wheelchair or scooter anywhere you can get stranded, let people know ahead of time where you're going and when you expect to be back. In such cases, it's also wise to have a cellular telephone along in case you need to call for assistance.
Tape a piece of paper in plain sight somewhere on your wheelchair to remind you when it's time to stop by your wheelchair maintenance facility for a six-month checkup on your chair or scooter. Another way to help remember your twice-a-year maintenance schedule is to peg the two visits to a couple of special events that are roughly six months apart -- perhaps your birthday and some holiday such as the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.