I have yet to get a wheelchair through insurance. First of all, my insurance wouldn’t approve the chair I wanted with the features I needed. Second, the deductible on my insurance is actually more than I’ve seen some used wheelchairs for and more than what I paid for my current wheelchair. So far I actually have been lucky enough to find cheap wheelchairs a couple times in a couple different places.
If you know exactly what wheelchair you want — make, model, features — then it can be easier to search for the type of wheelchair you want and get a used one for much much cheaper than new. In my experience the used wheelchair market is about 10-20% or less of new cost for a wheelchair that is slightly used. Also many people usually give you the chargers and any other equipment that might have gone with it because they have no idea what these things cost.
The first wheelchair I got was actually a demo model that the vendor was trying to get rid of for cheap. Just like a vehicle that has been around the block a few times, demo wheelchairs can be sold for much less than the original selling price. The advantage to getting a demo wheelchair is that it is cheaper than new and has likely been taken care of by the vendor. However it can still be a pricey way to get a wheelchair.
My first recommendation is to look on Craigslist.org in your area. Do a quick search for “wheelchair” in your area under the entire “For sale” category and see what comes up. I tend to monitor my area for the type of chair I am currently using so that if I find one come up for cheap I can snag it and use it as a backup, keep it for parts, or use it if my current chair ever fails completely. I bought my current chair from someone advertising on Craigslist an hour away. New, my chair would cost $7500. I got this one for $300 and he threw in a manual chair for free.
Second, check out eBay. You can set up a regular search and check to see if your wheelchair comes up in auction or Buy It Now. Usually the chair is not in your area and it seems as though most people are reluctant to ship wheelchairs across the country because it can be cost prohibitive or a hassle. I actually do not recommend buying a wheelchair off eBay unless you are able to check it out in person and make sure it works. I have had luck with buying wheelchair parts unseen on eBay but would probably not buy a wheelchair unless I saw it first.
Lastly, check rummage sale listings and auctions in your area. I have seen wheelchairs come up at estate auctions quite often. One time a nice Quantum chair went for around $200. Usually at these things people have no interest in buying wheelchairs so you can find a cheap wheelchair if you keep your eyes out.
Overall I think patience is the top thing to keep when looking for a cheap wheelchair. But you never know when the one you want might come up, so you can’t give up. I usually like to check both Craigslist and eBay whenever I am on a road trip to see if there are any cheap wheelchairs in the area I am driving through.
One caveat to keep in mind. If you have particular mobility needs or positioning requirements, make absolutely sure you get your new (used) wheelchair checked out and tuned up by a professional. You do not want to sacrifice your health simply to save money on a cheap wheelchair.
Good luck on your search for a cheap wheelchair! I know you’ll find one eventually if you keep your eyes open.