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Here we go again..?

March 14, 2012
Gas station

'Scooters save gas!' (Orin O'Neill photos)

We can’t seem to get rid of winter in Bellingham. Late Tuesday afternoon, the sun was shining, the intense blue sky was full of fluffy white clouds, the GTS said it was 41°F. So did the credit union. Twelve hours earlier, there was snow on the ground. Icky, wet snow, but snow nonetheless.

I took a Fourth Dimensional route to a gas station that offered premium at $4.339/gallon, which at that moment was the cheapest in town. The price of regular pushed past four bucks several days ago. This must mean a new scooter boom is on the horizon! Or does it?

As you may recall, the Great Scooter Fad of 2008 saw Americans laying siege to scooter dealers, buying up everything they had because SCOOTERS GET GREAT GAS MILEAGE!

You may also recall that by fall, gas prices had eased considerably. Many, if not most, of those hastily-purchased scoots ended up under tarps in the corners of garages before finding their way to new owners via Craigslist.

ScooterFile’s Eric Almendral recounts the reasons that scooter boom was more of a scooter bubble. In a nutshell: low unemployment and easy credit fueled an unsustainable spike in demand that caught dealers (and importers/distributors) off guard.

When the dust settled, many (many) dealers went out of business. To this day, there is no place within the city limits of Bellingham, Washington to purchase a name-brand scooter. Even if there were, it hardly seems likely there are as many people inclined to drop five grand on a whim, as there were in 2008.

I’ve told the story about how I got my first scooter a million times, so I won’t belabor the point. And I’m the first to admit, gas mileage was all I was thinking about when I got my first scooter. The true cost of owning a scooter only became apparent later on, as it surely did for a lot of other people. I didn’t know any better.

The Fourth Estate

Right now, I own two vehicles: the Fourth Estate (a 1995 Ford Escort LX station wagon), and the GTS (a 2007 model with 23000 miles on the clock), both purchased used. (I paid more for the scooter than I did for the car.) The GTS is the hands-down winner on fuel consumption, 75 mpg vs. 30 city/42 highway for the car. Wherever possible, I use the GTS to get around town.

The GTS also beats the car on insurance: $99/year vs. $432 for the Fourth Estate (Statutory minimum liability coverage only, from GEICO; not having the car policy would not affect the premium for the scooter.). There is a theoretical advantage on parking, since the scooter will fit in places the car won’t, which could be free vs. paying to park the car.

When it comes to maintenance and repair, however, the true financial picture becomes clear. I was more than a bit surprised upon being told my ET4 needing a new rear tire after only 4000 miles was normal; the cost of the tire, plus labor to mount it, had me gobsmacked as well. That you can’t get a punctured motorcycle tire patched in the U.S. (no thanks to the legal profession) sucks rather mightily. A tire for the car, mounted and balanced, is far cheaper.

By the same token, the service visits Piaggio lists in the GTS owner’s manual are often more expensive because a scooter dealer doesn’t have the volume (or the competition) of a car dealer service department or even an independent garage. Then there are puzzlers like the 5W-40 synthetic motor oil, which costs upwards of $13/liter… the ‘W’ refers to viscosity index below freezing, which would not seem to be an issue for a vehicle that its owners often put away for the winter.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to buy a scooter you need to think about the bottom line; the total cost of scooter ownership can be as much, if not more, than a car. Or even an SUV.

So many scooters are purchased with the best of intentions, but they’re the ones that show up on Craigslist after having been ridden once or twice. You don’t realize the fuel savings unless you ride the damn thing. You also miss out on the fun. Favicon

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One Comment
  1. March 14, 2012 2:37 pm

    Well said!

Comments are closed.