So, you’ve decided that a mobility scooter is a right choice for you. You’ve checked out different styles and compared specs, and have settled on an overall build and price range that works best for you.
But what about the wheels? You’ve likely noticed that some mobility scooters have three wheels (generally one in front and two in the back), while others have four wheels. Which wheel configuration is best? Which is safest, and what difference, if any, do these wheel configurations actually make?
Space and Size Constraints
What kind of indoor spaces will you have to navigate? Is your home full of spacious, wide rooms and wide hallways, or smaller rooms and narrower hallways? If your home is a bit smaller with less space, a three-wheel scooter may be a better choice for you.
Three-wheelers are generally a bit narrower than four-wheelers, can be stored easier, and are better at navigating tight spaces. A single wheel up front requires less space to turn than two wheels, meaning your turning radius is smaller. We’ll cover the turning radius in more detail below. What’s more, as three-wheelers generally take up less space, they lend themselves to being stored more easily in a home or apartment. If you’re low on indoor space and have to store your scooter in the house (as opposed to a garage), a three-wheeler will give you a more compact ride and one that can handle nimble turns in your house, as well.
What does it mean to be maneuverable? And what’s a turning radius? Put simply, the turning radius is the amount of space needed by a vehicle to turn in a complete, tight circle. Crank your steering all the way to the right or all the way to the left; the amount of space it takes to make a full turn is your turning radius.
Narrower vehicles and vehicles with their wheels spaced closer together will have a smaller turning radius, meaning they require less room to do a donut if you will. Having a single wheel up front as opposed to two wheels means that your three-wheel scooter has a much smaller turning radius; this makes it better suited for maneuvering in crowded spaces, smaller rooms, and tight turns.
Some of this overlaps with space constraints, as mentioned above. Some of this also overlaps with the issue of where you will be using your mobility scooter. Need to navigate inside a crowded grocery store on Black Friday? A three-wheel scooter is what you are going to want.
As you might imagine, a four-wheel scooter will give you greater stability than a three-wheeler. As this article about baby strollers demonstrates, physics plays a role in how stable vs. agile a three vs. four-wheeled vehicle is. The same principle applies to scooters.
So while three-wheelers are nimble, four-wheelers keep better contact with the ground. They are therefore in less danger of tipping and are ideal for riders with balance issues, who need more solidity from their scooter, and more weight, too.
If you’re a bit heavier, the four-wheeler will help more evenly balance your weight within the scooter, keeping you safer and more comfortable. This steadier and better-grounded design also means that four-wheelers can handle terrain that would be difficult if not dangerous to handle on a three-wheeler. This is something to consider when deciding between a three or a four-wheeler, as these scooters navigate best in different environments.
Where will you be riding your mobility scooter? Do you need it primarily for indoor or outdoor use? Will you be using it primarily for shopping trips, or do you plan to take your scooter out in the park or into the neighborhood?
A three-wheel scooter does very well on flat, even surfaces and navigates grocery stores and spaces within one’s home easily. The three-wheel design also lends itself to increased nimbleness and a better turn radius, making it great for tight spaces, hair-pin steering, and crowds. Think busy stores, crowded indoor areas, and shopping malls. So if you’re planning on using your scooter on flat, even surfaces, a three-wheeler should work just fine for you.
Where the three-wheel scooter doesn’t shine, however, is outside on rough terrain. While a three-wheel design is great for indoor turning, the relative instability of the design makes it a poorer choice for rougher outdoors environments compared to its four-wheeled cousins. The four-wheel design is great for navigating around parks and neighborhoods. It rides a bit more like a car, and the symmetrical quadro-cycle design gives one better traction and more contact with the ground.
Many of the higher-end four-wheelers also come with an excellent suspension system, meaning your ride is safer, more comfortable, and better able to handle lumps and dips as you go.
Cost is another factor to consider. While the price of a scooter is determined more by things like features, build, and motor power, the number of wheels can be a factor, too.
Four-wheelers tend to be more expensive overall. For example, the EWheels Company sells non-medical three-wheelers beginning at $1,499. Their cheapest four-wheeler, by contrast, is $3,299. That’s quite a price difference! Granted, there are expensive three-wheelers, too. But the starting price range for these different vehicles is noticeable.
Quite simply, four-wheels require more materials to build. Their battery packs are often larger and more powerful, and this adds to the price. So, if you’re looking to save money and the added stability of a four-wheeler is not a selling point for you, a three-wheeled mobility scooter may be a better choice.
Battery Life and Power Output
Finally, the number of wheels can play a role in the strength of your battery and how far your ride can go. Sometimes.
There are definitely some powerful and long-range three-wheelers out there, with mile ranges in the mid-thirties to high-forties. In general, though, four-wheelers are more likely to have a larger and more powerful battery pack, perhaps simply because the larger vehicle lends itself to having more room for a larger battery, and the added weight of a four-wheeler requires more wattage to power it.
The tendency to use four-wheelers for longer and more rugged riding means that they are more likely to need a larger and more powerful battery. If you’re looking for maximum battery power and the longest amount of time between re-charges, a four-wheeler may be what you’re looking for. Be sure to check the operating range on any mobility scooter you consider to see if it meets your needs. Nothing’s worse than running out of juice in the middle of a busy Walmart.
Whether you consider three wheels or a four-wheel scooter will depend greatly on your needs and where you need your scooter to take you. Consider the best mobility scooters with safety, range, stability, price, ease of driving, and how much space you have in your home. Consider where you’ll be taking your mobility scooter and how much of a workout you’ll be putting it through. Most importantly, consider your own health and which ride will be the securest and most reassuring as well as practical for you to use day to day.
About the author:
Trevor Fenner is the founder and owner of Mobility Paradise, a one-stop shop for mobility scooters, electric scooters, electric wheelchairs, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, lift chairs, saunas, steam showers, massage tables, exercise equipment, electric bikes, massage chairs, and bathtubs. Years ago, Trevor’s grandma had an accident that made her dependent on a wheelchair; this forced Trevor and his family to put her into an elderly care facility. Since then, Trevor would visit her to take a walk around the neighborhood. Mobility Paradise was created because Trevor couldn’t find an online store that offers a wide selection of mobility equipment and educational resources. What started as a business focusing on mobility scooters grew to include all kinds of mobility products. You can shop for the most reliable mobility products at Mobility Paradise.