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Maintaining your wheelchair.

It's important to get your wheelchair evaluated every six months, even if it is running well. Be alert for first signs of trouble and don't ignore them. The following are specific areas to inspect, along with some trouble-shooting suggestions:


The upholstery of the seat should be checked very carefully for rips and tears. The seat and back are held in place with four screws each; these screws should be checked regularly.

The back of the wheelchair, upholstered with material, has a tendency to rip, particularly at the top screw location. It should be inspected regularly.

The back and arms are both attached by at least four screws on each side. Check these regularly to make sure they are always tight. The back post should be checked at all brace joints to make sure there is no structural weakening of the wheelchair.


Pneumatic tires must have the treads and pressure checked regularly. Solid tires should be checked for wear and tightness. For spoke rim wheels, it is important to periodically have the wheels checked for proper alignment and spoke tension. When the wheels ar used, the spokes tend to stretch and loosen, creating a loose wheel. This condition creates high stress on individual spokes as the wheel rotates instead of distributing the load over the entire wheel as is the case when the spokes are under proper tension. Check the alignment by either lifting the chair or turning it upside down and spinning each wheel. Use a spoke wrench to tighten the spokes, or take it to a bicycle shop or a dealer to make the necessary adjustments. Once the spokes loosen, they may break. When the wheel is repaired, all broken spokes should be replaced.

Wheel Locks

The wheel locks prevent the chair from rolling while the person is transferring in and out. Most wheelchairs, if not all, are equipped with wheel locks. One type of lock is a toggle, which should securely engage the tire suface to prevent the wheel from turning. Lift one side of the chair while the lock is in place and try to move the wheel. The locking mechanism should cut into the wheel to prevent movement.

In the event that the locking mechanism is too loose or too tight, use a screwdriver and wrench to slide the mechanism forward or to the rear to tighten its locking position on the wheel. Also, check the tire pressure often because it will affect the tightness of the wheel locks.

Bearings and Axle

To check the bearings and the axle, remove the hub cap and position the chair so that you have access to the inner locking nuts. Place a wrench on each of the two nuts, outside and inside, and remove the inner locking nut, making sure that you are holding the outer nut. Then place the wrench on the outside nut and loosen the wheel. With both the inner and the outer nuts removed, slide the axle pin back and forth in the wheel assembly. Turn the wheel slowly and listen for any clicking sounds, which would indicate a bad bearing. Remove any foreign particles that may have collected.

After you have checked and cleaned it, tightly lubricate the axle with a standard lubrication and place the wheel assembly back in the socket. Start spinning the wheel as you tighten the outside nut to make sure that the wheel is still free-spinning. If you have tightened it too much, back the nut out until you have a free-spinning wheel. At this point, reposition the locking nut at once, again holding the inside and outside nuts, and continue tightening. When you have sufficiently tightened the locking nut, check for wobble, or side-to-side movement, of the wheel.

Cross Brace

The cross brace, which is underneath the seat, has a large screw in the middle which should be loose. Do not fully tighten it. A drop or two of 30-weight oil should be applied to the screw.

Front Casters

The front casters provide the chair with stability and maneuverability. To check the front caster assembly, first remove the dust cover that protects the inside caster fork nut. By placing the wrench on top of the nut and holding the caster in the other hand, you are able to loosen the nut completely and easily remove the caster fork and assembly. Check for foreign debris that may have collected inside the housing as well as on the top of the caster fork assembly.

The caster plate must always be at a 90 degree angle to the floor at all directions to keep all the wheels simultaneously on the ground. Always check the caster angle after making any adjustments to the chair's seat height, wheels, casters or caster forks.

Also check the front caster axle, which will normally be coated with debris, remove and clean this part. Gently spin the caster and make sure the axle on the caster is properly tightened.

After examining and cleaning the front caster fork assembly, place the end of the slide on the front of the chair and replace the top locking nut. Tighten the locking nut into position, making sure the caster spins freely. Then replace the dust cover.

Now gently push and pull the chair backwards and forwards to determine that the casters are swinging freely and that the rear drive wheels are moving smoothly.

Front Rigging: Leg-and Footrests

The front rigging consists of either the footrest or the elevating legrest. First check the lock mechanism that holds the front rigging to the chair. Make sure it slides freely and the rigging removes easily. After removing the rigging, clean out any debris. Check the foot plate to make sure it goes up and down easily and apply lubrication if necessary.

The care and maintenance of the legrest assembly is very similar to that of the footrest. The locking mechanism, in most instances, is the same. Check to make sure it moves freely and the legrest moves up and down easily. Also, lubricate the knee joint hinge and check the springs and adjustment of the calf pad so it moves up and down smoothly.

Front Slide Posts

The front slide posts should also be checked carefully to make sure they go up and down easily. Open the chair fully and check the front posts to make sure they do not hit the crown of the caster fork. Again, hold the chair and check to see that the front posts do not come out of the frame socket. Check the set rail guide tips to make sure that thety are not damaged in any way.


The arms come in full or desk length, and are either fixed or detachable. In addition, the arms have a side panel, commonly known as a skirt guard, to prevent clothing from getting caught in the wheels.

On a fixed-arm chair, check the armrest assembly to make sure it is properly tightened and that the screws holding the armresst to the bar are tight. Also, check that there are no sharp edges or cracks in the armrest.

On a removable-arm chair, first remove the armrest using the armrest lock pin, checking to make sure it slides freely and that there is no debris on either the receptacle or on the armrest assembly itself. Place a few drops of lubrication on the locking pin.

Check the armrest to make sure there are no slits, cracks, breaks or sharp edges. With removable armrests, make sure that the side-to-side motion is not excessive. If it is excessive, check withy your therapist or dealer. Do not attempt to correct this situation yourself.

Push Handle Grips

The push handle grips should be checked regularly so that there is no possibility of them coming off when someone is pushing the wheelchair.


Once you have completed this maintenance checklist, there are still several steps you should take. If lubrication is needed, use either paraffin or a silicone spray, such as WD/40. If lubrication does not solve the problem, consult your dealer.

The chrome finish on the chair should be cleaned with soap and water. You may also use a nonabrasive chrome polish or automotive cleaner to clean all exposed surfaces. If the chrome is worn, use wax to prevent rust.

There is an oil hole location on each side of some wheelchairs which has a great effect on the folding of the chair. This area should be lubricated with a drop or two of 30-weight oil. If a chair is used in a moist environment, the bottom rail should be reomoved and coated with a high quality grease at least once annually by your dealer.

With proper maintenance, a wheelchair can last many years. Given reasonable care, it si not uncommon for wheelchairs to still be in excellent operating condition after 10 years of continuous operation. On the other hand, the world's finest precision device will deteriorate if left unattended or abused.
COPYRIGHT 1992 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Annual Mobility Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents
Author:Milany, Don
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Eight proven rules.
Next Article:Van lifts: a practical guide.

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