Keep That Wheelchair Rolling
Wheelchairs are a little like cars—if they have tune-ups at regular intervals, you can extend the life of a wheelchair while reducing overall repair costs. Oftentimes, you will be the first to notice any problems or changes in the functionality of your wheelchair.
That’s why you should be responsible for the maintenance schedule for your wheelchair.
Fortunately, it is not complicated for you to service many parts on your manual wheelchair. To help yourself in the long run, develop a regular preventative maintenance routine, which involves cleaning, inspecting and adjusting all critical components of your wheelchair and seating system. Start by wiping it down with a clean, damp rag on a regular basis. Applying car wax to the frame can make it easier to perform routine cleanings.
If you are a child or young adult, you can learn to do some things such as clean the wheelchair and make sure that your bolts are tight. Those with limited upper arm strength should ask for help from a family member or other caregiver.
The owner’s manual is a critical resource that holds important information regarding which parts are warrantied and for how long, how to take care of your wheelchair, and which tools are necessary to maintain it.
Performing routine wheelchair maintenance may give you a sense of confidence in its performance, safety and reliability. Here are suggested maintenance tasks that every wheelchair owner should follow:
- Nuts & Bolts: Check no less than once a month for loose nuts and bolts. Do not substitute damaged nuts and bolts with those of alternative grades and configurations.
- Check that leg rests, footrests, armrests, and backrests can be released (if originally designed to do so) and put back into place with ease.
- If you have a folding wheelchair, ensure that it opens and folds easily.
- All pivot points on the chair need to be lubricated, such as where the front casters turn.
- Ball bearings will also need lubrication. However, most manual wheelchairs have sealed bearings or wipers to discourage water and dirt from damaging them. Bearings require special care and should be serviced by a trained specialist.
- The wheelchair frame should be inspected for cracks, especially in areas that sustain significant stress, such as the cross-brace of a folding wheelchair and the caster housing. A crack can be a serious threat to safety and should be tended to immediately.
- Quick-release axles should slide through the axle housing smoothly and “click” into place, or if threaded like a screw, should thread easily and latch properly. No squeaking, binding or excessive side-to-side motion should be present when rolling.
- Keeping the axle housing clean of debris can help ensure that it functions properly.
- Check your wheel alignment monthly.
- Inspect your wheels weekly to ensure that spokes from the axle to the rim are intact, that rims are not bent and that your wheels are parallel to one another.
- The front casters should be inspected and repaired in the same manner as the rear wheels. There should be no wobbling of the caster wheel, no excessive play in the caster spindle, and the caster housing should be aligned vertically.
- Be sure you have the right pressure in your tire tube as indicated on the side of the tire.
- Replace tires when the tread becomes worn, cracked, loose or when the side walls begin to bulge out when pumped with air. Check that wheel locks (brakes) are secured tightly to the frame and that they hold tires firmly in place and are easily activated. Make adjustments if they interfere with the tire while rolling as this can cause undue wear and tear.
Depending on how much you demand of your wheelchair will determine how often your maintenance routine should be performed. Climate, environment and wheelchair type will also dictate how often it should be serviced. It is recommended that while many maintenance tasks can be performed at home, the wheelchair should still be taken periodically to an authorized service center for a routine check-up.