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Liz Carr, comedian and performer, has saved every power wheelchair she's ever owned. Whereas most users have one back-up power wheelchair, Liz has eight – to which I thought, “That's a full-time job maintaining them!”

Of course, maintaining your back-up power wheelchair – or, eight, if you're a hoarder like Liz! – is a vital role toward your mobility. After all, if your primary power wheelchair is down for repairs, especially without warning, you want your back-up power wheelchair ready to roll with a press of the power button.

Idle Doesn't Mean Maintenance-Free
The biggest mistake users make toward their back-up power wheelchairs is in parking them and forgetting about them – that is, till they need them in an emergency, at which point dead batteries, flat tires, and grinding gearboxes take a critical situation from bad to worse. Indeed, power wheelchairs must be maintained even when not in everyday use.

Location, Location, Location
For starters, you should store your back-up power wheelchair in your home, at room temperature year-round, protected from the elements. Space can be hard to come by for some, and while it's tempting to store a power wheelchair in a garage or shed, those environments are prone to harmful temperature extremes and rodents. A guest bedroom or corner in the dinning room may not seem like the most aesthetic setting for your dinged-up old power wheelchair, but it is the most protective.

Keep It Juiced Up
Deep-cycle power wheelchair batteries are chemical creatures, and must be maintained, even when not in use. In fact, batteries can self-discharge at rates up to 15% per month, resulting in both depleted batteries and damage from sulfation. Therefore, it's important to recharge your back-up power wheelchair's batteries approximately every two weeks.

Most power wheelchair battery chargers turn off automatically when the charge is complete – and some chargers constantly monitor the batteries' state – so there's no direct harm in leaving the charger plugged into the power wheelchair. However, battery chargers are subject to other dangerous factors, such as power surges from the home's utilities service, which may damage the power wheelchair. Therefore, it's recommended that you unplug the battery charger from the power wheelchair as soon as possible after recharging, as opposed to leaving it plugged in.

As the Wheels Turn
No matter if you have flat-free or pneumatic tires, it's vital that they're maintained during storage. If left in a single position for a long period, flat-free tires can develop a flat spot from the weight of the power wheelchair compressing the inner tire material. Similarly, pneumatic tires can breakdown at the sidewalls when sitting in a single position. Ideally, if a power wheelchair is in storage for quite some time, 4”x4” blocks should be placed under its frame structure, keeping the wheels off of the ground, preventing tire issues. Alternatively, if not on blocks, the power wheelchair should be rolled approximately every two weeks, placing the tires in a different position, again preventing “flat spots” on the tires.

A Well-Oiled Machine
Virtually all modern power wheelchairs use gearboxes, and when a power wheelchair sits for long periods, the gearbox grease can drip from the gears, collecting in the bottom of the gearbox – which results in vibration, wear, and noise when driven again. To prevent this condition, running a power wheelchair for a few minute every month will keep the gears well lubricated. If the power wheelchair is on blocks, you can cautiously run it, with the wheels simply spinning, or you can literally drive the power wheelchair if it's on the ground.

A Few Minutes is Great Insurance
Placing your back-up power wheelchair in a temperature-controlled room, keeping the batteries charged, placing it on blocks or changing its position, and periodically driving it to maintain gearbox lubrication may seem like a lot of work to simply keep your six-year-old beat-up power wheelchair as a back-up. However, it truly equates to only a few minutes per month of actual maintenance – a small investment for the guarantee of reliable secondary mobility for years to come. ...That is, unless you're Liz Carr, with eight power wheelchairs and an obsessive-compulsive disorder – then it's a full-time job!

Published 10/09, Copyright 2009,