Thinking of buying (or selling) a stairlift online?
Here are a few important things to look out for.
Stairlifts can be divided into two distinct categories, straight rail and curved rail.
Straight rail units are usually pretty straight forward to fit as long as all the parts are included. Be carefull to ensure the rail is long enough, you need a rail which will reach from the top step nose to the lower floor and then add up to 400mm to ensure you can get a correct seat height at the top. If your steps are not all in line and of similar tread and riser dimensions be carefull, there is not a lot of adjustment on the stair fixing brackets, if you think you can miss a bracket out, think again. If you do then the seat will lean forward and, if the rail is jointed at the middle, the joint will deform and you will end up with a seat drive unit that bangs or sticks in the middle. Modern units have a safety brake and overspeed governor. If the unit is removed or transported with the drive still mounted to the rail there is a good chance one of these will be activated, don't panic, on the vast majority of lifts you only need to manually wind the drive upwards for about 4" to re-set it (make sure you get the winding handle, ALL straight stairlifts have one). Some units out there do not have an overspeed governor, if so it does not comply to British Standards. This is not a legal requirement, however it is a cost cutting excercise by some manufacturers when selling to "private" buyers (local authority buyers will only buy B.S. compliant lifts for insurance purposes). Older units will be driven by a 240 volt mains supply and will have a trailing cable from the control box to the seat, avoid these like the plague. Even stairlift engineers hate working on them, if the cable is damaged you are looking at several hundred pounds for a replacement, many are fitted to a sprung cable drum which you cannot buy separately and fault finding can be a nightmare. A battery driven unit is the better option which recharges automatically at the top and bottom of the rail. Plus you can get new batteries from third parties at sensible prices, if the need arises. Beware of battery units that have not been used for some time, if the batteries are allowed to fully discharge then they might not charge back up properly, and if they do then their operating life will be reduced substantially. The good news is that competition between stairlift manufacturers in the U.K. is very keen (most of the worlds big names are U.K. companies) so this in turn means that modern units are extremely reliable and there are some good prices available to cash buyers. As of October 2008 there has been an increase in the number of manufacturers who will buy back straight rail stairlifts for reconditioning and resale. This can be a good option for the cash buyer, reconditioned units should have a full 12 months warranty and can usually be supplied quicker than a new one. Also remember, if you are buying a stairlift for personal domestic use you should not pay VAT, your supplier should have a VAT exemption certificate for you to sign. It's not complicated, just your name, address, and the nature of your illness or disability, ie angina. If you need specific information or help please feel free to contact me via e bay. UPDATE JUNE 2010. If you are considering buying a new stairlift then please be aware of the following. Over the last 3 years the cost of manufacturing a stairlift has actually fallen but prices to the customer have risen. Beware the sales rep who starts of at over £2000 for a basic straight rail, then makes a call to the office and offers a "special" discount of a few hundred pounds if you buy there and then, also beware the "ex demo" lift that has only been used in a showroom. It's most likely a con as virtually no manufacturer has a showroom to start with, and if they do, demonstration lifts are only a couple of feet long and will probably have been taken apart and rebuilt several times for engineer training. A basic straight stairlift ie without motorised swivel seat or hinged rail at bottom, can be bought from £1,300 new with 2 year warranty. Shop around or message me for advice.
UPDATE FEB 2012. Many stairlift manufacturers have now replaced / updated their models with the result that spare parts will be phased out for the older units, a good example is the Cumbria, from LiftAble. This has been replaced by the Lavant or Homeglide as it is also known, parts for the Cumbria are becoming harder to obtain, and therefore more expensive. Another example is the Brooks (or Acorn) 120 model (they are both the same but with different labels). The current model is the Slimline 120, you can recognise this by looking for flat sides to the "round" tubes at each side of the rail, the older "fat track" without the flat sides is very oldfashioned and should be considered only if extremely cheap (we are talking £50 here).
Curved rail stairlifts are a completely different kettle of fish, the chances of taking a curved rail out of one house and refitting it in another are extremely thin, even if the houses are in the same street with "identical" stairs. If the dimensions of the new staircase varies by as little as 25mm then you have potential problems, if the angles of each flight dont match exactly then forget it, even if the rail can be forced and packed into place, the seat will lean one way or the other. Also many modern units run on a memory chip or flash card that is programmed to make the lift change speeds on corners and tell it when to stop. If you cut the rail the lift doesn't know you have, and it will continue to operate as if it was on the original shape and size rail. You can get the manufacturer to change the programme (if you are lucky) but it will cost you, charges can be around £150 upwards for this service, as the manufacturer sees this as a potential lost sale of a new lift.
UPDATE JUNE 2010 There has been a recent increase in the number of companies offering reconditioned curved rail stairlifts. This is often only mentioned in the small print at the bottom of the advert. Be very carefull here. This will have been bought for a couple of hundred pounds at most, the rail will have been made up of different lifts to achieve the best fit for your stairs, resprayed and sold to you at a "bargain" price, often not much less than you could buy a new one for. Do not buy from the first company you talk to, some companies use high pressure sales tactics and it is not unheard of for people to pay from £4,000 to £10,000 for a product that can be got for closer to £3,000. Always get 3 quotes from different companies, and don't forget the small local companies either, they can buy from the manufacturers at massive discounts and can often pass a fair proportion of this on to the buyer. Feel free to message me for advice.
UPDATE APRIL 2011 Check the wording on adverts, if you see something along the lines of "New Curved Rail Stairlifts" at a "bargain" price, read the small print. This often means that the RAIL is new, but the rest of it (the costly parts) are second hand.
Also servicing and spare parts for any stairlift can be daunting. Manufacturers will often only supply parts to Authorised Dealers who have been product trained, this is quite understandable as an untrained amateur can cause hundereds of pounds worth of damage just by touching the circuit boards (many dont like everyday static). The Dealers will often only agree to repair a lift if they have fitted it, or if they service and inspect it first (cash register kaa-ching again)!
Finally, remember, you get what you pay for. If you pay a couple of hundred quid for a stairlift don't expect a repair, service or warranty from the seller, it isn't going to happen. If you pay upwards of £600 for supply and installation then make sure you get at least 12 months warranty (if it's going to blow a board it will usually happen within a month or two). Check it's age, all lifts have a manufacturers label and a serial number, some also have the month and year of installation. Phone the manufacturer, they will be able to tell you how old the unit is. The older the lift, the more difficult to find spare parts AND someone who remembers how to fix them.
It's not all doom and gloom, there are some genuine bargains out there, just ensure you see the lift working before you pay, try it empty and with weight on it, and try to rock the seat from side to side and back and forth, if it moves about more than the wife on pay day, give it a miss. Please feel free to message me with any questions regarding stairlifts, I 've been working with them for over 30 years so if you need info or help, I can probably assist.
One last fact, most people can get a grant for a new stairlift, it's called a Disabled Facilities Grant, if they have a recognised disability or mobility problem. Contact your local Social Services for information, you could end up getting a new stairlift for free.