They say that looks can be deceiving, and when it comes to power wheelchairs, sounds can not only
prove deceiving, but also disconcerting.|
With power wheelchairs serving as extensions of our
bodies, it's no wonder that we wish them to operate as quietly as possible. And, when they springing
up with "whining," "grinding," "squeaking," and "rattling" noises, they understandably capture our attention
- leading us to wonder, where's that annoying noise coming from, and how can it be fixed?
Make no mistake, there's no such thing as a totally silent power wheelchair. Electric motors
hum, brakes click, casters chatter, and actuators buzz. Yet, on modern power wheelchairs, all of these
noises are kept to a minimum. In fact, quality-concious manufacturers minimize noise by design with strict
requirements like adhering to motor sound limits, using no-rattle shroud components, and placing self-lubricating
bushings at pivot points - all intended to reduce noise.
Throughout the day, however, based on
environment, some normal noises may seem more pronounced than others, where the click of a brake releasing
and the slight hum of the motors may not be heard in a living room with a television on, but may seem
ever so pronounced in a silent church. Therefore, "normal" noises can seem slightly different in varied
environments, without signaling an issue.
Noticing What's Abnormal Noise
In everyday use,
we learn the "normal" sounds that our power wheelchairs make, and a foremost key to proper maintenance
is in recognizing "abnormal" sounds. As power wheelchairs age, they can get a bit louder in areas, and
that's normal - just as a five-year-old car likely isn't as quiet as it once was. However, when a strikingly
abnormal noise suddenly develops, and persists, it should be a sign that service is needed.
Determining exactly where an abnormal noise originates on a power wheelchair can be tricky.
As mechanical machines, with pivot-point suspension, plastic shrouding, motors, and bearings, power wheelchairs
can develop peculiar sounds among many components. And, pinpointing the noise can take detective work,
as sound travels and bounces throughout a power wheelchair, where the location that you hear the sound
seemingly emitting may not be where it originates. For these reasons, providers often must get on the
floor, push, pull, and tug on a power wheelchair to attentively determine where the distracting noise
Despite the tricky nature of noises, some sounds are emblematic of certain issues,
and knowing the possible component that a strange sound may relate to can help toward diagnosing an issue.
The High-Pitched "Whine"
A constant high-pitch "whining" sound coming from only one motor of
a power wheelchair typically relates to motor brush noise - namely caused by either an oddly-worn or
damaged motor brush. Often, the brush will correct itself by "re-breaking-in" after some time. For example,
if one primarily uses a power wheelchair at very low speeds indoors, and a motor develops a whine, going
out for a longer stroll at speed (in a safe environment), will often resolves the issue by reshaping
the brush, eliminating the whine. If the whine continues, a provider should inspect the motor.
A "grinding" noise can relate to the brake, which sits atop the motor and is released
as the power wheelchair drives. If dirt gets in the brake, or the brake doesn't fully disengage, it can
make a grinding noise. This usually requires replacing the brake (which is a quick job on modern power
Additionally, degraded caster and fork stem bearings can cause a grinding noise
when maneuvering, dictating replacement.
The Squawking "Squeak"
A "squeak" or "chirp" can
relate to caster bearings or suspension. If a caster bearing is squeaking or chirping, it requires replacement.
If suspension makes such noises, it's a matter of pinpointing the location, and lubricating it (when
suspension pivot points get wet and fill with grime, then dry out, they may squeak).
Most modern power wheelchairs feature plastic shrouding of some kind, from fenders
to battery doors, to full body shrouds. A rattling sound often points to loose or vibrating plastic.
First, all plastic components should be inspected to make sure that all is secure. If all plastic is
secure, but still rattles against other components, thin adhesive weather striping or a small piece of
adhesive-backed Velcro loop material can be placed where the plastic rattles against another surface,
working as an effective insulator.
Indeed, sounds can be distracting and disconcerting; but,
with a little knowledge, detective work, and service, they can be resolved. No, a power wheelchair may
never be totally silent, but it shouldn't be a whining, squeaking, chirping, rattle-trap on wheels, either!
Published 4/09, Copyright 2009, WheelchairJunkie.com