Power Chair vs Mobility Scooter

Power chairs (electric wheelchairs) and mobility scooters are both designed to assist individuals with mobility challenges, but they have different features and are suited for different needs and environments. Here’s a comparison of the two:

Power Chairs (Electric Wheelchairs)


Power chairs have a tighter turning radius and can navigate small spaces more easily, making them suitable for indoor use and tight quarters.


They are typically controlled with a joystick on the armrest, which can be easier for individuals with limited hand strength or dexterity.


They offer more sophisticated seating options, which can be important for individuals who need additional support due to severe disabilities or who spend long periods in their chair.


Many power chairs can be easily customized with various seating adaptations, controls, and other features to accommodate specific disabilities.


Generally have a smaller footprint than mobility scooters, which is better for indoor use.


They are not as easily disassembled for transport; some models are quite heavy and may require a vehicle lift.

How to Operate a Powerchair

Starting Up: The user will typically start the powerchair by pressing a button or flipping a switch on the control panel.
Steering and Movement: The user pushes the joystick in the desired direction to steer the chair. Pushing the joystick forward makes the chair go forward, pulling it back makes the chair reverse, and pushing it to either side turns the chair in that direction.
Speed: The further the joystick is pushed from the center position, the faster the chair will go. Releasing the joystick will bring the chair to a stop. Some models also have a speed setting that can be adjusted to limit the maximum speed.
Safety Features: Powerchairs come with brakes that are typically engaged automatically when the joystick is in the neutral position. They also have anti-tip wheels or features to prevent the chair from tipping over backward.

Mobility Scooters

Mobility scooters are typically designed with a steering tiller (which looks like a bicycle handlebar) and are meant for people who can sit upright without torso support and have the arm and hand strength to steer.

Scooters are generally comfortable for longer periods of sitting and can be a good choice for those who have fatigue issues but do not need the full-time support of a power chair.

Travel Range
They often have a greater travel range on a single battery charge compared to power chairs.

Outdoor Use
Scooters are generally better for outdoor use; they’re built sturdier and can handle a variety of terrains, depending on the model.

Many models can be disassembled into lightweight parts without the need for tools and transported in the trunk of a car.

Generally, mobility scooters are less expensive than power chairs, though this can vary widely based on the features and models chosen.

How to Operate a Mobility Scooter

Turning On: Insert the key into the ignition and turn it to the “on” position, or press the power button if your model is equipped with one.
Engaging the Brakes: Ensure that the brakes are not engaged before starting to move. There might be a lever or switch to release the brakes.
Using the Tiller: The tiller is the steering column in front of you. It has handlebars that you can turn to steer left or right. Get a feel for the tiller by gently turning it both ways.
Speed Setting: Familiarize yourself with the speed controls. Mobility scooters typically have a dial or a switch that allows you to set the maximum speed. Start with a slow setting while you get used to the controls.
Moving: Gently push or pull the lever or twist the throttle on the handle to start moving. The lever is usually on the right-hand side. Pushing it forward will move the scooter forward, and pulling it back will put the scooter into reverse.
While in Motion: To turn the scooter, slowly turn the tiller in the direction you want to go. Always reduce your speed before making a turn to prevent tipping over.
Speed Control: Adjust your speed by varying the pressure on the lever or throttle. The more you push or twist, the faster you will go.
Stopping: To stop, simply release the lever or throttle, and the brakes will engage automatically. For an emergency stop, most scooters also have a brake lever that can be pressed.

Choosing Between the Two

When deciding whether a power chair or mobility scooter is best, consider the following factors:

Mobility Needs: The extent of the user’s mobility limitations and whether they need full-time support.
Indoor vs. Outdoor: Whether the primary use will be indoors, outdoors, or a combination.
Transportation: How you plan to transport the device.
Living Space: The layout and space of the home or areas where the device will be used.
Control Preference: Whether the user has the capability to use a joystick or would prefer handlebar steering.
Range: The distance the user plans to travel without recharging the battery.
Budget: Power chairs can be more expensive, so cost may be a determining factor.

In addition to the primary considerations already outlined, here are some further points to think about when deciding between a power chair and a mobility scooter.

Lifestyle and Usage

Individuals with limited upper body strength may find a joystick easier to operate than a tiller, especially over longer periods.

Social Activities

For those who frequently go out for social gatherings, consider which option will be more convenient for the types of activities you enjoy.


If you plan to travel often, especially by plane, a power chair might be more accepted by airlines, and its compact size can be an advantage.

Storage Space

Assess where the device will be stored when not in use. Power chairs often require more specialized storage conditions due to their size and the electronics involved.

Physical Capacity

Upper Body Strength

Individuals with limited upper body strength may find a joystick easier to operate than a tiller, especially over longer periods.

Posture and Support

Evaluate the need for postural support. Power chairs typically provide more options for customized seating systems that can support good posture, crucial for individuals with spinal issues or other conditions affecting trunk control.


Users with low endurance may find a power chair more suitable as it requires less physical effort to operate and can accommodate additional supportive devices.



For those living in areas with uneven terrain, such as rural locations with gravel or grass, the larger wheels and more robust construction of certain mobility scooters might provide a better option.

Weather Conditions

In regions with frequent rain or snow, the design and durability of the mobility device in weather conditions are important. Power chairs are typically more sensitive to wet conditions, so a mobility scooter with appropriate cover might be more practical.

Home and Workplace Accessibility

The layout of your home and workplace can greatly influence the decision. Narrow doorways, sharp turns, or crowded spaces favour the manoeuvrability of a power chair.

Financial Considerations

Insurance Coverage

Insurance plans, understanding what your insurance will cover can significantly affect the out-of-pocket cost.

Resale Value

Consider the resale value if you anticipate the need for the mobility device to be temporary. Some models and brands may have better resale value based on demand and reputation.

Maintenance Costs

Look into the long-term maintenance costs. Power chairs may have higher maintenance costs due to their complexity.

Funding Assistance

Investigate if there are any grants, charities, or other types of funding assistance available in your region that might make one option more financially viable than the other.

Choosing between a power chair and a mobility scooter is a decision that should be based on a comprehensive assessment of needs. It often helps to try out both types of devices in a real-world setting to see which feels more comfortable and suits the intended use. Consulting with professionals who have expertise in mobility aids can provide personalized advice and help ensure that the choice made enhances the user’s quality of life and independence.

Photo by Grab on Unsplash
Sandra Ainsworth
Sandra Ainsworth

Enthusiastic tramper with a fondness for writing about subjects which are close to my heart.

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