Save Money on Gas – Buy a Scooter

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Buy a scooter… don’t be afraid

While I’m fully aware a lot of people think driving a scooter is wimpy, dorky, etc., I’ll also challenge those closed minded, old-fashioned opinions as being too concerned with what others think.

It makes sense. Our ability to think outside the box has been beaten out of us by a consumeristic culture and persuasive advertising.

Despite numerous benefits and few draw backs – unless you’re a college student – owning a scooter is relatively uncommon in most parts of the United States – not so in other parts of the world.  When considering the pro et contra, buying a scooter can stack up quickly into an economically wise purchase.

Scooters, moped, and motorcycles

In the interest of this article, scooters are synonymous with mopeds and defined as follows:  a 2-wheeled vehicle with a saddlelike seat mounted on the footboard and being propelled by a motor – and for the purpose of economy let’s focus specifically, but not entirely, on scooters of the 50cc motor variety (to be further explained later in the article.)

A scooter ≤ 50cc and a motorcycle ≥ 51cc. CC = cubic centimeters and refers to engine size (volume of air and fuel mixture intake in a cylinder bore.)

Although some states differ, most states consider any motorized bike 50cc or less to be a scooter and any bike 51cc or higher to be a motorcycle… a very important distinction because many of the benefits below do not apply to motorcycles.

Since scooter/moped laws differ from state to state be sure to check your applicable state laws pertaining to helmets, insurance, registration, etc.

Let’s take a look at some benefits, along with a few buying tips, as seen through the eyes of this fledgling scooter owner; but first, some helpful details about my scooter.

My scooter

My scooter is a 2009 JCL model MP50B.  I purchased it in mid April 2010 for $600 despite a KBB value of $710 at the time of purchase – I love a good deal.  The bike had been driven only 385 miles, was in pristine condition, and ran like a top.  One month and 450 miles later… everything is on the up and up and I couldn’t be more pleased with my purchase.

Save money on gas

Driving a scooter will save you a boat-load of cash on gas.  Let’s look at the specifics of how much I have saved in just one month.

Since purchasing my scooter one month ago (at time of writing) I have driven 450 miles on 4 tanks of gas.  The tank is 1.32 gallons and the scooter gets 100 mpg, using an average gas price of $3.00/gallon I have spent $13.50 on gas compared to the $90 I would have spent driving my 2000 Jeep Cherokee Sport, which gets a mere 15 miles to the gallon.

Conclusion?  My scooter gets 6.667x better gas mileage than my Jeep and should pay for itself in one driving season in gas savings alone.

Save money on vehicle maintenance

Every mile I drive the scooter means one less mile on my Jeep.  Maintenance and parts for my Jeep are much more expensive than for my scooter.  I can perform maintenance on the scooter myself and replacement parts are much less costly.

Save money on insurance and registration

Again, although some states may differ, in Michigan a 50cc scooter does not require insurance coverage.  The only cost associated with driving my scooter, other than gas, maintenance, and repairs… is the registration tag.  Michigan charges $15 for a 3 year registration sticker.  That’s it folks, $5/year.

Save money on a helmet

In many states a 50cc scooter rider is not required to wear a helmet.  While many choose to wear a helmet anyway, they are not required to by law.  This could obviously draw a lot of comments, but putting aside all that debate, the fact remains… many state laws do not require a helmet on a 50cc scooter.

Buy a scooter used

Just as purchasing a slightly used vehicle is often a better decision than buying new, the same is true for scooters.  Here are my tips for those looking to buy a scooter used:

  1. Do not buy a scooter from a college student. No offense young’ens… but I was a in college a few years back, which is precisely why I’m telling people not to buy a scooter used from a college student.  Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule but there is a reason their insurance premiums are high, so use common sense.  :)
  2. Buy a scooter from older folks. Many RV’ing retirees buy scooters for buzzing around RV parks and campgrounds while traveling.  The truth of the matter?  They don’t usually end up using them much and tend to take great care of their possessions.  This means low miles, routine maintenance, fewer wipe outs, and no beating on the scooter.  Find a good price and you have yourself a recipe for a good buy.
  3. Use KBB to estimate buying price. Before you go test drive a scooter, be sure to check out the Kelly Blue Book Motorcycle Retail page to determine a solid buying price.  Simply pick your year, make, model and size to reveal what a low-mile bike in excellent condition is worth.  Print the page and take it with you as a bargaining chip (unless they’re asking less than the bike is worth of course.)
  4. Use Craigslist. Beyond the obvious benefit of using Craigslist, I recommend using a CraigsList search/notification app.  Said application will allow you to input a search term – like “scooter” – and set up alerts for all newly placed relevant ads so you can be the first to contact the seller.  That is precisely how I found my, virtually brand new scooter for such a great price.  I was the first to call, first to visit, first to make an offer, and it paid off.
  5. DO NOT FINANCE. If you don’t have the money saved and previously budgeted… don’t buy anything.  Period.

Wear a helmet

Yes, even if you don’t have to, and yes, even though I listed it as a possible money saving benefit above.  If you’re not going to wear a helmet, consider purchasing a windshield, and a the very least be sure to wear some type of eye protection like eye glasses, sunglasses, or Dumb and Dumber scooter goggles.  ;)

Perform regular maintenance

To ensure optimal operation and to extend the life of your scooter be sure to follow the maintenance schedule supplied by the manufacturer.  Most everything is routine like checking/replacing engine oil, gear oil, air filters, tire pressure, etc.  You will not need to hire a mechanic unless you’re diametrically opposed to elementary mechanical maintenance.

Dress warm and carry extra clothing

Even in a northern state of Michigan, I can easily get 7 months of ride time each year, but not without proper winter gear.  If you choose not to wear a helmet, when it’s chilly out you’re well advised to wear a winter cap; while you’re at it… don’t forget the gloves.  Be sure to wear a jacket that seals off your neck and wrists, since failure to do so can turn a cool ride into a freezing cold ride really quick.

Scooters are cool

Don’t let anyone fool you.  When you drive a scooter you save money hand over fist, you get to ride down the open road, and of course… chicks dig guys on scooters.  Just ask my wife.  ;)

What are you waiting for?  Go open an Capital One 360 savings account, label it “Sweet Scooter Fund,” and start saving for your soon purchase!



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1 Kyle C.

I though about getting a scooter for a while but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense for me. I don’t drive much to begin with so I don’t spend a lot on gas or vehicle maintenance. My 2004 Altima has only 30,000 miles on it. I like the idea though and i would certainly be into one for $600- If I drove more.

2 Matt Jabs

Are you working from home?

3 Jeff @ sustainablelifeblog

Glad you’re liking the scooter. I’ve been considering getting one as well because of the huge gas savings, although I’ve got one major problem: I drive 99% of my miles on the highway, and I dont know if a scooter could keep up (highway speedlimit here is 75 in all areas) and I dont know how well it would do. But if I got 100 mpg instead of the 21 i’m getting now, it would save me somewhere along the lines of 350/month

I’ve had a rental car for the last 3 weeks, and filling up that gas tank vs filling up the one for my truck has been night & day. The rental car gets more miles on a smaller tank, and has saved me at least $500 on gas…I know, I need to either get a more efficient car or drive less…sigh…

4 Matt Jabs

Yeah Jeff… you have to find another solution. What about a horse like Neil? ;)

5 Jeff @ SustainableLifeBlog

Yea, I’ll look into it.
The thing that really burns me now is that with my goals later in life, one of those beat up old trucks will do lots of what I want to do (ranch/farm/make and haul things) but I dont use it for those things NOW.
Thinking of fixing my other car, so I can get a bit better miles and maybe abate some mileage on my truck.

6 Robert Espe

If you want onto the Freeway…

While small scooters typically aren’t highway legal, small motorcycles, and the larger (> 50cc) scooters are. For the last two years I had a 1987 Honda CB 125s. Wasn’t greased lighting, but it could maintain legal highway speed, got good gas mileage, and the insurance (though required) was cheap ($160/year).

I enjoyed it, but there are a couple things to consider. I got about 65 mpg. Not only is the engine larger than Matt’s, operating the vehicle at max performance is not as economic. Because of this, I would tend to advice towards a slightly larger (250+) engine, you will probably get the same mileage at higher speed with less engine strain.

I would also caution that while it is freeway legal, safety can be an issue. Even if you can get up to speed, smaller vehicles aren’t as stable, are more vulnerable to crosswind, and uncomfortable for highway trips longer than 30 minutes. Didn’t stop me, but mine was more fun to ride at about 45 mph.

Finally, be sure to lock it up. I thought because mine was ancient and really nothing to be jealous of it was safe. Last month it was stolen, and has not been recovered :-( Still haven’t decided if/how I will replace it, but it was fun while it lasted, and I’m glad to have owned it.

7 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Matt – My hat’s off to you! First, you’re being your own person, doing your own thing. You’re an independent thinker, and if it’s one thing our culture desperately needs it’s more independent thinkers. Too many people just get in line and follow the herd–”go along to get along”.

Second, having experienced several gas price spikes in my lifetime, I can’t think of a more practical solution than having a scooter waiting in the wings.

Sounds like a win-win all around.

8 Matt Jabs

What others think = unimportant.

What works best for us = very important. :)

9 Neil

Nope, still burns more gas than my vehicle.

10 Matt Jabs

Horse? ;)

11 Money Reasons

I like the honda ruckus scooter you have as your pic! That is one scooter I wouldn’t mind owning!

People shouldn’t forget the fun factor to that’s involved in owning a scooter! My neighbors had a scooter when I was a kid and I had a great time riding it!!!

12 Matt Jabs

I love the H. Ruckus… would’ve liked to land one, but I’ll settle for the JCL. Don’t think I don’t have a CraigsList search active for “ruckus” though… just waiting for that guy that “has to sell ASAP.” :)

13 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

I’d love to drive a scooter, but with the weird weather and highway speeds in Houston, it was just be unsafe. Have a great ride for me!

14 Matt Jabs

Too bad, you could drive one year round down there. PS… my step family lives in Conroe. :)

15 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

Yeah…if I ever live close enough to work not to need a highway, I may look into it again.

I knew about your family from a past post – how are they doing? You just visited, right?

16 Matt Jabs

Yeah, we were just down there during the first week in April. It was awesome.

17 Car Negotiation Coach

Matt, I love scooters and will get one before I die! I just have to convince my wife that getting one won’t speed up the process.

I alway try to rent one on vacation in tropical locales….nothing like a little wind in your hair riding next to the beach.

18 MyFinancialObjectives

Like others have stated, my hat is definitely off to you! I WISH I could ride a scooter to and from work, but a 45 min to an hour+ long commute around the beltway doesn’t help!

When you look at the stats it really puts things into perspective. That MPG is just ridiculous!! I know you love that!

19 nickel

Plus… If you get run over, you won’t have to save for retirement. That’s a HUGE savings. ;-)

20 Matt Jabs

Right, plus – if you’ve set things up properly – your spouse will land a windfall of insurance money which will in turn, help their retirement situation. ;)

21 myfinancialobjectives

lol Nickel… very goog point!:)

22 Financialbondage

they look like fun… long as you don’t get in an accident. which knowing my luck I would

23 Jenna

Yes, but most scooters aren’t allowed on highways – making some commutes impractical… And it depends on where you live…rain and snow have to be taken into account. Not to mention carry room is VERY limited on a scooter.

ALWAYS wear a helmet and splurge and buy a full face one!

24 Forest

I think scooters are awesome. The one complaint I hear is that they don’t have the power to get out of dangerous situations quickly…. I don’t mean driving away from a bank robbery! I mean if a car turns in on you and you need to open throttle to get out of it’s way! I used to ride a pushbike on the road and the two times I got hit I saw the accident coming (cars not looking and turning into side roads, bang!…. but that’s busy city traffic for you!) so I imagine it’s much the same….

25 Dave & Ashley

Ashley here. I have had scooter fever for years. I did research and figured a 50cc would be best for me. I lived 4 miles from work and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting a motorcycle endorsement or insurance. My first scoot was a cute, little Chinese 50cc. I rode it home with a grin on my face and it never started again. Luckily, I didn’t take too bad of a hit on it, but that fun ride home cost me $50. So I swore off Chinese scooters and concentrated on finding one with a good reputation.
I got lucky a few weeks ago and got a sweet deal on a purple honda. The console is busted, so the gas gauge, speedometer, and odometer don’t work, but other than that, it’s in great shape. I rode it to work once, and it took 20 minutes.
We moved and I rode “Barney” 20 miles to the new house last week. The scooter did a great job, but riding 30mph was just a bit frustrating. So I found a great deal on a Yamaha 125 scooter. In TN, you have to have a Scooter endorsement for 125cc or a Motorcycle endorsement on 126cc or higher. The waiting list to take the riding exam is 6 weeks. I did take and pass the written exam on Thursday. Insurance on this bad boy is less than $100/year. My “really expensive” helmet was on sale for $50 and I splurged on a reflective vest from Kmart for $4. Tags for the scoot were really more than I wanted to spend, because you have to pay sales tax to get it registered. Dave also got a 250cc motorcycle and the same costs for it. We figured if we both rode our 20 mile commute we would save $6 per trip. We’re going to try to ride to work every chance we get.
My allergies have been suffering a LOT more since I’ve been scootering. I recommend eye protection (it’s hard to ride when your eyes are watering!) and $50-75 splurge on a new helmet. I got my helmet and a lot of good advice from my local Honda/Yamaha store on clearance.
If you suffer from allergies, like I do, you might want an extra bandanna to cover your nose and mouth too.

26 Jason Liff

Scooters are a lot more fun than driving- especially when you are passing gas stations. I’m not a big fan of 50cc scooters unless maybe you live in NYC- or some other huge metropolis. The hardest decision often hinges on 4 main factors, engine size, wheel size, brand/style, origin of manufacture.
I’ve written a short guide on choosing the right scooter: http://motoscooto.biz/?p=38 and agree full well with your recommendation on wearing a helmet.

27 Erin

My gf had a scooter — it was wonderful! Good mileage, fun to ride, small to store. After 1 month, someone broke into our storage building and stole it. Homeowners insurance didn’t cover it, and she didn’t have comprehensive insurance on it, so that wouldn’t cover it either.

Scooters are a hot commodity for thiefs. So if you get one, get comprehensive insurance, and keep it stored someplace safe — bolted with a inch thick chain to a hook cemented into the ground might work. Don’t trust a locked door to keep it safe.

28 Ann

I have a 125 cc Yamaha Vino scooter, and I love it. Even with the expense of a larger engine scooter (license, helmets, insurance/registration), it’s been a great investment for me. It’s much cheaper than a car (one-year-used scooter cost $2500 total, including the high California sales tax) and much cheaper to register and insure (maybe $160 per year for both reg and insurance), and it consistently gets 60 mpg. I got one because my public transit commute had become unsustainable (up to 1 hour each way for a 4.5-mile commute due to unreliable bus service) and I needed more reliable transportation to get to and from work. My commute now takes 12 minutes each way and I can park for free at work because of my city’s free motorcycle parking spaces. I save at least an hour of commute time every day, time that I can spend doing more work or spending more time with my family, which is totally worth it for me.

29 Pam

Nice tips you got here Matt. Buying a scooter is not so bad. Another way to save on gas, groceries and other daily necessities is by using coupon codes. As a mom, I can say that these coupons help me a lot…

30 Mark Brown

Matt,

My wife and are considering buying scooters as a way to save money on fuel. Currently, I drive a 2007 Toyota Tundra Crewmax…~300 miles per week. I may get 15mpg on a good day. That translates to about $300/month in gas. YIKES!

My question is, how do you calculate the cost savings & break-even points for purchasing the scooter? For the record, both of our cars are paid for in-full.

Any suggestions?

Thanks.

Mark

31 Matt Jabs

Hi Mark,
Congrats on your new scooters… I sure have gotten a lot of use out of mine and I love the savings. To upgrade I recently purchased a 2007 Honda Rebel that gets 70mpg and am going to sell my scooter on Craigslist soon for the same amount I bought it for. :) That makes figuring breakeven cost very easy since selling it will allow me to enjoy 100% profit on the savings it gave me. As far as calculating the savings while I still own it… I don’t have a spreadsheet or anything but I did the math by figuring out how many miles I would have to drive it before it paid for itself in savings vs. driving my Jeep – so you can apply the same idea to your situation by figuring out how many miles you’ll need to drive the scooter to reclaim its cost vs. driving your Toyota. Then figure out how many miles you need to drive it each month (accounting for no driving during winter) and then you can see how long it should take to break even.
Hope this helps, God bless,

32 Steve Sanz

i liked your well written article on mopeds, it was very informative, just stumbled upon it on a google search. i was considering getting a moped, especially now that i’m moving back to california. thanks for taking the time!

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