Dear Penny: Is a Cheap Scooter a Good Replacement for My Broken-Down Car?

This illustration shows a woman riding a scooter.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

After our car broke down, friends advised us to get an electric scooter as a cheap, fuel-efficient alternative. I know we’ll be moving in a year, and we’ll sell the scooter when we do.

With that in mind, we’re wondering if it would be better to buy a super cheap, secondhand scooter and not take on any debt, or buy a new scooter and get financing for it.

I think we’ll be able to sell it for the remainder of the loan balance when we move, and we could have a nice scooter for just the cost of the monthly payments.

What do you think? If we do go this route, what should we look for when considering financing?

Thanks for the help!

-J.


Dear J.,

This scooter sounds like more work than it’s worth. But let’s explore it.

On paper, a scooter may sound like the perfect way to zip around town. In many areas, you can easily and comfortably get away with being car-free thanks to the advent of ride-hailing services, public transit and the increased prevalence of bike lanes.

But you’ll still have to lug groceries, take the dog to the vet or travel with additional humans on occasion.

Once you add up the cost of the scooter, scooter insurance and those additional trips that must be made by traditional car, does it make more sense to just get another car? A car with four wheels that can go on the highway without topping out at 35 mph?

If this was a solution to needing wheels but not being able to afford an entire car, I’d say go for the scooter. Estimates for the cost of car ownership range from $8,000 to $12,000 per year when you add up payments, insurance, gas and all the rest, which means anything less than that is a win.

But you’re playing with the idea of getting a shiny new scooter for just a few months of use. If you were committed to a lifestyle change for the long term, you’d buy the new scooter and love the heck out of it. You never would have thought about writing in to ask about it.

You’re talking about the temporary. And the temporary sounds like novelty more than practicality.

Let’s say you are thinking about scooter life as your forever life. I’d still advocate for the used one to start out as you get your scooter legs and build up your confidence on the road. With a new scooter, you’ll likely want collision insurance, which can dramatically drive up the cost of insuring it.

I commend the toe-dip into a car-free lifestyle, but a yearlong stopgap does not a lifestyle make.  

So start low (on price and engine size), start slow (wear a helmet, my friend) and build up to a shiny new two-wheeler if you find it truly suits your lifestyle.

Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny and you might see your question answered in an upcoming column.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.