The chance of a wheelchair lift failure increases with every push of a button or pull of a lever, and that potential failure can lead to unfortunate consequences for wheelchair passengers, bus drivers, districts and contractors.
While wheelchair lift manufacturers take all possible precautions to ensure the safety of their users, everyday wear and tear, as well as other unforeseen issues, is bound to take its toll on the lift’s effectiveness.
Here are some common problems to watch out for and solutions from the experts — lift manufacturers and school bus mechanics around the nation.
Outboard stop flaps
Problems with wheelchair lifts are often caused by drivers operating them improperly. One of the more prominent issues is damage to stop flaps.
“I have a lot of drivers who tend to bend the actual mechanism that puts the flap down, and it’s a real issue,” says Michael Kurtz, a mechanic with the Lake Washington School District in Redmond, Wash., who works on the district’s special-needs vehicles and wheelchair lifts.
While the damage to the flap isn’t detrimental to riders, it’s important to fix it before it leads to any other problems.
Instead of repairing the existing outboard stop flap, many mechanics replace the part completely. Kurtz has earned certification through Ricon Corp., a lift manufacturer based in Panorama City, Calif., which requires him to replace the part instead of fixing it.
Mark Egan, shop supervisor at CommTrans in Pittsburgh, says that he has run into some problems with the new sensor magnets that mount for the outboard stop flaps.
“It seems that some of the wheelchairs were hitting the sensors, so we did a retrofit by welding a flat washer around the magnet,” Egan says. “This prevents the washer from getting smashed.”
John Prahl, vice president of sales for Maxon Mobility in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., says damaged parts is one of the two most frequent problems Maxon technicians have to deal with in the field.
“It’s very difficult to troubleshoot a lift over the phone when mechanics call, because all of our people are assuming they’ve got a lift that’s operating normally,” he says. “They’re not going to tell us that they hit something, so we have to dispatch a lot of technicians who end up saying, 'Hey, you hit something.’”
Kurtz says he tries to train as many of his drivers as possible on the proper operation of a wheelchair lift.
Egan says his operation is also trying to prevent this kind of damage through driver training.
“We just recently decided to implement re-training on lift operation — what to do if the lift quits, how to operate the back-up pump system, etc. — for all our drivers,” he says. “We hope this will cut down on our parts bills.”
Prahl says the other problem he hears about most frequently is a bad ground connection.
When a wheelchair lift is installed it must be grounded to the vehicle to establish a safe and strong electrical connection. When the ground connection is inadequate, the lift usually fails to operate.
“In the past I’ve seen very poor grounds,” says Larry McNutt, director of customer support for Ricon. “I’ve even seen lifts grounded to exhaust systems — not often, but I have seen it — and the ground is very important.”