Transport Chair vs. Wheelchair: What’s the Difference?

Plenty of devices are available nowadays that can help you lead an active and fulfilling lifestyle, including transport chairs and wheelchairs.

Although they’re very similar, they’re actually different in several ways and can serve a variety of needs. 

Making the right choice is vital in a device that will play a huge role in our daily mobility. There are several factors to consider before buying, including lifestyle, performance, cost, comfort, customization, and durability. 

It’s important to know that the primary makeup of each of these devices, regardless of brand or class, is the same.

Since knowledge is power, read along for a detailed guide that’ll help you understand the concept of a transport chair vs. wheelchair.

Transport Chair vs. Wheelchair

Faced with the wide range of transport chairs and wheelchairs available today, it’s helpful to ask yourself some questions to point you in the right direction.

  • Are you going to be moving in it on your own or with the aid of a caregiver?
  • Is it suitable for your height and weight?
  • Are you likely to be using it at home, outside on the street where you have to maneuver around pavements and narrow turns, or on rough ground?

What is a Transport Chair?

If you have trouble walking and using your arms and need the help of a caregiver, if you tire easily while walking long distances, or if you feel better having a portable mobility aid while traveling, a transport chair is probably an excellent choice for you.

Pros

As the name suggests, transport chairs are designed bearing in mind easy, smooth transport. Essentially a two-man-job, a transport chair is an efficient, user-friendly, simple, and safe option.

It brings together the function of a wheelchair and the convenience of a rollator.

Cons

The main drawback of a transport chair is that you can’t propel yourself in it and rely on someone to move you around.

What is a Wheelchair?

If you’re unable to use your legs but have good use of your arms, a wheelchair could help you move along unassisted.

However, this will require some strength and stamina, especially if you have to go longer distances or move up slopes or unsmooth paths.

Pros

Moving around in the wheelchair without help gives you the independence and solo time you might want.

Cons

Steering yourself for a long time may cause shoulder strain and possibly hand blisters which could be avoided by wearing wheelchair gloves.

Wheelchair Vs. Transport Chair Comparison

Let’s take a detailed side-by-side look at nine key features in transport chairs and wheelchairs to get a clearer picture of what might suit you best.

Wheels

A transport chair has four equal-sized 8”-12” wheels: swiveling front casters for easy maneuverability and fixed rear wheels. It’s narrow and only a few inches wider than its seat cushion.

A manual wheelchair has smaller front casters mounted to a swivel so they can turn with ease. Its slightly larger 22”-26” rear wheels topped with rotating handrails enable you to push yourself forward.

The rear wheel size will significantly impact the performance of the chair.

Size, Weight, and Convenience

Your steel transport chair will weigh an average of 25 lbs (lighter if made of aluminum). It’s travel-friendly, compact, foldable, transportable, and convenient to carry, especially for a senior.

Lightweight and very sturdy, it’s accessible through most doors, bathroom stalls, even airplane aisles due to its narrow frame.

Conversely, a standard wheelchair might not be very convenient when traveling. It weighs an average of 35 lbs, is pretty bulky, and may pose a challenge when trying to fit into smaller vehicles.

Cost

The basic price of either a transport chair or a wheelchair will depend on its make, model, and style. Heavy-duty chairs have a slightly higher price.

Since costs vary, while a power/electric wheelchair will be more expensive, you could buy an excellent lightweight chair starting from $140.

You may choose to rent a wheelchair or transport chair, to begin with, to get a feel for style and functionality before you buy. 

Durability

Built to last an average of around five years, a wheelchair and transport chair’s lifespan will greatly depend on how often and how well it’s used, maintained, and stored. 

A steel transport chair will last a few years longer than its lightweight aluminum equivalent. A regular wheelchair is most often made out of steel which ensures durability.

Weight Capacity

A heavy-duty or bariatric transport chair can support a weight of over 300 lbs. A regular wheelchair can support a weight of 250-300 lbs.

If you’re above this weight, you may need to use a heavy-duty wheelchair, which can carry up to 700 lbs. 

Maneuverability 

A transport chair can easily be maneuvered to access not only the familiar hallways of your home or street alleys but also narrow, unsmooth, or steep places.

This is a bonus if you’re outdoors a lot.

A wheelchair may be a challenge to navigate through small doorways and corridors and parking lots that aren’t designed with handicapped facilities.

Uneven, rough terrain, especially sloping ground, also makes it very hard to move manual wheelchairs.

Braking and Safety

Brakes are an essential feature in mobility devices that will help prevent falls, adding a layer of safety. That will ensure your peace of mind and make you better able to navigate the chair.

Some transport chairs have footrests and heel straps to keep your legs and feet stable while being transported.

The rear wheels are often equipped with brakes you could engage while entering or exiting to help minimize the risk of falling. 

Wheelchairs feature a simple push-lock wheel mechanism to lock the chair in place while you get in and out.

Comfort and Customization

Since wheelchairs boast a higher level of comfort, they’re better suited for prolonged sitting. Transport chairs might get uncomfortable after a few hours, although they can still be customized to offer a few features like padded armrests. 

Customized comfort options with your wheelchair may include…

  • Extra padded armrests, backrests, and seats
  • A recliner
  • Height/arm length adjustment functions
  • Accessories like: custom cushions, wheelchair gloves, cup holder, tray, side-bag, oxygen attachment, etc.

Variety

Pediatric, as well as bariatric/heavy-duty transport chairs and wheelchairs, are widely available. 

Power/electric wheelchairs are also available. Although relatively expensive and difficult to transport, they’re extremely comfortable to use and may be ideal if you don’t have the strength necessary to use a manual wheelchair or need to travel long distances.  

Wrapping it Up!

Know thyself! While all the above should give you a good idea on Transport Chair Vs. Wheelchair, consider your own needs and lifestyle before buying.

If yours is a short-term injury and you have someone to help you, then a transport chair might be your best choice.

However, if you endure a long-term mobility challenge, you might want to have the best of both worlds: a transport chair for short trips, plus a wheelchair for your daily solo use.

Also, experience your chair first-hand; think about how it makes you feel based on your priorities, circumstances, and preferences.

Then, having done your homework with the help of this article, go with your gut!