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Deals on Wheels
A WheelchairJunkie's Guide to Used Wheelchairs
By Mark E. Smith

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If you thought shopping for a used car was tough, try looking for a quality used wheelchair.   It’s not that used chairs are hard to find; after all, the classifieds ads and Internet auctions are flooded with them.  The hard part is not getting ripped off by someone selling a $1,500 powerchair for $5,000, or a $500 sportschair for $1,200.  

Buyer’s Market
Used wheelchairs, in all practicality toward economics, are worthless.  The vast majority of users purchase wheelchairs through insurance, and most are highly customized, all but eliminating a market for used chairs.  Anyone can drive a used Honda Civic and everyone pays out-of-pocket, so there’s a marketplace.  The odds of finding someone looking to pay cash for an Action Arrow powerchair with a 19x20” seat, LaBac tilt system, and elevating footrests are nil -- that person doesn’t exist (the guy who bought the chair new undoubtedly used insurance).   So, when you head out looking for a used chair, it’s a buyer’s market to the hundredth degree.

Reading Between the Lines
Scan the classified ads, and you'll quickly see that the wheelchair marketplace is full of absurdities:  “Jazzy 1120 with comfortable seat.  New $7000, giving away at $4,500.”  On what planet does a Jazzy 1120 cost $7,000?  In fact, you can buy one new from a discount dealer for $3,900 -- that’s $600 less than the seller wants for his used one!  

Even worse, sellers play up chairs like they’re special deals:  “Arrow Action Double motor electric wheelchair. Low use, very reliable-- new $10,000 asking half price, $5,000.”  Wow, this used powerchair has “double motors,” and it’s almost half the price of a new one. . . what a deal, a reader may think.  In actuality, all Arrows have two motors, and half the price of a new one is $3,400.  

The most shameful ploy is when dealers place ridiculous ads for demo and used chairs, boasting standard features as something extra they’re throwing in:  “Battery charger and armrests included!”

Whenever you see nonsense ads -- whether they have inflated prices or absurd hype -- don’t waste your time inquiring, as the chances are you’ll just end up arguing with a greedy relative of departed Granny Jones, or a slime-ball dealer trying to rip you off.

Number Crunching
There’re lots of quality, used sportschairs for sale around $1,000, and powerchairs for around $2,000 -- and that’s the fair market value for most.  

To estimate the market value of a powerchair in like-new condition, take the “actual” price of a new base model (this is calculated by knocking 20% off the MSRP), and then divide it by 3
.  

Then, for a used Arrow, which has the MSRP of $8,720, and the actual new value of $6,976, the maximum value in the used marketplace is $2,325.  

When calculating a chair’s used market value, do not include options, and it’s important not to use a dealer’s invoice as a guide for the original price new, as they’re often inflated to compensate for insurance funding issues.  

To determine the fair market value for a used sportschair, follow the same equation as for a powerchair, but divide by 2: Base Chair’s MSRP minus 20%, divided by 2 .  

For wheelchairs over 5 years old, avoid them all together unless you need one for parts or have a specific wish for one, in which case don’t spend more than a few hundred dollars.

Buyer Beware
The most difficult aspect of buying a used chair is knowing its condition, especially powerchairs.  While most used chairs are purchased from afar, the Internet allows us to at least view photos.  Request a few photos, preferably from all four sides, and, on top of that, request one of inside the battery box (corrosion is a sure sign that the chair hasn’t been maintained).  Look for signs of abuse; if the chair’s joystick bracket is bent, upholstery is torn, and frame and forks are scuffed, you can bet the rest of the chair -- bearings, electronics, and motors -- is trashed, as well.  The top wheelchair technicians will tell you that a chair’s exterior condition reflects its interior condition.  

If you’re lucky enough to inspect a powerchair in person, check the drive shafts where they exit the motors.  Most chairs will have a small ring of grease and dirt where the shaft enters the motors, but if there’s an excess of gunk on the shaft and outside motor housing, the chair’s probably been through heavy use with poor maintenance.  Also, check the joystick housing; if it’s worn in anyway, you know that chair has been through a lot of use (for example, my Bounder looks and runs like new at first glance, but the paint is rubbed through on the joystick housing because I’ve driven the hell out of the chair, putting thousands of miles on it).  Often little clues make up the big picture

Unless a person can show you a receipt that the powerchair’s batteries were recently purchased, assume that the batteries are bad, and replace them.  In fact, if the chair must be shipped, your best bet is to have the seller ship the chair without batteries, dramatically reducing freight charges.

If you find a used chair you like, but are unfamiliar with the model, do your homework and read up on it.  Most of the powerchairs made in the last 5 years are still in production, so you can surf the manufacturers’ web sites to find detailed information.  Also, talk to friends who have the chair, and find out the real scoop from someone who uses it.

Seller’s Reward
If you have a wheelchair you don’t need, give it to someone who needs it, or sell it for only a few hundred bucks.  Lots of people need a quality chair but can’t afford one, so if you’re in the position to help a fellow wheeler, do so.  Money doesn’t last; however, good deeds continue on forever.    

Know Thy Used Wheelchair
Like buying a car, don’t just kick the tires of a chair -- pop the hood,  give the chair a thorough inspection, and know what you’re buying.

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