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Frames and Drive systems

Powered Wheelchair Frames

There are 2 types: rigid or folding

Rigid frames

  • are the sturdiest
  • accommodate a wider range of seating systems and features
  • they can be more difficult to transport as they don't fold up.

Folding frames

  • are easier to transport
  • think in advance about how much assistance you will need with folding or lifting
  • frames that dismantle reduce the chair to several lighter parts, which may make lifting easier
  • Check first that you or any helper can easily dismantle and reassemble the wheelchair

See also:

Drive Systems on powered wheelchairs

The drive system of a powered wheelchair depends on which set of wheels are powered by the motor. These are referred to as ‘drive wheels’ and they affect how the wheelchair performs in different environments.

Mid wheel drive

The drive wheels sit in the middle of a set of six. The mid wheel drive system:

  • is the most manoeuvrable drive system
  • minimises the wheelchair’s turning circle.
  • wtih six wheels helps maintain stability on slopes.
  • is better suited to solid ground as the wheels may sink into soft terrain.
  • can give a bumpy ride on uneven ground, as the drive wheels are right under the seat. You may also find it struggles to cope with small steps.
  • is not usually recommended for outdoor use.

Front wheel drive

Having the drive wheels at the front of the wheelchair:

  • is best for steering around tight corners and use on uneven terrain
  • usually has large front wheels which can ‘climb’ over bumps and obstacles
  • is usually more stable on slopes
  • can be more difficult to steer at high speed

Rear wheel drive

Having the drive wheels at the rear of the wheelchair:

  • is the most common system
  • means the turning circle is larger than other systems
  • for many people, makes it easier to drive in a straight line.
  • helps maintain smoothness on rough terrain
  • puts the majority of the wheelchair’s weight at the back so it’s recommended that anti-tippers are used to keep the wheelchair from tipping backwards

Front and rear wheel drive

Some have both front and rear wheel drive which is a single drive system coupled with a rotating seat, letting you switch between front and rear wheel drive depending on the environment.

Four wheel drive

All four wheels are connected to the motor.


  • This is best suited to rough terrain as thewheels can push and pull over obstacles.
  • Some four wheel drive powered wheelchairs are designed to be used on steep slopes and even stairs.

Last updated: May 2015

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