Manual or Motorized Wheelchairs: Which Is Best for My Family?

Knowing that you or your family member need a wheelchair is one thing, but selecting one is a whole other story. There are countless different sizes, brands and types of wheelchairs, all with different functions, mechanisms and features.

If you’ve done any preliminary research into wheelchairs, you’ve probably posed two questions. The first one is, “Why are wheelchairs so expensive?” And the second one is, “What kind of wheelchair is best?” As for the first question, wheelchairs are quite technologically advanced, require a considerable number of small parts and a lot of testing and research. This article should help answer the second question for you.

Medical needs

When trying to decide between a motorized or manual wheelchair, your first consideration should be your clinical needs. It’s strongly recommended that you consult with your doctor and a physiotherapist to assess which wheelchair would best suit you. In addition, you should try to assess your comfort level, posture, blood circulation and skin issues when deciding which wheelchair to buy.

Upper body strength

This folds into medical needs, but warrants its own section. If you physically cannot operate a manual wheelchair due to paralysis or some other type of disability, then a motorized wheelchair would be the way to go. If you have the requisite upper body strength, stamina and endurance to produce the forward motion that a manual wheelchair requires, then you could go that route. If you’re able to use one, a manual wheelchair can help with muscular and aerobic health.


If you could reasonably use both a manual and a motorized wheelchair, another factor you should contemplate is how portable the chair is. This could be especially important if you travel a lot for work or have family that live far away.

While you might think that power chairs are much too bulky to use for traveling, they actually do make foldable powered wheelchairs. That said, you still might want to purchase a vehicle lift if you opt for a motorized wheelchair to make things easier.

By contrast, most manual wheelchairs can be folded up conveniently and only weigh a maximum of 30 pounds when condensed. They can easily fit in the trunk of a car and make moving around and traveling a much easier task.


If you’ve ever posed the question, “Why are wheelchairs so expensive?” you were probably referring to a powered wheelchair, as a specialized motorized wheelchair can cost as much as $29,000. This is because of all the electronics, equipment, systems and parts they require. Hopefully your insurance can cover the full cost of your wheelchair, but if it cannot, you should think about a manual wheelchair.

Manual wheelchairs can be bought for as little as a few hundred dollars, and typically don’t cost nearly as much to repair, as they’re not outfitted with wiring, circuit boards and batteries like powered wheelchairs are. When deciding what kind of wheelchair is best for you or your family member, it’s understandable that the price factors into the equation.

Call for your wheelchair today

Now that you know some of the pros and cons of manual and motorized wheelchairs, give us a call at Penn York Medical, where we’ve been helping to improve the lives of people with disabilities since 1957.