What displacement is right?
To get started, ask yourself what sort of power or engine size you’re after. Small scooters (50cc) will be good for 30-50mph, which means around town use only unless you’re crazy. There aren’t many scooters between 50cc and 125cc, which is where the mid sized scooter market starts (125-170cc). Mid-sized scooters add enough power to hang with traffic on backroads and slower highways (i.e. 50-70mph), but you have to move up to 250cc+ to be fully capable of cruising on highways with 60-70mph speed limits.
Opting for a bigger motor certainly adds power, but it also means a machine that is more expensive to buy, insure, maintain and fill with gas. Bigger scooters are also a bit more of handful for smaller riders looking for something light and nimble. So carefully consider what size of scooter meets your realistic needs, and then ask yourself if such a scooter also meets your budget. The challenge is might be finding the right balance between what’s practical economically and what gets you excited. Opting for a scooter that is impractically too small in a bid to save money often ends with dissatisfaction, while selecting a bigger machine than you need ends up being a costly lesson.
Why are you buying?
Consider what your main motivation is. If you’re buying because you’re a scooter enthusiast looking for a blast on two wheels then you probably already have a favourite brand and you’re not reading this article, so if you are reading this then maybe you’re buying a scooter for practical reasons.
The danger if you are buying a scooter to save money is to wrongly assume all scooters are economical and then purchase some attractive machine which might end up costing more to operate than you planned. I did just that when my wife and I purchased two mid sized scooters - a Vespa LX150 and a Yamaha BWS 125. We figured it would
be a fun and cheap way to travel but once we actually got the scooters I realized that our combined gas usage was the same as just taking our car, plus any money saved by diverting wear and tear off the car was lost because we were spending an extra $70 per month on insurance for the scooters plus they were depreciating. Our car only cost us $2500 a few years earlier and the total depreciation on these two scooters by the time we sold was over $3500.
To put it simply, any scooter will save money if you’re buying itinstead of a car. But if you’re buying a scooter in addition to your car then only a 50cc will really save enough money to be worthwhile. Even then you have to use it a decent amount. So the take away lesson here is that if you are buying a scooter for practical reasons then make sure it’ll really save money. To do that, you’ll want to think about which brands hold their resale value and what scooters cost the least to own and maintain. To answer that, start by mulling over the next question.
How long will you own it?
Purchase price is a big factor in any buying decision, but resale value is also important if you don’t plan on keeping it forever. The difference between the purchase price and the eventual resale price is what you really spent to own it.
Well known and highly regarded brands like Honda, Piaggio, Suzuki and Yamaha typically have very good resale value, so you can sell a scooter for over 50% of what you paid for it even after 5 years. Conversely, poorly known and lower quality brands like Chinese machines have very little resale value so the upfront price savings can be lost when you try to sell it. In between are brands like the Taiwanese (Kymco, Genuine, PGO, SYM) which depreciate at moderate rates. Vespa’s are another thing entirely, with depreciating typically quite slow except for the grand or so you lose when you roll it out of the showroom.
If you think you’re only going to own the scooter for a few years, stick with a trusted brand that will be easy to sell. Honda is the best in this regards, but Yamaha, Suzuki, Vespa, Piaggio and Aprilia sell pretty good as well. If you plan on owning it longer then a Taiwanese built machine (Kymco, Genuine, PGO, SYM) could be the right call because these brands make pretty good machines but they aren’t well known enough to have decent resale value. Over a time period of more than 5 years they can be cheaper in total cost.
Almost everyone would do well to stay away from Chinese scooters. They have no resale value yet they don’t last long enough to earn their purchase price. The only owners who can come out ahead with a Chinese machine are those who are willing to do quite a bit of wrenching if necessary. If you’re willing and eager to get your hands greasy and you can’t afford at least a Taiwan built machine, then a Chinese scooter will be an interesting experience if nothing else.
How old of a machine?
You might have seen some tempting 20 year old scooter on Craigslist for $200, which has you pondering where the optimal intersection is between age and price. Depreciation for scooters is typically about 50% in the first 5 years and then really slow after that. Even a machine from 1990 will probably fetch $500 if it’s running well, which is probably 50% of it’s new MSRP.
The lesson here is that you don’t save much money opting for scooters that are older than about 5-7 years. There are older scooters that are much cheaper, but these are typically not running or not running well, which is the real reason why the price is low. Consider that a 1995 Honda Dio typically sells for $800, while a 2007 Honda Ruckus goes for maybe $1000. Those extra $200 for a 11 year newer machine are very well spent.
So most people should look for machines that are somewhere between new and 7 years old depending on their budget. People with really small budgets and who are mechanically inclined can look for scooters that are non-running but supposedly ran well when they were parked 5-15 years ago. These machines are always a gamble, but the home mechanic can often get them running for under $200 so they’re a fun project if you buy them cheap and invest sparingly in them.
Making a short list
By now you should have narrowed down the engine size you’re after to a pretty small range and hopefully focused in on 1-3 manufacturers. The scooter market really isn’t that big, so if you also know roughly how old of a scooter you want to buy then you’re all set to go make a short list. If your list is 50cc scooters from Japanese brands sold from 2009 thru 2012 then you’re probably only looking at 4-5 machines.
So browse through the main pages for each brand your interested in to identify candidate models and then go read the individual pages for all the info. If you’re looking at 50cc then also consider if you want a 2-stroke or 4-stroke. Otherwise, if you’ve chosen your list based on practical criteria then now may be the right time to listen more to other side of your brain and select the machine that appeals to your passion. The scooter with the cool looks is probably going to make you happier than the one with 25% more storage. Buy the one you love and you won’t regret it.