It is extremely important to take care of your manual wheelchair regularly, not only for it to perform as required but also to assure the safety, comfort and good health of the wheelchair user.
Maintenance of manual wheelchairs is based on models, brands, and other aspects of its purpose (daily use vs. sports activities use, for example).
The maintenance time will vary in many aspects from 3-5 months for seats and footrests, every month for air pressure on tires, or annual check-ups with dealers and others.
Accidents or random broken pieces are also triggers for immediate evaluation and maintenance.
So, the more familiarized you are with your wheelchair, the better.
The user is the best source of vital information about the conditions of a wheelchair daily (if the wheelchair user can communicate with no issues).
The caregiver must pay close attention to the wheelchair conditions for the users who require special care and cannot communicate at this level.
Have A Set Of Tools Ready for Maintenance or Emergencies
Minor accidents, like flat tires, missing screws or washers, wheels not spinning freely, etc.
Many of these issues can be easily taken care of by the wheelchair user or the caregiver.
But the best thing to do here is to have your prevention hat on instead of jumping on fixing broken pieces or replacing missing parts, etc.
Preventive maintenance is king and will save you money, keep the wheelchair user safe and comfortable every day.
The tools you will need to perform good preventive maintenance or an emergency repair will depend on the model of the wheelchair.
The instruction manual certainly list the tools you will need, but they are close to this list here, with few exceptions:
- Phillips screwdriver
- Crescent wrench
- Flathead screwdriver
- Allen wrenches ( also known as Hex keys)
- Spoke wrench (also known as spoke key)
- Tire pump. The same type is used on bicycles. Electric or manual
- All-purpose silicone-based lubricant (you can find it as a spray as well)
- Extra/spare inner tube (just in case. Prevention, remember? I would take one on a trip, for example)
If you are not used to tools or wrenches, you may find this overwhelming. But in fact, it is not.
You can put it all in a small toolbox that you can always have ready, just like a first-aid kit.
Even if you are not good with DIY projects, having the tool kit ready to go will make your life a lot easier if somebody needs it to help you solve an issue with your chair.
You may not solve all the problems or perform all maintenance items listed here, but I hope I can help with some ideas.
This is a very important item that you must take good care of as a wheelchair user or caregiver.
You can have it in a special slot in your maintenance toolbox or even in the wheelchair.
As long as you know, it is a safe place, easy to remember, so you can refer to it when you need it.
You will certainly check your instructions manual if you need to perform maintenance, or an emergency repair, or need to contact the dealer or manufacturer for some reason.
Reading the manual (I know… it is boring, a pain…) is important.
A wheelchair is not quite like a bicycle, despite the mechanic similarities.
It is extremely important to its users, a lot more for some than others, providing mobility and freedom every day.
For that noble reason, wheelchairs must be safe and comfortable… always. The instructions manual has the information you need to make sure the wheelchair is in its best shape.
Basic Wheelchair Maintenance Checklist
Let’s look at some key points you can check in a wheelchair as a user (or caregiver) that can be performed at home to improve the chair’s performance and comfort.
Again, this will vary depending on the model of your wheelchair, but these points here is a good basic list you can follow:
Wheel locks / Brakes
Front wheels (Casters)
Align this with your manual and confirm the following frequency to perform the maintenance check and execution.
Let’s check each of these items a little deeper and understand how to perform:
The name of this item is a little deceiving, I think.
Let’s take bicycle breaks, for example.
You know that the biker will apply the brakes to slow down the bicycle to get to a slower speed or go down to a complete stop ahead.
The wheelchair brake is not meant to be used the same way.
It is used with the wheelchair already in place, stationary, and not moving.
Then, and only then, you apply the wheelchair brake or wheelchair lock.
For this reason, most likely, “Wheel Locks” is a more appropriate name for that.
Anyway, you got the point.
But it is a good discussion, which brings up the idea of good use of the item.
So, if you are using wheelchair locks (or wheelchair brakes) to slow down the ride, you are not making good use of it, which could lead to accidents or broken locks.
The most common locks are known as push locks or pull locks.
Designed with a lever that the wheelchair user pulls or pushes, which moves a bar against the tire to keep the chair stationary.
Check breaks/locks every week.
They are very important to be forgotten on a monthly check (or longer)
Check the manual for the best way to loosen up the breaks (if they are holding the wheels too much, not allowing it to spin freely), or check if they need to be tightened up.
The manual will also show you where to take your wheelchair for locks repair if needed, or you can also ask for assistance at a bicycle shop if you are looking for an adjustment that you cannot do yourself.
These are the small wheels close to your feet, also known as caster wheels.
Despite the size, not many people know how important they are unless you are a wheelchair user.
They certainly know.
Casters are extremely important as they give the wheelchair user (or caregiver) to maneuver the chair in any direction.
So, a lack of maintenance on casters will lead to mobility issues that can be avoided.
If you notice that the castor wheels vibrate from side to side at a certain speed, it means it is time (more than time) for maintenance.
This is known as caster flutter.
Very noticeable, not only with the movement of the castor wheels from side to side but also with the sound caused by the vibration.
Depending on what you can detect in a visual inspection, it might not be a simple repair to do yourself.
Check for clear signs of damaged forks or steams.
These are the parts that support the castor wheels.
Like you would see on a bicycle fork, something is out of place, smashed, or misaligned.
In case you confirm fork misalignments or damages, talk to a professional.
You can do nothing with your maintenance tool kit for a 100% repair on that.
If you see that the forks, stems, and support parts are ok, check the castor wheels.
If they are pretty old, very dirty inside close to the axel, rusty ball bearings, then you should consider buying a new pair of castor wheels.
This is a type of repair you can do yourself.
Replacements are very easy to do.
Just follow the instructions from either your manual or the instructions from the castor wheels vendor.
Replace the castor tires entirely if they are worn.
Visual inspections on tires are easy to do, as you are looking for clear signs of wear and tear or even an emergency repair on the “classic” flat tire situation.
I would not suggest fixing a flat tire, but instead, take it to a dealer or bicycle shop so they can fix it for you.
It is a cheap repair (not so easy to do it yourself).
You can try to do it yourself if you are comfortable handling this, and your tire is clearly in good condition. So you can replace the inner tube with no problems.
Click here to check our article about wheelchair tires.
Replace the wheelchair tires entirely if they are worn.
If you decide to buy new tires, think about your daily routines and what you have in mind to determine how useful it would be to change the type of tires.
There are numerous types in the market, from all-terrain tires to lighter ones, for speed, sports, wider, etc.… it will depend on your goals and lifestyle.
These are items that you must always have in your emergency kit.
You never know when you will need one, and – Murphy’s Law – you will need one exactly when you do not want problems with a flat tire.
Nobody wants to look for bicycle shops in a vacation getaway, for sure not.
Zero. It requires no skills to identify the issue, and there is no maintenance to be done.
Flat tires (the pneumatic tires) can easily be resolved by replacing the inner tubes. So, make sure you have handy, ready to use, whenever.
This is a very important part of the wheelchair, not only for safety but comfort as well.
It keeps the wheelchair user’s arms resting on a higher spot than the legs’ line, the seat.
This position provides great conform to the user, eliminating fatigue on arms and shoulders, improving posture.
In your visual inspection, look for signs of cracks in the structure of the wheelchair arms and also on the pads, where the user’s arms rest.
Even the most comfortable armrests tend to lose quality on their pads, getting harder or cracked due to daily use, exposure to climate conditions, etc.
Consider replacing armrest pads.
There is a wide variety of cushioned armrests in the market that you can choose from.
You can do the replacement yourself with a toolbox, instructions from the armrest package, or you’re manual.
Another very important part of the wheelchair is for safety and comfort.
This position provides great conform to the user, eliminating fatigue on arms, neck, and shoulders and supporting posture.
When doing your visual inspection, look for cracks in the structure of the wheelchair that holds the back support, and on the back support itself, make sure you confirm if there are no clear signs of damage or misalignment.
If you see clear signs of damage, the best advice is to look for a professional or repair shop.
Now, if you are looking for more comfort, consider checking for lumbar support devices.
You can find good alternatives in the market to help you improve your posture in the chair.
A good part of the problems that wheelchair users’ problems happen in the lumbar area.
Lumbar support in that area is a great relief for many users.
You can search for alternatives for lumbar support that are placed in the lower part of the wheelchair back support, connecting to the seat.
Seats MUST be comfortable.
If the seat from the factory is not comfortable enough, you can easily find alternatives to make it happen with the numerous types of seat cushions on sale everywhere.
Check for visual signs of seat rail damage.
You can replace damaged rail guides if you find one. Very easy detachable parts of the chair.
To clean the wheelchair seat, you can vacuum it very thoroughly.
Washing vinyl seats are good too, and you can use detergent and water (dilute the detergent in water 50/50). You can clean leather with a damp cloth.
The frame of the chair has to be inspected from time to time.
Check it every month or time you notice something or a different noise here and there. Regardless, always follow your instruction manual for your inspections.
In your visual inspection, look for signs of cracks in the entire structure of the chair.
Like you are looking for broken or cracked bones in a skeleton.
Cracks on any part of a wheelchair structure are extremely dangerous, and lack of maintenance or inability to identify such problems can lead to serious accidents and injuries.
So, if you can see cracks in any part of the chair structure, talk to your dealer or designated repair shop.
Please take photos of the bad spot and send them via email to communicate with your contact this way.
In some cases, your wheelchair must be retained for a few days to repair or possibly be entirely replaced based on the severity of the damage.
Do not use the wheelchair if this kind of damage is visible unless a professional gives you the green light to do so.
Footrests are great for wheelchair users to relieve pain, reduce pressure points, fatigue, and other issues.
Check if footrests are for proper positioning and alignment.
Both should be perfectly aligned to avoid problems to the wheelchair user having one foot higher than the other, which may cause back pain and other problems.
Loose bolts could cause misalignments.
Loosen up the bolts, align the footrests and then tighten up the bolts with the footrests in the right position.
Severely bent (or bent) footrests may require a replacement, easy to perform.
Not all wheelchairs come with leg rests.
But there are many legs rests in the market that can be acquired as an optional item to your wheelchair.
These are great items to help relieve pain, help with treatments on poor circulation in the legs, and other issues.
Check for clear upholstery damage.
Clean the surface with a damp cloth or mild detergent once a week or when required immediately.
Always keep them dry and clean.
Check for clear signs of damage to latches or loose bolts.
Quick fix on tightening them up.
Depending on the damage, you might need to consider a replacement.
Talk to your vendor and check your warranty details to confirm if you are eligible for a new one at no or minimum cost.
Keep your wheelchair sparkling and very comfortable.
It is easier to keep a wheelchair safe when clean and well taken care of.
Keep in mind that when we mention “Comfort,” we are not only referring to pads and fluffy parts.
Silicone-based lubricants are a major part of it.
It will make sure your wheelchair not only moves but “glides.” You will enjoy a smooth ride for sure.
It would be best not to push a wheelchair 100% of the time. You should move it from speed zero and then enjoy the ride.
The chair carries the user, not the other way around, right?!
When you take the wheel off the floor for a spin test pushing it with your hand, the wheel should keep spinning for a long, long time before stopping by itself, with almost zero friction.
Your arms and body will thank you for that.