Ditch the SUV and Scoot Your Way to Gas Savings

by Kevin on July 2, 2008

Kymco People 150

On Monday we started a discussion on how to save money on gas for your car. I made the point that many Americans are rushing out to trade in their SUVs to buy hybrids, even if the transaction as a whole is going to put them at a loss. The loss on the trade-in (significant these days on an SUV) plus the additional cost of purchasing the hybrid simply don’t add up. You shouldn’t spend $20,000 to save $100.

Well then, what should you do?

For some people you are just stuck with the SUV for a while. Reconsider why you bought the behemoth in your driveway in the first place. Do you have four kids? Do you travel a lot? The utility value of the vehicle may be worth holding onto it. You’ll just have to find other ways to save money in your budget to pay for gas costs.

However, for what I am guessing is a larger than expected majority, there is a second option.

Buy a scooter and save money in your budget

That’s right, buy a scooter. There’s been a great discussion going on over at the Get Rich Slowly forums on this topic. Many of you reading this live in cities that riding a scooter is not only feasible, it just makes plain sense. Perhaps you drive less than 5 or 10 miles one way to work. Perhaps your commute is normally through back roads that don’t go over 40 miles per hour.

It may sound crazy, but I am even considering making a move like this. Let me give you my thinking, and then you can apply it to your individual situation. If you can make it work, a scooter could save you a ton of gas use.

Am I all green, environmental talk and no walk?

I always talk with family, friends, and even my blog readers about going green. It sounds great… spend a little money up front, pay less energy costs over time, and save the environment. I like the idea behind a lot of this, but since we live under a homeowner’s association a lot of these great ideas (solar, wind, rain collection) are things I simply can’t put into place with our current home. We’ve done the CFL lightbulbs throughout the house, that’s a no brainer.

But couldn’t I do more?

I seem like the perfect example of someone that should buy a scooter. My commute is right at 5 miles and takes me about 15 minutes. Once I leave the neighborhood I stay on one major, rather busy four lane highway at 55 miles per hour. My office is less than a quarter of a mile off the major highway.

I currently drive a 2004 Honda Accord. I’ve been tracking my gas mileage and created a mpg chart. The last time I updated all of the numbers I was averaging about 26 miles per gallon. 26 mpg seems admirable when you consider a majority of my driving is short trips to work, out to lunch, and back home. I don’t spend an hour on the interstate doing a constant 70 mph. At current gas price levels it takes right at $50 to fill up a completely empty tank.

But my commute is so short… what about that scooter idea?

I did a quick search after reading through the Get Rich Slowly forum thread on scooters. The site administrator lives in D.C. and he and his wife both have Kymco scooters that they ride to work. He specifically mentions the Kymco People 150cc, pictured above. The MSRP that I have found online is only $2,799. The scooter is capable of riding safely at 70 miles per hour as well, from what I have found online. The poster also mentions his insurance is about $100 per year. That’s about $700 less than I pay on the Accord.

Obviously the real kicker is the gas mileage. He mentions he gets typically 90 miles per gallon, or right at 3.5x as much gas mileage as I get in my car. This dealership (which pops up first in Google for “Kymco”) says the specifications include a 1.8 gallon gas tank, and estimated mpg of 84. You could go roughly 150 miles before having to fill up. When you fill up, it would only cost you (at $4 per gallon)… $7.20.

To put it into other terms, a full tank in my Accord lasts around 300 miles depending on how much interstate driving I do. So I pay $50 for 300 miles. If the scooter could get 150 miles on a tank, and each tank would cost $7.20, then multiply by two. 300 miles for $14.40, or a savings of $35.60 for every 300 miles I drive. Pretty eye opening to me.

What we have considered doing is selling both of our cars and buying a newer, used, four-door Honda Accord. We currently have a 2 door Accord and a 4 door Civic. The Civic is older, and my wife loves Accords. We also need a four door vehicle since we’ve added a puppy to our family. We would have a substantial amount of money left after buying a used Accord to purchase a scooter like the Kymco People 150, even if we decked me out with safety classes, safety gear, and rain gear.

What’s holding me back from buying a scooter?

So why haven’t I stepped up and taken the plunge? A few reasons: safety, convenience, and work clothes. Safety: as has been discussed in the GRS forum thread, when you ride a scooter or motorcycle they teach you to act like a car. Meaning you ride in the 2/3rds of the lane and don’t weave in and out of traffic. However, there is still the risk of being struck by another vehicle. That definitely puts me off from purchasing just yet. If I had an alternate route to work that was back roads, I would not be as concerned.

Convenience: Another issue is obvious… convenience. Driving a scooter would be inconvenient. It would be hot or cold depending on the season. It would be wet when it rained. I couldn’t listen to NPR or carry many groceries. I could rationalize not purchasing with any number of other reasons. I’m not saying they are good reasons, just reasons.

Work clothes: This is actually the biggest problem I have. (My wife would be worried about my safety, thankfully). I work in a business casual environment. Slacks, polo shirt (or button up during fall/winter). I would have to put on my scooter safety/rain gear every morning either over my clothes, or change once I got to work. My clothes might get wrinkled or dirty doing this. That’s not that big of a deal. I could bring extra clothes to work, or use the shower facilities in our building’s gym to get cleaned up.

However, I also take my clients out to lunch two to four times per week. They’re also typically in business casual environments. I don’t think I could get away with riding up in full riding gear and walking in to lunch.

For now, I don’t think this option will work for me. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open, though. I’d love to hear suggestions of how to get past my three issues as well as hear about any issues you might have. The bottom line is we all need to do something to help save on gas. Many of us could get away with riding a scooter. Could you?

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Livingalmostlarge July 2, 2008 at 11:10 am

I would but my DH would freak. I love scooters and had a vespa before I meet DH. I could totally have never bought a car, but it really was the safety issue. My brother has a harley and on his old yamaha he was hit. He is a very careful driver, more so than me and it still happened. Hence it’s a safety thing.

Also it depends on where you live. My Brother got hit in CA.

Ricky July 2, 2008 at 11:43 am

I too have been looking into the scooter option. My commute is about 37 miles one way, but 90% is on back roads with speed limits no higher than 45 miles per hour. Based the perfomance of the scooter I have been looking at, I would save about $250 per month on fuel expense. This is assuming I could drive it everyday. But even if I only drove every other day, the scooter would pay for itself in less than a year. I have the same concerns as you though. I am not sure how safe it would be and I have to wear a white shirt and tie with my slacks. I have not completely given up on the idea though!

Sara - pension comparison July 3, 2008 at 3:59 pm

I bought a bicycle and have started riding to work, and to see friends. It has changed my life. I used to be a stressed commuter that dreaded the gym. Now I combine my work journey and my exercise – awesome!

SingleGuyMoney July 4, 2008 at 12:33 am

Depending on where you will be riding the scooter, safety is extremely important. You may be extra careful but the driver behind you on the cell phone could cause problems.

Patrick July 4, 2008 at 5:59 pm

I used to have a motorcycle, which was great for gas and a lot of fun to ride. I sold it before I got out of the USAF. I’ve thought about buying a used scooter because I have a short commute as well, but haven’t for various reasons. Safety is a concern, but also weather (I live in OH, so I could feasibly ride it 7-8 months per year), storage (no room in the garage), and comfort. On those days when you can’t predict the rain, or heat, or cold, it’s a pain to ride. My commute is also only about 7 miles, so it would take awhile to pay for itself.

Stephanie PTY July 18, 2008 at 10:51 am

Another barrier that might stop some people is licensing laws in their state. In New York, in order to take a scooter on the road, you need a motorcycle license, which involves a road test. It’s not a great added expense, but people should check in their state before they just buy a scooter and hit the road with it!

Another Personal Finance blog August 15, 2008 at 7:09 pm

My wife and I love the idea, but convenience issues keep us from doing it. We have a one-year-old daughter, and living in the northwest would limit the dry and warm driving season. maybe someday for short trips!

Clair Schwan of Frugal Living Freedom September 21, 2008 at 1:35 pm

A scooter is a great way to have enonomical transportation in and around metropolitan areas, as long as you aren’t going a great distance. It also helps if you live somewhere the weather will permit you to make use of such a form of transportation for most of the year.

Many folks consider buying a new hybrid or other small car, and that is where I would caution us not to get caught up in the mpg frenzy. If you don’t drive that much, the cost of a new car will far outweigh the savings in fuel. (Not so with a scooter.) We should stay focused on total cost of transportation which includes: licensing; insurance; payments; fuel; repair; and, maintenance.

Hanging onto the older car and getting an inexpensive scooter can make a lot of sense financially. I think we will see this more and more in the major metropolitan areas.

In some asian countries, there is a sea of scooters on every street, and they’re parked like dominoes lined up on the sidewalks by the hundreds. I am always amazed at what I have seen people carry on a scooter, including a large sheet of plate glass!

The trick is to identify the point of diminishing returns and diminishing practicality, and stay well away from both of them. It’s a math and personal balancing act that should consider the following:

1. If you use a lot of fuel each week, you might be too far from work to comfortably get there on a scooter.

2. If you don’t use a lot of fuel each week, then your savings in fuel might not justify buying a scooter in the first place.

3. The amount of things you must carry each day will also dictate to some extent the viability of a scooter.

4. Some folks need more than two wheels for comfort, safety and security.

5. Will you have scooter friendly roads to traverse? Moderate speeds, no potholes, and sane drivers?

6. Scooters have weight limitations. Pushing those will affect safe handling and braking. Larger people (like me) will likely be more comfortable in a car or on a larger motorcycle.

7. Scooters are fun!

The high mpg of a scooter is tempting, but I can see the wisdom of owning a scooter being something much more than just an exercise in financial decision making.


Kevin September 26, 2008 at 11:42 pm

@Clair: Excellent comment. I’ll be putting this up on the front page so others can see it. Thanks for contributing!

Lisa October 15, 2008 at 2:12 pm

I have a Suzuki Burgman 400 scooter, and I love it. I ride it on the expressway, and I even took it on a 1600 mile long round trip three summers in a row.

I would NOT recommend taking a 150cc scooter on the expressway, even though it is expressway legal. The wind kicks up and you would be struggling to keep that puppy in your own lane. I had a 250cc scooter and could barely handle it on the expressway. Plus, you don’t have any extra speed at the top end, which means that you don’t have any extra “oomph” to get out of the way if you need to speed up to save your butt. Scary.

In Michigan, you must have a motorcycle endorsement, registration, insurance, and plates for any scooter over 50cc, since they are considered motorcycles.

Because they’re considered motorcycles, you have to follow helmet laws and get proper gear to protect your hide anyway.

Scooters are fun, but they are dangerous, too, and if you’re going with something over 50cc, there are added expenses to consider, as well.


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