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Image: A man rides his scooter past a gas station
Keith Srakocic  /  AP file
While riding a scooter, wear a helmet for protection – even if you’re exempt from doing so – and take a motorcycle safety course.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 10/7/2008 7:26:57 PM ET 2008-10-07T23:26:57

The economy is tanking. Bleak financial headlines are bombarding us every day. And on top of everything else, gasoline prices continue to be painfully high.

If you’re on the prowl for ways to save as much money as possible right now, you may be among the growing numbers of consumers who are showing an interest in scooters. Of course, depending on the weather where you live, a scooter might not be a viable year-round answer for you — but get this: A cute and trendy scooter can cost as little as $4 to fill up. Just $4!

Intrigued? The following tips can help you reflect on the pros and cons of owning a scooter.

1. Think about safety. Be aware that you could be putting yourself in serious peril for this simple reason: Many drivers of SUVs and other large vehicles will have a hard time seeing you. And driving a scooter in severely foul weather also can be dangerous. If you live in the Sun Belt and you’re willing to be serious about safety precautions, though, you could conceivably drive a scooter year-round.

2. Do what you need to do. If you’re still interested in a scooter despite the risks, wear a helmet for protection – even if you’re exempt from doing so – and take a motorcycle safety course. For details on courses being offered near you, contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or Department of Highway Safety.

3. Reflect on your commute. Are highways and other busy roads unavoidable, or could you travel on side roads with speed limits of 40 mph or less? This question will prove to be of huge importance as you shop around.

4. Are you new to two-wheeling it? If so, a scooter can be less intimidating than a motorcycle. Because it doesn’t have a clutch, you can just twist and go, and depending on the size of the scooter, you can get anywhere from 50 to 100 mpg. On the down side, scooters with smaller wheels can feel unstable when pushed to their top speeds, and only larger scooters can handle highway trips.

5. What will you need to carry? If you think you’d ever want to drive with an extra passenger on board, check specifications carefully to see how much weight the scooter can handle. Also make sure the scooter has enough cargo room to store all your stuff. Be aware that you may end up needing an add-on rack or top box for extra storage.

6. Check out major brands. As you shop around, test drive scooter models with track records of reliability. These include Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Aprilia and Piaggio. Make a note of how comfortable the seat is, how effortlessly your feet reach the ground and how easily you can move the scooter forward and backward while seated.

7. Know the rules. There’s a big difference between a scooter and a bicycle that’s propelled by pedals and an electric “helper motor.” You typically won’t need a license to ride an electric helper-motor bike, which usually can’t go faster than 20 mph. In many states you will need an operator’s driver license, tags and registration for a scooter, which generally displaces less than 50 cc. If the engine of your two-wheel ride is more than 50 cc, you’ll likely need a motorcycle endorsement on your driver license or a motorcycle-only license. Check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles about the specific rules where you live.

8. Invest in insurance. It may only set you back by about $100 a year – revealing yet another way scooters help drivers save money. The coverage is worth the price, especially because scooters can be quite easy to steal.

9. Buy the right gear. In addition to a helmet, you also may want to opt for a full-face shield for protection from wind, rain, bugs, small rocks and dust. Brightly colored, motorcycle-specific clothing that you wear over your street clothes can help you to be more visible to other drivers and can protect you from road rash in the event of an accident.

10. Make parking plans. Check on the rules for parking scooters at your place of employment and near your home. Street parking may be an option for you, but you’ll have to weigh the risks of the scooter being defaced or knocked over. Also, some parking garages won’t allow scooters at all, and if they do, they may charge the same fees that they charge for regular cars.

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