For anyone who uses a power wheelchair or power scooter to get around, you are well aware of the significant role it plays in your freedom and independence. But the chair itself is only part of the equation. Unless you are OK with being limited to very short, local trips within “wheeling” distance of your home (and who wants that—we’ve got places to go!), you need some way to transport the chair or scooter to that further destination first.
One option available for transporting mobility equipment is a hitch-mounted carrier (as opposed to other transport options, such as a lift for a car or van, using ramps for the bed of a pickup truck or hooking up a tow-behind trailer). But even if you’ve already drilled the decision down to go with a hitch carrier for your wheelchair or power chair, there are requirements and features to consider before determining the model you want in addition to a little bit of homework before placing an order.
Manual Hitch-Mount Carriers
Hitch-mount mobility carriers come in two main categories, manual and electric. A manual hitch carrier for power chairs and power wheelchairs has a built-in ramp of some sort, either a tilting mechanism of the entire holding platform of the carrier, or an unfolding ramp design, that allows you to drive your mobility device right onto the carrier. Many models also include a fold-up feature that allows you to pivot the carrier upright and flush with the rear of the vehicle when not in use so you don’t have to deal with the extra length the carrier adds to your car or truck.
It should be noted that the chair should never be occupied during this loading process. No daredevils, please!
Electric Hitch-Mount Carriers
A powered wheelchair lift is super-convenient for loading and unloading your power chair or scooter by elevating and lowering the platform with an easy flip of a switch.
With the carrier lowered to ground level, you simply drive on board, no ramps are needed. In a lowered position, this usually allows access to the vehicle’s rear cargo area (like on an SUV) without having to remove the hitch lift altogether. Similarly, many of the electric versions also fold into an upright position for low-profile travel when not in use or to fit into a parking space or garage.
Given the differences of both types of hitch-mounted carriers for power wheelchairs and power chairs, you might wonder why wouldn’t you just go with the powered version? Less work, right? But don’t assume the motorized model is the better option for everyone!
Here are some questions to ask yourself and a few pieces of information you’ll need to gather together to help determine what kind of hitch mobility carrier is the best solution for you.
- First and foremost: The physical requirements. Does your vehicle have a 2” Class III/IV hitch that most mobility carriers require? What is the hitch weight limit and hauling weight capacity of your vehicle? If you’re unsure, talk to your dealer or mechanic, and they should be able to help out.
- What is the hitch height of your vehicle? Some vehicles, especially with the extra weight of a carrier and mobility device, may bottom out, so the hitch needs to be high enough to clear inclines, bumps, etc. However, in some cases, the addition of air shocks or stiffer springs may help to properly support the additional weight and prevent sagging.
- What are the dimensions of your power wheelchair or power scooter? Measure the length, width (from outside tire to outside tire) and the total weight, including the batteries. Many carriers have a lift capacity of at least 350 lbs, but you should check the specifications of the particular lift you are considering.
- What is your budget? A manual mobility carrier is going to be more pocketbook-friendly than the electric versions, usually a significant difference; but what is the ease and convenience worth to you?
- What are the physical capabilities of the person who will be loading and unloading the mobility device? Remember that some manual hitch carriers for wheelchairs require the operator to be able to lift and lower a ramp weighing 30 or more pounds. On the other hand, does this person have sufficient manual dexterity to operate the controls of an electric mobility carrier?
With the purchase of either style power wheelchair or power chair hitch carrier, you will likely need a good quality set of cam- or ratchet-style tie down straps to secure the mobility unit to the carrier, while some carriers come with retractable ratcheting tie downs already built-in. Either way, make sure you don’t skimp on strong, durable tie downs because they are vital to ensuring your transport goes smoothly!
Additional options or accessories may be available with some wheelchair carriers, such as soft or hard covers to protect the wheelchair in transit, or additional taillights or license plate mounting.
Insurance coverage questions should be directed to your health care provider. Also, there are limited rebate programs available through select car manufacturers, who should be contacted directly for details on eligibility.
When you are ready to order your hitch-mount power wheelchair or power scooter carrier, be sure to contact a reputable carrier distributor. They have a staff of experts who will walk you through this maze of considerations, and, armed with the valuable information you’ve prepared ahead of time, you will find the best hitch-mounted mobility carrier for you.