How to Choose a Hitch-Mounted Carrier for Your Power Wheelchair or Scooter

A hitch-mounted mobility scooter carrier is a simple, effective solution for easily transporting your wheelchair or scooter wherever you go. There are a few questions which must be considered before purchasing a mobility carrier, such as the maximum amount of weight your vehicle can safely carry, and if a manual carrier or powered hitch mounted lift is better for your needs.

How much weight can your vehicle safely carry?

Before purchasing a carrier or lift, it is essential that you understand your vehicle’s limitations. To ensure that you get a carrier that matches the capabilities of your car, you need to know your vehicle’s trailer hitch class and rating, as well as your maximum tongue weight.

Hitch class and rating

Hitches are classified by their maximum weight capacity and opening size, ranging from Class I – V. Class I is the lowest weight capacity and smallest opening size, and V is the highest weight capacity and largest opening size. Typically, class I and II hitches are found on cars and minivans, while classes III – V are found on SUVs and pickup trucks. Most carriers on Discount Ramps require a class III rating or higher. You can identify your trailer hitch’s class by checking the label applied directly to the trailer hitch. If it is missing or unreadable, you can measure the opening size. For more information on trailer hitch classes, check out our article “Trailer Hitch Classes and Towing: What You Need to Know.”

It is also important to make sure that your carrier has enough ground clearance to get over driveways and bumps. On vehicles with lower hitch heights, typically compact cars, minivans, and smaller SUVs, the carrier or lift may scrape the ground when driving over a driveway or parking lot entrance. For those situations, you will want to consider a hitch height adapter to prevent damage to your vehicle and carrier.

Tongue Weight

The tongue weight is the amount of weight that is exerted downwards onto your hitch. When towing a trailer, this weight is applied by the trailer’s tongue (hence the name) and will only be a portion of the trailer’s weight. With a wheelchair carrier or lift, all of its weight is borne by the vehicle’s trailer hitch. In that case, tongue weight is the entire weight of your carrier and mobility device combined.

If your lift or carrier exceeds the manufacturer’s recommended tongue weight, the steering of the vehicle can be negatively affected, and it can become unstable at speed. The reason for this is simple: your vehicle acts like a lever. When you apply a carrier or lift to the vehicle, the added weight will cause the rear end to lower, and the front end to rise. The effect is increased by soft or worn suspension. Your vehicle’s manufacturer has determined how much weight can be applied to the rear end of the vehicle before the front end rises too much for safety. The tongue weight limit should never be exceeded. If you cannot find the manufacturer’s recommended tongue weight limit, a good rule of thumb is that tongue weight should not be more than 10% of your gross trailer weight.

There’s one last item to mention regarding wheelchair carriers and tongue weight: trailer hitch adapters. Devices that convert a trailer hitch from one size to another, add a second receiver, or allow the carrier to swing away from the vehicle all extend the distance between the carrier or lift and the tow vehicle. This increases the lever effect a carrier has on your vehicle. When using any of these devices, your tongue weight capacity is cut in half. Generally speaking, these devices should only be used on vehicles that have stiff suspensions, like full-size pickups, truck-based SUVs, and vans.

Type of wheelchair carriers

Before purchasing a carrier, make sure you have the correct measurements of your power wheelchair or scooter. Measure the length, width (from the outside tires), and the total weight, including the battery and any accessories.

Wheelchair carriers

Most manually-operated hitch mounted wheelchair carriers feature a built-in ramp which allows you to easily roll your mobility device up a gentle slope, onto the carrier. There are a variety of styles available, with varying weight capacities to accommodate most scooter and power chair models. Many models also allow you to fold the carrier upright against the rear of your vehicle when the carrier is unloaded, so you don’t have to constantly install and uninstall it to fit into a garage or parking space.

Users of manually-operated wheelchair carriers will need to be able to perform the following tasks:

  • Pull a spring-pin out to release or secure the carrier's ramp
  • Physically lower and raise the carrier's ramp
  • Insert or turn a key and/or apply pressure to a toggle switch to operate the lift
  • Stand for up to 3 minutes while the lift operates
  • Push the mobility device up and down the ramp onto the carrier (the amount of incline will vary depending on the carrier, tow vehicle, and road surface)
  • Operate tie down straps to secure the mobility device in place

Powered lifts & Carriers

A powered wheelchair lift makes loading and unloading your scooter even easier, by simply elevating and lowering the platform with the push of a button. Like the manual wheelchair carrier, most electric lifts also automatically fold into an upright position when not in use. Electric powered lifts and carriers are ideal for people who may not be able to lift and lower a manual ramp, which can weigh 30-lbs or more.

Users of powered lifts and carriers will need to be able to perform the following tasks:

  • Platform Lifts: Drive or push the mobility device on and off the platform
  • Inside Hoists: Affix the docking device onto the mobility device
  • Insert or turn a key and/or apply pressure to a toggle switch to operate the lift
  • Stand for up to 3 minutes while the lift operates
  • Platform Lifts: Operate tie down straps to secure the mobility device in place
  • Inside Hoists: Fold down the seat back and/or scooter tiller until the mobility device is in its most compact position
  • Inside Hoists: Guide the mobility device into the back of the vehicle

Additional Questions to Consider

If you’re budget conscious, a manual wheelchair carrier will cost less than a powered lift, however it’s important to make sure you have the physical capabilities to operate a manual wheelchair carrier. It’s also important to make sure you have all the required equipment to secure your mobility aid to the carrier, with tie-down and ratchet straps.

Still have questions? Contact our highly trained sales professionals at 888-651-3431 for help.