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Choose Your Power Wheelchair Drive

Choose Your Power Wheelchair Drive
Kevin Cleary

Just as people come in a multitude of flavors, so do wheelchairs (especially power wheelchairs). Yes, they all do the same primary task of transporting the user from point A to point B, but there can be drastically different characteristics of each. In order to make the proper decision in choosing a wheelchair that is right for you and your lifestyle, you need to know what the specific differences of each type of wheel drive and configuration. We here at HPFY can give you the rundown on your options to help you choose.

What are the Key Components of Power Wheelchair?

Understanding your wheelchair (power or manual) is quite important since it will be your prime mode of mobility. By knowing the ins and outs of your chair, you can potentially avoid breakdowns or expensive service calls. Regardless of what power wheelchair you may own, there are some common parts to the drive system that each chair shares. These parts include, but are not limited to:

  • Electric motors: Obviously, these are the main part of the drive system that causes the chair to go forward, backward, or anywhere else you want to roam.
  • Joystick: Most power wheelchair users can use a stick-style joystick, but for those who may have diminished fine motor skills options can include a goalpost joystick. These look just like a football goalpost where the user can rest their hand and manipulate the chair without the need for grasping the joystick. Also, some users may require the need of a head array that uses touch pads in the headrest to direct the chair where they would like to go.
  • Caster wheels: The electric motors are usually connected directly to the larger wheels on the wheelchair and these smaller caster wheels are used to stabilize the unit. They can be in front or in the rear and even both. These usually have an independent suspension that allows the chair to go over rough terrain and obstacles more smoothly.
  • Control module: This is the electronic brains of the power wheelchair. It takes the input from the joystick/head array and determines which electric motor/drive wheel should be activated and in which direction. Often, these can control any optional power seating options the chair may have (tilt, recline, or even leg extensions).

What are the Drive options available in Power Wheelchairs?

Power wheelchairs are not all created equal. There are different specifications and styles to each one. Knowing and understanding the differences in the setup of the wheel drive of your power wheelchair will go a long way in helping you make the correct decision. There are three main types of power wheelchair drives, and they are:


In this configuration, the drive wheels are located towards the front of the seat. Obviously, with the drive wheels up front the casters are located in the rear. Front-wheel-drive power wheelchairs usually can handle a curbing of 2 inches. They can be a stable ride whether traversing uphill or downhill when the batteries are located towards the rear to counterbalance any weight that is forward due to the electric motors. The turning radius of a front-wheel-drive wheelchair can be slightly larger and susceptible to fishtailing.

Mid-Wheel Drive

These have the electric motors and drive wheels located under the seat and is often referred to as a center drive chair. Of the three different types of drives, this set up has probably the tightest turning radius, which can be a selling point for those who live in an apartment or any tight surroundings. One downside is that it may make traversing rough terrain slightly more difficult since it could possibly sink or lose traction over loose impediments. These type of chairs are usually transported with a handicapped accessible van and sometimes have a weight limit of 600 pounds.

Pride Jazzy 614 HD Power Chair
Pride Jazzy 614 HD Power Chair

Rear-Wheel Drive

This style of wheelchair drive has the casters upfront and the drive wheels located in the rear. While traveling at higher speeds, this type of drive allows for greater mobility, but it does have a larger turning radius. One other plus is that rear-wheel drive setups have directional stability which means it is less susceptible to over steering and tracks straighter naturally all while handling rougher, outdoor terrain.

By understanding the pros and cons of each type of drive system can help you determine what type of power wheelchair may be beneficial to your situation and lifestyle. Your physical therapist can measure you to assure that the chair is fitted to you and that any features on the chair are appropriate for your physical abilities and safety.

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Disclaimer: All content found on our website, including images, videos, infographics and text were created solely for informational purposes. Our content should never be used for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions. Content shared on our websites is not meant to be used as a substitute for advice from a certified medical professional. Reliance on the information provided on our website as a basis for patient treatment is solely at your own risk. We urge all our customers to always consult a physician or a certified medical professional before trying or using a new medical product.

HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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