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Most people view rehab powerchairs on a visual level, as a complete powerchair, seat and powerbase as one in the same.  And, when users are asked what type of powerchairs they have, they logically look at the name decals that designate the powerchair brand and model.  Yet, some high-end powerchair systems - namely with tilt and recline seating - aren't of a single brand or manufacturer, but are assembled from multiple vendors, where the powerbase is purchased from one manufacturer and the seating system from another, assembled by the provider, himself, in some instances -"composite powerchairs," you might call them.

When all works well, composite powerchair systems are seamless, where the seating system interfaces so well with powerbase that you can't functionally or visually tell that they weren't manufactured together - that is, it's of no consequence who made what.

Yet, what happens when an issue arises; for example, the powerchair doesn't have acceptable battery range, where the powerbase manufacturer says it's the seating system drawing extra current, and the seating system manufacture says its the powerbase's issue, or both point back to the provider?  

If this sounds like a service nightmare, it can be.  No, it certainly isn't typical, but such situations do occur, and the goal, as a consumer, before purchasing a "composite" package is to fully understand exactly what brand components are being ordered, whether mixing brands is absolutely necessary, and how they'll be serviced.

Most powerchair manufacturers - including Sunrise Medical, Pride Mobility, Invacare, and Permobil, to name a few - have their own seating systems, where the powerbase and seating are manufactured and serviced as a whole.  When an issue arises, the provider calls a single technical support line, and works with a single manufacturer's area representative to resolve any issues.  In this way, ordering all components from one manufacturer proves the most straight-forward toward long-tem service.

However, "aftermarket" seating has its place, with specialty designs or applications that may not be available from major manufactures. If a knowledgeable provider can supply and properly set-up the seating system and long-term service is assured, then placing an alternate brand seating system on powerbase as a composite system can be a meaningful mobility solution.

With these to perspectives - powerchair manufacturers supplying an entire brand system, or a provider mixing the base and seating from different sources - it's important to understand which route you're comfortable with, and that begins by speaking with your provider about what components he's ordering, from whom, and why?

Does your provider truly need to order the seating system and powerbase from different manufacturers, or can he order all from one manufacturer, and which route makes you most comfortable, literally and figuratively?  If you and your provider agree to order the powerbase and seating from different manufacturers, what technical support is available when an issue arises, and does the seating system have a local manufacturer's representative?  It's these vital questions that should be answered before a composite powerchair is ordered, ensuring prompt service in the long term.

Fortunately, there are countless choices in today's mobility market, including mixing differing brands of seating and powerbases.  As a result, the next time you're ordering a powerchair, don't assume that all components are coming from one manufacturer - find out exactly who makes what, weigh the positives and negatives, and assess how long-term service will be handled.  Then, you'll be the one in the driver's seat - or tilt-and-recline, as it is.

Published 5/07, Copyright 2007,