The difference between a front, mid and rear wheel drive power wheelchair boils down to where the drive wheels are positioned. But before we get to that, lets first discuss what a drive wheel means.
Drive wheels are the biggest wheels on a power wheelchair. They are connected to the motor, and therefore are the driving force of the wheelchair.
When power wheelchairs turn, they do so on their drive wheels, thus the way the drive wheel is configured greatly impacts the maneuverability, power and turning radius of the powerchair.
In this article we will look at the different types of drive wheel options available for power wheelchairs.
Front-wheel drive power chairs have four wheels which give traction when driving; two large drive wheels in the front (which is why it’s called front-wheel drive) and two smaller rear castor wheels.
The rear casters give stability and maneuverability to the power wheelchair. Some front-wheel drive wheelchairs have an additional set of castors, positioned in front of the drive wheels. However, these do not provide traction but help to increase stability at high speeds and smooth movements at lower speeds.
Like rear-wheel drive wheelchairs, front-wheel drive models have a smoother ride because they only have four wheels touching the ground. As such the impact of bumps is felt less than on a six-wheeled powerchair.
These types of wheelchairs are great for climbing obstacles because the drive wheel is at the front, which significantly increases the heights it can climb.
The axle height of a powerchair determines how high an object it can pass, as it cannot go over objects that are higher than the axle height.
Front-wheel drive chairs have a bigger turning radius than mid-wheel drive types, which reduces maneuverability significantly.
- In these models the front-wheel drive encounters an obstacle first, and pulls the rest of the wheelchair over the obstacle
- Force is distributed over only four wheels instead of six, creating higher force, resulting in increased traction
- The lack of front casters allows lower limbs to be positioned further back, which could be important for people with tight hamstrings
- Though they do not have the smallest turning radius, they maneuver very well around tight corners
- Because the drive wheel is at the front, these models can easily get in front of sinks or counters
Mid wheel drive powerchairs have six wheels which give traction when driving; two big drive wheels in the middle (which is why it’s called mid-wheel drive) and four smaller wheels at the front and at the back.
This positioning helps keep the center of gravity over the drive wheels and the number of wheels significantly increases stability, with the front and rear castors ensuring that the chair does not tip. Apart from giving stability, this positioning makes mid-wheel drives easier to drive.
The turning radius on mid-wheels drives is much smaller than that of front-wheel drives, allowing for full turns in tighter spaces. Users have often said that it is easier to turn and maneuver them.
However, with six wheels the drive is not as smooth, and the impact of every bump is felt more because more wheels are passing over it.
Also, older models might occasionally lose traction on the drive wheels, making it tricky to travel on uneven terrain. However, advances in technology makes this problem rarer in newer models.
- Due to placement of the drive wheel, they offer the tightest turning radius when completing a full circle
- These models can easily navigate turns in the home
- The front and rear castors provide a stable base
- They are more intuitive to drive, as the center of gravity is positioned directly over the drive wheel
These types of powerchairs also have four wheels, which give traction while driving; two large drive wheels in the rear (which is why it’s called rear-wheel drive) and two smaller castors at the front. The castors help with maneuverability and stability.
In rear-wheel drive powerchairs the power to propel comes from the drive wheels at the back. This positioning helps in propelling over soft or rough terrain, because power is transferred better from the motors.
This type of powerchair is favored among wheelchair users, as it is comfortable. It offers better shock absorption and can handle changes in gradient quite well, resulting in a smoother drive.
However, as technology advances, less rear-while drive models are manufactured because they have a bigger turning radius than mid-wheel and front-wheel drive types.
They also do not have good obstacle climbing capabilities, because the axle height of the castors at the front is lower than in a front-wheel model.
If there is not enough power to get the front wheels over an obstacle, the powerchair can become stuck.
- Drive wheels in the rear offers stability in the anterior
- They are designed with directional stability which means that they will naturally track straight
- They perform well outdoors because they only have four wheels, and they do not typically result in high centering which means that the drive wheels do not suspend off ground
We hope that you liked this article on the types of powerchairs and the difference between each type. Please feel free to let us know if you have any questions or if you would like to see more of these types of articles to our site.
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