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Not long ago, I saw a television news story about an amazing young woman who happened to use a power wheelchair. The video especially captured my eye because she was using one of the power wheelchair models that my company manufacturers. The model and its configuration were unmistakable to me – I know it as well as any of our models – and I recognized its set-up as a “light-rehab” product, having a captains seat on a compact, standard power base.

However, just as I was enjoying the story, watching the young woman walk her dog through the grass at a park, the reporter uttered the very words that make me want to rip my flat-screen cable television from the wall every time I hear such statements: “Her power wheelchair cost $30,000, as much as a car,” the reporter said.

Like a football fan whose quarterback just dropped the ball, I wanted to jump into the television and choke the reporter. “Power wheelchairs don't cost as much as cars – that's a $5,000 wheelchair configuration, not a $30,000 one!” I screamed, rolling close to the TV, trying to get in the reporter's face.

My daughter just looked at me like I'd lost my mind – again.

In my own defense, I've heard people my entire life boast – or complain – that power wheelchairs cost as much as cars. And, it's always seemed hyperbole to me, to where I've admittedly lost my patience toward the statement.

In fact, this all started when I was a child, at the age of 6, when my father used to boast to his friends that my power wheelchair cost as much as his truck. However, even as a small child, I was pretty sure that Dad’s top-of-the-line GMC, which eventually was repossessed, was much more expensive than my power wheelchair, that Dad was a drinker, gambler, and storyteller – not exactly a trusted source of economic comparisons.

As I grew up, my father’s tale of my power wheelchair costing as much as his truck remained with me, but never seemed to prove true, where new cars were always much more expensive than my power wheelchairs.  Yet, I’ve heard countless wheelchair users – and reporters! – state time and time again that power wheelchairs cost as much as cars, so it seems that it’s timeless belief shared by many.

All of this made me wonder, what is the true economic relationship between power wheelchairs and cars – do power wheelchairs truly cost as much as cars as a whole, or is it just an exaggerated myth as I've always presumed?

To legitimately answer the question, one needs merely to know the average price of cars, and the average funded price of power wheelchairs in the U.S., during the same recent period, and then compare the “arithmetic means” – or, “averages” – which will tell if, on average, power wheelchairs truly cost as much as a cars.

According to Comerica Bank, which publishes its quarterly automobile affordability index, the average price of  a new car during the first half of 2007 was $28,200. On the power wheelchair side, according to the U.S. Government's statistics on insurer-funded power wheelchairs, in the first half of 2007, the average cost of a “standard” power wheelchair was $4,018, and the average cost of a “complex rehab” power wheelchair was $11,507. The price difference between a new car and a power wheelchair during the representative sample era the first half of 2007, then, is quite notable, demonstrating that, on average, new cars cost between approximately 2.5 and 7 times more than power wheelchairs.

Now, surely, some power wheelchairs cost much more than the national average of $11,507 for a complex rehab configuration, namely when one medically requires super-high-end specialty technology. One can, in fact, spend $30,000 on a highly-specialized power wheelchair. Yet, by they same consideration, one can by a very expensive car for, say, $60,000, twice the national average. However, when statistically answering the question, Do power wheelchairs cost as much as new cars?, one must look at the national average of car prices versus power wheelchairs, not the extreme ends of potential pricing.  

Do some power wheelchairs cost as much as cars?   Sure, based on medical necessity for profound disability.  Yet, as a whole, when one compares the average price of a power wheelchair, at $4,018 or $11,507, respectively, to the average price of a car at $28,200, the data dispels the age-old myth that power wheelchairs cost as much as cars.

Sorry to burst your bubble, Dad, Mr. Reporter, and everyone else who's ever made me want to throttle their necks over such mobility hyperbole, but power wheelchairs, on average, don't cost anywhere near as much as cars!

Published 9/09, Copyright 2009, WheelchairJunkie.com