Mobility Scooter vs. Electric Wheelchair: 11 Differences

When it comes to personal mobility devices, there are often a lot of questions about the differences between mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs. 

While both types of devices can help individuals with mobility issues get around, there are several key differences between the two.

Understanding the alternatives can help you decide which type of device is right for you or a loved one. 

Whether you are looking for a way to navigate your neighborhood, go shopping, or simply get around your home, there is a mobility solution for you. 

So let’s take a closer look at the 10 differences between mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mobility scooters are usually the choice for people that can walk, but not for long periods of time
  • Electric wheelchairs are most commonly the option for people that can’t walk
  • Mobility scooters are better for outdoor use and usually have longer ranges
  • Electric wheelchairs are better for indoor mobility because of their design and turn radius
  • Mobility scooters tend to be disassemblable and easier to transport by car
  • Electric wheelchairs frequently have shorter ranges

1. Handle Bar or Tiller

The first noticeable difference between most scooters and wheelchairs is that the former have a handlebar up front that’s commonly called the “tiller”.

In the tiller, you will find most of the controls for the vehicle, and even in many cases, a basket for carrying goods attached in front of it.

Electric wheelchairs, on the contrary, have all their controls in the armrests and no structure in front of the user.

2. Controls

Mobility scooters are steered by moving the tiller, which requires the ability to move at least one hand.

Electric wheelchairs are controlled with a joystick placed on the armrest.

Both kinds of devices commonly have speed limiters that allow you to set up a maximum level of power for the throttle.

While the forward speed on an electric wheelchair is controlled by the same joystick used to steer, on mobility scooters, there’s a “potentiometer” where you grip the tiller that lets you regulate the speed based on the pressure you exert.

3. Design

The designs for both these mobility devices are noticeably different.

As I mentioned earlier, electric wheelchairs are open on the front, which allows the user for easier access, especially for those who can’t walk.

This open design also facilitates seating at a table or a desk.

Mobility scooters have a frontal pillar where the tiller is attached which limits some of the possibilities mentioned above.

4. Movement and Turning Radius

Electric wheelchairs have a noticeably better turning radius, that even lets the user turn around over their axis because their back wheels have the ability to spin in opposite directions.

Mobility scooters have wider turning radii, being the units with 3 wheels better at this than 4-wheelers.

The movement of an electric wheelchair tends to be finer and better controllable by their joysticks.

This is what makes them a better choice for indoor use, especially in close quarters.

5. Stability

Electric wheelchairs have a lower center of gravity and, in many cases, caster wheels that make them extra stable.

Also, their design takes into consideration that their users probably have to lean on them to get in or out.

Mobility scooters, especially 3-wheel variants, are considerably more unstable, and can even tip over if turning at high speeds.

These devices are mostly designed for people that can, in fact, walk, and that is able to climb on and off of them without having to lean too much over them.

6. Quantity of Motors

While mobility scooters commonly have only one motor, electric wheelchairs usually come with two motors.

This is a feature that allows their back wheels to spin in opposite directions and make the chair rotate in place.

Again, I’m not saying this is unique to wheelchairs, there are also scooters with this zero-turn capability, but it’s not usually the norm in all models.

7. Most Common Users

As I mentioned earlier, the most common users of electric wheelchairs are those who can’t walk, while mobility scooters are usually preferred by people that can walk but not for long distances, or stand up for longer periods of time.

This is, however, not an absolute truth, as there are many people that don’t match this observation.

Every use case and person is different, and I encourage you to talk with a professional to define what can work out better for you.

8. Most Common Use Cases

Carrying some relation with the last point, the use cases for both these kinds of devices tend to be slightly different, although, of course, there’s a lot of overlap between them.

Usually, electric wheelchairs are preferred for indoor usage, mostly in small rooms or narrow hallways, because their enhanced maneuverability is of great help.

Mobility scooters tend to be preferred for medium to long-distance displacements, likely outdoors, and or inside big stores.

Also, it’s very common for people that can’t stand up or walk for long periods of time to rent a scooter while at amusement parks or other physical tourist destinations.

9. Disassembly

Although there are electric wheelchairs that disassemble, it’s a feature that’s most commonly found on mobility scooters, and one you can rely on that most insurance-covered units have.

Why is this characteristic so important you might be asking?

Well, transportation is the answer.

If you need to take your mobility vehicle with you on a trip, or in your daily commute, a mobility scooter will be easier to fit, after being disassembled, in most vehicles.

10. Performance on Difficult Terrains

Since mobility scooters are designed for more outdoor use, they tend to be slightly better over harsh terrains and have higher clearance.

This will vary greatly, however, from model to model, and there can be electric wheelchairs of comparable price points that overperform some scooters in this matter.

This said, most affordable units, no matter if they are scooters or wheelchairs, are usually not well-equipped for moving over rough surfaces, and you should avoid doing so for your own safety.

11. Range

Mobility scooters habitually come with bigger batteries that allow them to go for longer distances before needing a recharge.

While is not unheard of that a scooter could travel up to 40 miles with a single charge on a flat surface, electric wheelchairs tend to have a range of less than half of that, at around 15 miles.

There are many factors, however, that can influence the range of the vehicle, such as terrain incline, weight, and condition of the battery.

Most mobility vehicles require 8 to 14 hours to be charged fully.

Which One Should You Get?

Although I believe you probably have a clearer idea of how these mobility devices differentiate from each other, I think it’s a good idea to give you a few pointers in case you still can’t decide on one over the other.

  • If you depend on a vehicle for your mobility, an electric wheelchair might be the better option
  • If you need a mobility assistance device only for specific use cases, perhaps a mobility scooter can be a better alternative
  • If you plan to use your aid mostly indoors, an electric wheelchair could be better
  • If you intend on using your vehicle mostly outdoors, a mobility scooter is the better choice
  • If your house has tight hallways and small rooms with little space for a wider turning radius, an electric wheelchair is a better alternative
  • If you need to transport your mobility device by car, scooters are customarily a better alternative since they can be disassembled

All the claims made in this article are only for informational purposes, based on the writer’s experience and not clinical advice. You should always consult your physician or physical therapist if you have any doubts about how this applies to your specific case.