Should you buy a Chinese Scooter?

This is the $64,000 question (or in the case of Chinese scooters more like the $640 question!). They are cheap, they are being sold by lots of places (but almost all of them mail order, web or ebay sales, not though authorized dealers), they look good, but they do have some problems.

One problem is support. There are very few dealers who actually sell and service Chinese scooters, i.e. actually take them out of the box, assemble and test them and put them in a showroom for you to see, as well as repairing them.

For the most part, when you buy a Chinese scooter you are buying a "pig in a poke", or in this case a "scooter in a box". Despite whatever name may be on the box, you really don't know exactly who made it, what components they used this week, what their quality control is (if any) and whether and how the scooter has been tested before shipping. All will require some assembly. Some may not have the front wheel installed, few if any will have the mirrors attached and just about all will need the battery to be filled with acid and installed in the scooter. None of this is very difficult, but if you don't have much mechanical experience, it may be difficult for you. If you've been tinkering with cars and lawn mowers for a few years, it should all be fairly easy.

Chinese scooters arrive in a steel cage inside a cardboard box!

Be warned that the "assembly manual" will likely be a couple of sheets of paper with some fairly unintelligible figures and words on them and the supplied "tool kit" will be something of a joke. Usually assembly is fairly obvious, but again it helps to have worked on other machinery before starting on the scooter and it will help if you have your own set of good tools (socket set, wrenches and screwdrivers). The operating manual is equally non-informative and amusing...

..And the safety warnings are sometimes a little oddly expressed, though they are certainly accurate!

Chinese Scooter Safety Warning

It's also quite possible that all the bolts on the scooter may not be tight, all the electrical connections may not be tight and fuel or vacuum hoses may be loose. It's well worth going over the entire machine looking for problems like that, because if they are there they will eventually find you, and you may be many miles from home when they do.

So does all this mean that you should avoid buying a Chinese scooter? No, not as long as you know what you're getting into and have some mechanical knowledge. You shouldn't buy one if you have zero mechanical aptitude and knowledge, hate getting your hands dirty and expect to get a perfect machine delivered to you that will never break. However scooters are really pretty simple machines and anyone familiar with car engines or even small lawn mower engines should be able to troubleshoot a chinese scooter engine. There won't be a detailed service manual, in fact there may not be any sort of service manual at all, so it helps to be able to recognize the various engine parts by sight. Knowing what a carburetor looks like, and where the spark plug is likely to be is a good start, Most scooters use the same engine, which is a copy of a Honda engine from the 1980s (the GY6 in the 150cc scooters). The design is good, it's just the overall (lack of) QC of the scooter and difficulty of getting some replacement parts that's the problem.

Remember that the $1200 Chinese scooter you have just bought would have cost you $3600 if it had been made by Honda or Vespa and to some extent you do get what you pay for. On the other hand the Chinese make more motor scooters for domestic use and export than all other scooter manufacturers combined. If they were absolute rubbish and fell apart in weeks, they couldn't keep doing that since nobody would buy them, not even in China.

The bottom line is that if you want something you never have to work on and if it ever does go wrong will be fixed by the dealer, buy a $3600 Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha or Vespa scooter. If you want to save some money, you have a reasonable mechanical aptitude, you don't mind getting your hands dirty and you feel lucky, then a $1200 Chinese scooter may be just right for you. I bought one myself and it's had a couple of very early problems in the first 50 miles, but nothing I couldn't figure out and fix in 10 minutes (one bad electrical connection and one leaky fuel line). It's now got around 750 trouble free miles on it

It might help to think of owning a chinese scooter as something of a hobby as well as a means of transport (and it can be both). It's a bit like owning a vintage car (say a '56 Chevy). The parts are sometimes hard to find and you have to do quite a bit of the work yourself when anything needs doing, but it can be fun if you enjoy tinkering with machinery.