Buying a Used Wheelchair? 6 Things You Must Know Before Buying One

Buying a new wheelchair might not be the best for your pocket and getting one secondhand may be a better option. While this may save you from spending a lot of money, not knowing what to look for may make you regret your purchase rather than getting your money’s worth from a good deal.

6 Things You Must Know When Buying Used Wheelchairs Infographic
6 Things You Must Know When Buying Used Wheelchairs Infographic

To ensure that they get the most suitable wheelchair to serve their needs even at a low cost, buyers should consider:

  • possible insurance coverage;
  • the client’s needs;
  • the appropriate wheelchair type for the client;
  • the condition of the secondhand wheelchair; and,
  • the available sources before buying a used wheelchair.

6 Things to Consider Before Buying Used Wheelchair

Third-Party Payer Coverage

Before considering buying a secondhand wheelchair, you may consider looking for ways to get a new one with a discount or even get it for free. You may look into federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid as your senior or loved one with a disability may be covered by these programs.

Both Medicare (Part B) and Medicaid recognize wheelchairs as durable medical equipment (DME) and may provide coverage for it. Power wheelchairs are only considered as DMEs if they are medically necessary. If you get approved, you only have to pay 20% of the cost or the allowable amount.

 For your wheelchair to be covered:

  • Your loved one must have a face-to-face assessment/examination with a doctor
  • There must be a written prescription from the doctor
  • The doctor must be enrolled in Medicare/Medicaid
  • The DME supplier must be enrolled in Medicare/Medicaid

Visit Medicaid and Medicare’s website to know more. Private insurance, state-based non-Medicaid programs, veteran’s assistance, non-profit organizations, and foundations also provide financial assistance programs.

Client Needs and Capacities

The client’s condition, current capacities and skills, and prognosis all provide relevant information on the client’s needs. Self-propelling a wheelchair requires a client to have good cognition, adequate upper extremity strength, and overall endurance.

Certain conditions, such as some respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, maybe contraindicated against propelling wheelchairs and may benefit more from powered wheelchairs.

If your client has specific needs, you may opt for a customized wheelchair since a standard wheelchair is not adjustable. For example, clients who need constant pressure relief may need seat and cushion customization. Clients with limited postural control or spasticity may need additional support such as headrests, pelvic supports, and lateral trunk supports.

 Consult your health practitioners, such as your doctor, nurse, physical therapist, and occupational therapist to ensure that you get the appropriate specifications for your client.

Wheelchair Type

Various wheelchairs vary in size, weight, transportability, and customizability, depending on the client’s needs.

  • Transporter or travel wheelchairs are designed to be pushed by caregivers. They have smaller rear wheels, which makes them light and portable but cannot be manually propelled. They are for temporary use or short distances.
  • Power wheelchairs are for people who cannot propel wheelchairs by themselves or for whom propelling is contraindicated. They are controlled using joysticks. Alternative controls are also available, such as sip and puff system, head, chin, and tongue-controlled wheelchairs. Multiple seating options are also available (e.g., reclining, tilting, standing) to suit the user’s needs.
  • Scooters are for clients with limited walking ability. They are steered with a tiller and usually have 3 or 4 wheels. They do not look like wheelchairs and are more challenging to navigate than power wheelchairs. Scooters also have a large turning radius, which may make transfers easier.
  • Manual wheelchairs, on the other hand, can be self-propelled or attendant/caregiver propelled. They can alternatively be propelled using both feet, or one foot and on hand. Below is a guide for the different types of manual wheelchairs and their specifications:


Wheelchair type Medicare Product Code Weight Features
Standard K0001 ~35 lb. Foldable, seat and back are sling upholstery, rear axle is fixed; have limited adjustability
Lightweight K0003 <35 lb. Features similar to standard
Ultra-lightweight K0005 <30 lb. Rigid or folding frame types are available; both foldable for transport
Heavy duty K0006, K0007 >250 lb., >350 lb. Designed to be more durable for clients who are obese or have severe spasticity

Wheelchair Fit

To ensure comfort, the wheelchair you will purchase must be a good fit for the client. While physical and occupational therapists usually do wheelchair fit and assessment, you may use this guide to see if the secondhand wheelchair that you will be buying is the best fit for the client:

  • Seat width: There must be ample space between the thighs and the chair. The allowance provides clearance between the thighs and the chair and allows ease in repositioning and transfers.
  • Seat depth: there must be a space between the back of the knee and the seat edge to prevent blood circulation and movement from being restricted. Additional space may be needed if the client will self-proper with the feet.
  • Seat height: footrests must be two-inches from the floor for clearance. When checking for this, make sure that additional seating such as cushions is taken into consideration. The goal is to keep the thighs parallel to the floor with the feet comfortably resting on the footrests.
  • Seat-back height: the back seat must provide the necessary support the client needs. If the client will self-propel, the back support must be low enough to ease upper extremity movement while still providing enough back support.
  • Armrest height: an armrest that is too high may cause the client’s shoulder to be elevated or stooped, while an armrest that is too low may cause leaning. The optimal height for armrests not only provides support to the arms. It also helps maintain good posture and provides leverage for pushing the self up during pressure release.

Condition of the Wheelchair

Wheelchairs have an average lifespan of 2-3 years, with a maximum of 5 years for manual wheelchairs. However, it still depends on the usage since the wheelchair is subject to wear and tear.

It is essential to check for the age of the product and how frequently it was used. It is also good to look for manuals and receipts. While it is likely that the warranty is non-transferable, it may be a good idea to check if the product is still covered by warranty.

When purchasing, it is vital to check the general condition of the wheelchair. Check if parts could easily be moved, removed, and returned. Check for wear in the material, especially in the upholstery.

Check if the caster wheels (the small wheels in front) are still aligned and if the rear wheels and the steel or aluminum frames have no rust and damage. Check if the brakes can easily be locked and unlocked. Lastly, check if it can be maneuvered easily or independently propelled.

If the wheelchair is electric-powered, check the wires and connectors and the battery box for any sign of corrosion. Also check the motor housing for any excessive amount of dirt and grease. Ensure that the joystick control is in good condition. Lastly, do a test drive to see if it works and is easily maneuvered.


In this day and age, everything could be found on the Internet. Amazon can be an option. You can also look into sites and forums where secondhand equipment is being sold.

If buying online is not an option for you, there are many other good sources to look for wheelchairs. You may ask from your networks, visit garage sales and thrift stores, of check medical supplies and equipment stores.


Q: Do I need a prescription for a wheelchair?

No. However, if you plan to have the wheelchair covered by insurance, you have to have a prescription from a doctor enrolled in the program (such as Medicare).

Q: What is the width of a standard wheelchair?

A: 26 inches.

Q: what is the length of a standard wheelchair?

A: 42 inches.


About Rachel Ann

Rachel Ann Tee-Melegrito is a licensed Occupational Therapist in the Philippines and in the United States. She has a Masters in Education with a major in Child Development and Education. She currently teaches at one of the top 4 universities in the Philippines. An INFJ-T, Rachel is introverted yet idealistic, a perfectionist yet also a sensitive, empathetic person. She is a creative individual who loves learning, reading, designing, and writing. She lives in the Philippines with Kenn, her husband, Cali, their daughter, and Pepper, their Mini Schnauzer.