One of the most important factors to consider when buying a new electric wheelchair is its range or how far it can go on a full charge. So, how far can an electric wheelchair go?
The range of different electric wheelchairs varies widely. It can be as short as 9km or as long as 50km. Longer range wheelchairs are generally more expensive.
If you are looking for a powered wheelchair for use just around your home, range is not all that important. As long as it doesn’t go below 8-10km, it should be adequate for your needs. You might even find that you need to charge it just once or twice a week.
If you are more active – going shopping, visiting friends, going to the park, taking long strolls etc. – you need a longer-range wheelchair (at least 16km).
But the range figure manufacturers give does not always translate to real life. A wheelchair with a sticker figure of 20km in range may fall short when you actually use it. This is because there are several factors that affect how far an electric wheelchair can go before it needs a recharge.
Factors affecting electric wheelchair range
Electric wheelchairs normally come with a maximum user weight limit. It’s usually between 200lbs-300lbs though it can go as high as 600lbs in some heavy duty wheelchairs.
But even within the accepted weight range, there’s going to be a difference in how far the battery can last. More weight means that the motor is working harder to push the wheels forward and thus drawing more power from the battery.
Someone weighing 150lbs is going to go much farther than a 250lbs user in the same wheelchair.
Where you drive the wheelchair also affects how quickly the juice is used up. Smooth flat terrain uses less power than hilly or bumpy terrain.
Again it’s all about how hard the motor has to work. It takes more work, and hence more power, to go up a hill or navigate a bumpy path.
A faster wheelchair uses more power and so the battery is going to empty faster. Most powered wheelchairs are Class 2 invalid carriages (based on Department for Transport classification). They have a top speed of 4mph although others can reach 5mph.
If you drive around slowly at 2 or 3mph, the battery is going to last longer than if you drive it at full speed.
If you decide to buy a Class 3 electric wheelchair which is meant for road use, you either have to contend with shorter range or spend more money on a long-range model.
This is because Class 3 wheelchairs can go as fast as 8mph. So they use up more power. Combine it with the rougher and steeper terrain on roads and you have a power guzzler.
4. Battery health
As the battery ages it becomes less efficient, stores less power and reduces in range. A battery that needed charging twice a week 2 years ago may now need daily overnight charging.
Electric wheelchair manufacturers recommend replacing the battery after 12-18 months. Check your wheelchair manual for the recommended replacement period.
Can I upgrade the battery to get more range?
This is a very sensitive topic since you could damage the wheelchair or void the warranty. Tread carefully.
Electric wheelchair batteries are either gel cell or Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM) batteries. If you open the battery pack you’ll find two 12V batteries.
In some cases, you can upgrade the batteries to get more range. For instance you can upgrade from 12Ah batteries to 15Ah batteries (both 12V) since they are the same size. You can also upgrade from 18Ah to 22Ah batteries. Check the label on the battery pack for details on what batteries are used.
Before you upgrade, I strongly recommend you talk to the manufacturer for advice. Ask them whether you can use more powerful batteries and whether that will void the warranty (if there is an active warranty).
Additionally, it’s always best to replace current batteries with others from the same brand and of the same size.
Final verdict: Yes it’s possible in some cases to upgrade the batteries to get more range. But consult the manufacturer and the user manual first and beware that you are doing it at your own risk.