Wheelchairs vs. Mobility Scooters – What’s The Difference?

As we grow old, our mobility naturally starts to decline, and it becomes a bit challenging to get around. A majority of senior citizens experience health issues like dementia, mini-strokes and other disabilities that affect their ability to walk properly. The good news is that with the assistance of mobility aids, older folks with limited mobility can move from one point to another freely and easily. There is a diverse range of mobility aids available, but mobility scooters and power wheelchairs represent two of the most popular aids. The debate between mobility scooters and power wheelchairs has raged on for years. While some seniors prefer a wheelchair, the rest are loyal to their scooter. Others have a problem choosing between the two. Mobility vehicles come in many designs, shapes and sizes and they’re all equipped with handy features for just any situation. They enable senior citizens to remain active in their community without interfering with their independence.

Now here’s the problem: the many brands and models of both mobility scooters and power wheelchairs on the market makes picking the right one a confusing task. You can adversely halt your freedom and flexibility if you don’t get yourself the proper mobility aid. To help you narrow down your choices and make an educated decision, we have prepared a detailed review of both mobility scooters and power wheelchairs. Understanding the differences in comfort, limitations and performance between the two will help you figure out which mobility aid best suits your budget, lifestyle and living space.

Let’s kick off with power wheelchairs.

Power Wheelchairs

Unlike standard fold-away wheelchairs usually offered at malls, amusement parks and airports, power wheelchairs are more technologically advanced with functionality that will make your life easier. They run by electric motor and battery. Electric wheelchairs typically have 4-6 wheels to make them very maneuverable around tighter spaces and sharp corners. They are meant for seniors with severe motion problems. The sensitive joystick and touch controls are responsible for controlling directions and speed. On a single full charge, a power wheelchair can go for 10 to 20 miles. It offers a variety of seat movement options like lean forward, sit upright, and recline. This gives you the freedom to tailor the choices to your personal requirements.


Picking an electric wheelchair will provide you with a host of benefits. For starters, wheelchairs are more compact and feature a lesser turning radius. This makes them suitable for small indoor areas like bathrooms, elevators and narrow hallways. The seating options mentioned allow users to sit in a posture they feel more comfortable for extended periods. The joystick functionality in power wheelchairs allows seniors who are either paralyzed or suffering from other disabilities to have full control of the wheelchair. Some advanced models have joysticks programmed to enable seniors to control by foot movement, eyes or even mouth.


A downside of electric wheelchairs is that they are considerably heavy. This makes it difficult for seniors to lift them without help. Moving in some trailers, light duty haulers and lifts can also be limited due to their heavyweight and non-foldable nature. The fact that they cannot be folded like the traditional wheelchairs makes it almost impossible for power wheelchairs to fit into standard cars. Their low ground clearance means that they are not suitable for steep ramps or uneven terrain. Cost wise, power wheelchairs are pricier. Their prices range from $4000 – 15000.

Mobility Scooters

Mobility scooters have in the recent past been gaining increased popularity as the preferred and inexpensive way for senior citizens with mobility issues to get around conveniently. They are designed for outdoor use and can travel long distances. With a mobility scooter, you will no longer rely on family members or caregivers to head out for the day or run simple errands like shopping. Mobility scooters use a rechargeable battery pack. They can manage 10 miles on a single charge. Their aesthetic appeal makes them look attractive to older folks who have no psychological liability of being restricted to wheelchairs. Just like power wheelchairs, mobility scooters come in a variety of designs, styles, enhancements and colors. You can use them for getting around rough terrain or make a trip to the grocery store.

There are 3 types of mobility scooters designed to allow users to maneuver different terrains. 3-wheel and 4-wheel mobility scooters are the most popular types. 3-wheel scooters provide users with more legroom and improved handling in restricted quarters. 4-wheel scooters are more
rugged and stable to offer more stability and stronger mobility. The third type of mobility scooters is compact scooters that can collapse to enable placement in limited storage spaces. Higher power versions of these scooters can be used on streets, steep inclines and rough ground. With an average top speed of 8 miles/hour, it will be easier and faster to move around. Controlling and steering mobility scooters is performed using handlebars. This means that you need to have good balance ability to use both of your hands for steering purposes. A mobility scooter requires more skill to operate.


These scooters are fitted with a basket to make it easy for seniors to carry shopping from the convenience store or personal belongings. If you or your aging loved ones loves the outdoors, you will love the fact that mobility scooters are fully-equipped with turn signals, headlights and other safety features. Compared to power wheelchairs, mobility scooters are slightly cheaper which makes them more cost-effective for seniors re-building their movement, self-reliance and independence. Prices for a standard mobility scooter start from $600. A more advanced and fully equipped model can cost you up to $5000. Mobility scooters are also cheap to repair and maintain.


Just like their counterparts, mobility scooters also have their shortcomings. Firstly, if you have an issue with your arms, it may be difficult to steer them as you can only do this using the handlebars. Another downside is that they have a relatively bigger turn radius meaning that maneuvering in tight spaces can be tricky. Lastly, mobility scooters are less ergonomic than power wheelchairs. Their seats lack the many positions of comfort adjustment and seat movements. This makes them uncomfortable to sit in for long distances, especially for seniors with posture difficulties.

Do I Need A Mobility Scooter Or A Power Wheelchair?

Points To Consider When Making A Decision Between The Two.

To assess the best option for you or your aging loved one, you should consider the following factors:

  • Your budget.
  • Available space in your home.
  • Activities of daily living.
  • Comfort.
  • Insurance coverage.
  • If the mobility aid is intended for regular or occasional use.
  • The terrain you will habitually encounter.

Which Mobility Aid Is Right For Me?

When picking a mobility aid, it is imperative to consider what you intend to achieve with your freedom. If you have no postural challenges, wish to travel longer distances outdoors with rough terrain, and you want an affordable option, go for a mobility scooter. If, however, money is not a problem and you want a better level of postural support and comfort and to be able to maneuver in tighter spaces, I recommend a power wheelchair.


The manufacture and development of personal mobility aids has gifted mobility, self-reliance and convenience to many seniors with mobility issues. Our assessment of both power wheelchairs and mobility scooters has pointed out the strong and weak points of each. If you are still confused on which mobility aid to purchase, consult with a physical therapist to make sure you are fitted with the right device.

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