Buying a new wheelchair can cost a lot of money. If you are short of funds or if you are going to use it for a short period of time, you can consider buying a used wheelchair.
If you buy a used wheelchair, you can save a decent chunk of change but not knowing what to look for may make you regret your purchase rather than getting your money’s worth from a good deal.
To ensure that you get the most suitable wheelchair to serve their needs even at a low cost, you should consider:
- possible insurance coverage;
- the user’s needs;
- the appropriate wheelchair type for the user;
- the condition of the secondhand wheelchair; and,
- the available sources before buying a used wheelchair.
6 Things to Consider Before Buying a Used Wheelchair
User’s Needs and Capability
When it comes to choosing which type of wheelchair to buy, the wheelchair user’s needs and capability should be the primary consideration. The user’s physical condition, current capacities and skills, and prognosis all provide relevant information on the user’s needs. Self-propelling a wheelchair requires a user to have good cognition, adequate upper body strength, and overall endurance.
Certain health conditions, such as some respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, may not be conducive to self-propelling wheelchairs. In such a case, it is advisable to go for an electric wheelchair.
If the wheelchair user has specific needs, you may opt for a customized wheelchair since a standard wheelchair is not adjustable. For example, users who need constant pressure relief may need to use wheelchair cushions. Users with limited postural control or spasticity may need additional support such as wheelchair headrests, pelvic supports, and lateral trunk supports.
Consult your health practitioner, such as your doctor, nurse, physical therapist, or occupational therapist to ensure that you get the appropriate specifications for your user.
Third-Party Payer Coverage
Before considering buying a used wheelchair, you may consider looking for ways to get a new one with a discount. If you are lucky (or well insured), you might be able to get a wheelchair for free. The first place to look would be federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
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.
Various wheelchairs vary in size, weight, transportability, and customizability, depending on the user’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 not recommended. 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.
- Mobility Scooters are for users 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 users who are obese or have severe spasticity|
To ensure comfort, the wheelchair you will purchase must be a good fit for the user. 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 user:
- 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. If you are fat or obese, you might want to go for a bariatric wheelchair.
- 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 user 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 user needs. If the user 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 user’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 two to three years, with a maximum of five years for manual wheelchairs. However, a wheelchair’s life depends on the usage since it is subject to wear and tear. A wheelchair used for the outdoors will not last as long as one used primarily indoors.
When buying a used wheelchair, perform the following checks:
- Age of the wheelchair – 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.
- Warranty – While it is likely that the warranty is non-transferable, there is no harm in asking. It may be a good idea to check if the product is still covered by warranty and if there is a possibility of it being transferred.
- Wear and tear – 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 and tear, especially in the wheels, carriage and the upholstery.
- Wheel alignment – 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.
- Brakes – Check if the brakes can easily be locked and unlocked.
- Maneuverability – Check if it can be maneuvered easily or independently propelled.
- Electric Wheelchair Checks – If you are buying a power wheelchair, there are some additional checks you should run.
- Check the wires and connectors and the battery box for any sign of corrosion.
- Check the motor housing for any excessive amount of dirt and grease.
- Does the battery hold charge? Replacing a wheelchair battery is a significant expense.
- Ensure that the joystick control is in good condition.
- Lastly, do a test drive to see if it works and is easily maneuvered.
Where can you buy a used wheelchair?
In this day and age, everything could be found on the Internet. Amazon and Ebay can be options. You can also look at sites and forums like Craiglist and Kijiji 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 can look for used wheelchairs at garage sales and thrift stores, medical supplies and equipment stores, and even ask from your networks.
Used Wheelchair FAQs
Do I need a prescription for a wheelchair?
No. However, if you plan to get a wheelchair through insurance, you have to have a prescription from a doctor enrolled in the program (such as Medicare).
How wide is a normal wheelchair?
The width of a standard wheelchair is 26 inches. But when catering for wheelchair width, please keep in mind that for manual wheelchairs, your hands are on the rims and you will need at least a two-inch clearance on either side.
What is the length of a standard wheelchair?