Zen and the Art of Wheelchair Maintenance? If you read the popular book from the sixties about motorcycle maintenance, you’ll remember that the main character was constantly sensitive to the smooth operation of his vehicle, a set of wrenches always on hand for those subtle but important adjustments.
Obsessive? Maybe. But there is a lot to be said for paying attention to how your wheelchair is performing and taking a moment to respond. Your wheelchair will last longer and be easier to use.
A folding frame wheelchair needs to be kept tight...
A folding frame wheelchair needs to be kept tight. When you push the wheels, a loose frame wastes energy that would otherwise be translated into movement. The axle can also get loose, particularly for wheelchairs which use an axle plate with a cylinder bolted to it. A loose axle is also in danger of snapping from extra stress.
You always get the chance to respond to early signals – pay attention to the squeaks and creaks you hear. It means that something is moving that probably shouldn’t be. Small, repetitive movements of a bolt that is slightly loose is enough to help it get looser still, until it either breaks or slips off. Ignoring those noises can be costly – in lost use of your wheelchair, and in what it might take to make repairs.
The caster wheels require a little extra attention. If they’re just a little bit loose in the fork, they’ll start to vibrate when you pick up some speed, which could cause them to lock up and bring you to a sudden halt. If they’re too tight, they will not roll freely. The same is true of the vertical axle that attaches the fork to the wheelchair frame. It should not slide up and down at all. So when you tighten the caster axles, make sure that they spin very freely and easily while you at the same time get them good and snug.
Keep sling seats and backs tight, too. Over time they inevitably bulge. A bulging back compromises your posture, and reduces the efficiency of your pushing, which relies on back support. Even if you have a tension straps integrated into your seat back, they become loose from the continuous pressure of your body weight, and need to be tightened up from time to time.
A sagging seat creates pressure points on the hips, and will allow the base of some cushions to crack. Many sling seats can be tightened simply by loosening the screws on one rail, and pulling the end tight from underneath.
Keep the wheelchair clean.